[epistemic status: personal experience, fits my model of minds, but not widely verified. almost certainly missing important things.]
If you’re not familiar with Aphantasia, first read Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind. It may come as a shock, especially to people who’ve not read What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?
As a child, I had visual imagery. I remember building and playing in vast worlds, and still have a few snapshot memories of things which were definitely not from real life and don’t fit any fictional world with pictures.
As far as I can tell, my visual imagery stopped somewhere between the age of 10 and 14. For most of my teenage years and early 20s, I had full aphantasia, and this seemed entirely normal. I forgot that once I had the ability to see with my mind’s eye. I have theories about why (depression, episodic shifts, giving my brain negative reinforcement by trying to force the images to do certain things), but don’t have a good way to test which factors were actually significant.
I have now acquired the ability to, with a few minutes getting into the right state of mind, see mental imagery (~75% of the time I start getting images within ten minutes, otherwise I usually give up). This practice has bled into other places, I now occasionally get beautifully detailed flashes of visual imagery. It’s kinda a moving experience, after having been blind for so long.
I still don’t have reliable or consistent mental imagery. The vast majority of the time I am still blind to my mind, as before. But at least now I have a way forward. The more regularly I practice, the more common those snapshots become.
My current-best model of my flavor of aphantasia is not a lack of ability to visually model things (that seems like it would mess up a lot more than it seems to in practice, and my experience of occasional HQ flashes indicates that it’s not something that needs to be trained from scratch), but a lack of introspective access to my visual imagination. In particular, it seems to be bandwidth / connection issues between the brain regions responsible for generating and testing visual models and the parts which handle coordinating different brain regions / self-awareness.
Disclaimer: I do not know how transferable this is. It’s pretty plausible that it’s unique to my mental setup, and you’d have to develop your own method to reactivate your connections. Or that your aphantasia has a different cause from mine and not as easily fixable. Ben Sancetta has been able to teach this to people before, and almost certainly has much better relevant models than me, so maybe talk to him if you want advice.
The easiest state to practice is heavily sleep deprived and half asleep, at least if you can maintain conscious awareness of yourself in the border regions of sleep. This is where I got my first success (visualizing the face of someone who I was missing, among other things), which spurred me to play around with other things.
I tried to control the images, and they immediately stopped. Be careful of pushing them or imposing your ideas about what you should be seeing, it may cut them off. Thinking of it as trying to gain the trust of a scared kitten hiding under a sofa may help.
Later, I tried closing my eyes and listening to a song which makes me want to dance (in a detailed, track large numbers of beats, way). I vividly imagined dancing while staying as close to perfectly still as I could, moving my proprioceptive model of my body without giving my body any physical data. I gradually contorted my map of my body into a highly flexible disk hovering in front of my actual body, with each beat of the music mapping to a certain movement / vibration of the disk (vaguely similar to common video visualizations of music, but with reflective symmetry).
And then, after absorbing myself fully in this for some time with the song on repeat, I started seeing things.
I should note that I was entirely sober, and not anywhere near sleep.
Later I found that lying down with the intention of passively watching for images, and inviting them, also works fairly well (though less reliably for me).
Maybe this would just work for you too. Maybe the process I described sounds insane and impossible. Maybe your aphantasia is much more treatment resistant than mine.Maybe you’ll need to work out how to hyper-activate some other brain region which relates to your visual modelling, to boost the signal to a high enough level that you pick it up despite lack of practice. Maybe there is actually a totally different and much better set of tricks to discover.
Experimental phenomenology is fun 🙂