DARE TO ASK: Dreaming: What it's like for the blind
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Do folks who have been blind since birth have dreams?
R.W.K., 62, male, Jacksonville
One of my relatives is blind, and I've read many times that those who are
blind from birth dream mostly in other senses, most notably sound and smell.
Because most of them have only very little perception in light, I would assume
they don't really dream in sight at all.
Rick, Los Alamos, N.M.
I lost my eyesight when I was 6 months old, but for the most part, I don't
remember it. Blind people see things in their mind just as anyone else does. It
may not look the same as what "seeing people" see, but I still see it -- a tree,
a car or myself. And when I dream, that is no exception. So the color red to you
may be different than my color red, but it's red to me.
Jordan, 19, blind male, Springfield, Mo.
I went blind at 23, and I still dream the same way I did before losing my
sight: with "pictures." I actually see what I am dreaming about -- the way I
remember things looking, and much the same way I dreamed before losing my sight.
I am not sure if this would be the same as someone who is blind from birth, as
they don't really know what things look like because they have never seen the
items. I make a concentrated effort not to forget the sight of things I hold
dearest to me, such as the face of my little boy, and the way the snow looks on
a crisp December morning.
Samantha, 27, blind female, Brandon, Canada
To sum up nearly a century's worth of detailed studies on whether blind
people have visual imagery in their dreams:
Blind after age 7: Likely.
Blind between 5-7: Possible.
Blind between 0-5: Seldom.
Blind since birth: In your dreams.
This is not to say that people blind from birth don't dream as imaginatively
as sighted people. For example, a major study by the universities of Hartford,
California and Connecticut of 15 blind adults found that subjects blind from
birth used a high percentage of taste, smell and touch sensations to describe
the imagery in their dreams: They "felt" the warmth of the sun, texture of a
coat or edge of a knife; "smelled" fire, tobacco, aftershave lotion or fresh
air; and "tasted" a cigar, cup of coffee or an orange.
"The imagery and sensations in the dreams of the blind are generally
continuous with the senses they use in their waking lives," the researchers
As National Federation of the Blind spokeswoman Pat Maurer put it, what is
experienced in a dream varies with each blind person.
"Maybe they wouldn't picture a chair in the same way a sighted person would,
but everyone has been in a chair before, so they have some notion of what it
feels like," she said. "And based on what they believe it looks like, they would
base their perception in their dream on that impression."
Maurer, 54, who lost her sight over time after receiving too much oxygen in
her incubator as a premature baby, said the images in her own dreams have faded
with the years.
"As a younger person, the pictures were more distinct ... now I still see a
picture of a person, for example, but I don't know how close to reality it is."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.