Aphantasia, imagination and dreaming

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Abstract

Aphantasia is a recently discovered disorder characterised by the total incapacity to generate visual forms of mental imagery. This paper proposes that aphantasia raises important theoretical concerns for the ongoing debate in the philosophy and science of consciousness over the nature of dreams. Recent studies of aphantasia and its neurobehavioral correlates reveal that the majority of aphantasics, whilst unable to produce visual imagery while awake, nevertheless retain the capacity to experience rich visual dreams. This finding constitutes a novel explanandum for theories of dreaming. Specifically, I argue that the recent dream reports of aphantasics constitute an empirical challenge to the emerging family of views which claim that dreams are essentially imaginative experiences, constitutively involving the kinds of mental imagery which aphantasics, ex-hypothesi, lack. After presenting this challenge in the context of Jonathan Ichikawa’s recent arguments for this view, I argue that this empirical challenge may be overcome if the imagination theorist abandons Ichikawa’s account of dreaming in favour of a modified version. This involves the claim that dreams are essentially inactive and constitutively involve non voluntary forms of imagination. I conclude with a suggestion for further research which can test the viability of this alternative hypothesis, and move the debate forward.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Volume178
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2021

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