Sight is one of the five senses. It’s how we visually take in information. Think of all the things we know through sight such as colors, spatial awareness, and the beauty of art. The list goes on. The question came to me one morning while ruminating over a vivid dream I had the night before. One thing lead to another and I thought of something I never pondered…how does one dream if they are blind? What references can they pull from?
For those who are blessed and take for granted the ability of sight, these thoughts usually don’t even cross ones mind. Dreaming is such a visual experience. Sometimes we smell things, but I personally have found that to be very rare. We touch objects, but do we really feel them? I don’t ever wake up remembering the exact sensation of touching objects. Do the sighted actually experience dreams with less senses that the blind?
Blind individuals can be considered in two broad categories. The congenitally blind are sightless from birth, while adventitiously blind lose their sight at some later time on. There have been sleep laboratory studies (Amadeo & Gomez, 1966; Berger, Olley, & Oswald, 1962; Kerr, Foulkes, & Schmidt, 1982) that have shown that congenitally blind dreamers and those who became blind in infancy do not have visual imagery in their dreams, they dream pretty much the same way they experience waking life, via gustatory, olfactory, auditory and tactual sensory references. Whereas those blinded in adolescence or young adulthood often retain visual mental imagery in their waking life and in their dreams. However if blinded after the age of seven, there is tendancy for the visually imagery to fade over time, due to the lack of constant visual reference. However, they may have ‘visual dreams’ for 20 to 30 years.
As far as forms and spatial relationships are concerned, most of the congenitally blind are able to see spatial relationships in their dreams and some can even construct visual forms, but they do not see the actual objects. It is how they experience such things in waking life.
Imagining experiencing a dream with all your senses kicked up a notch. Dreams can be scary at times, with nightmares and anxiety-induced wild goose chases and falling from buildings. Imagine those nightmares magnified and reinterpreted.
If you are interested in reading further on the subject check out the links below:
Dreambank.net has a list of searchable interviews in a Dream Series. But the one pertaining to this topic is under “Edna: a blind woman”. You will need to find her on the list which is alphabetical. If you have trouble finding it, click here.) It goes into detail about how she experiences color, how she recognizes objects, and how smells are a major part of her dreaming experience. Here is an excerpt:
Q: Do you think R. told you that the tablecloth was white?
A: No. I just knew it and I had a visual impression of white which I can’t describe except that it was just devoid of any darkness, no color.
Q: Do you often have this sensation?
A: No, it’s just as unusual as having a color impression, for me , that is. Actually, of course, I never have any idea of dark and light, neither in the day nor in the night. It’s just nothing at all, but this was a real visual impression of white, at least it was to me. It may just be my conception of white, but there it was.
Q: What about the candelabra, did you have an impression of the color silver or do you mean you knew it was of the metal silver?
A: Well, I knew it was silver metal because it was very smooth to touch, but I also had the impression of silver and the way I know silver is that it’s like white only shiny.
While considering how the blind experience color and their visual impressions of the world, how could blind artists not come to mind? Here is a video about a Turkish man named Esref Armagan, who blind since birth, due to a genetic defect that caused him to be born without eyes, and has been painting since he was a young child.
Armagan is truly extraordinary. If his story can’t bestow us some insight as to how the blind can dream just as vividly, if not more so than those with ability to see, I don’t know what could.