Sunday, June 22, 2003

Alive & well

Dreams of blind - like dreams of all - are based on experience

Debra Kendrick

For years, I had a recurring dream. The plot structure was the same, but there were always certain substantive changes. A crisis had occurred, and the only hope for survival was to drive out of the area - and drive fast!

My children were always in the dream, playing in the backseat of vehicles that ranged from sports cars to minivans and even a pickup truck.

And there was something else consistent and unusual about that dream: I was always blind.

Although my reality includes the absence of physical eyesight, its significance in that reality is generally reflected by its absence in dreams. Only in my recurring dream did it play a part, heightening the trauma factor by adding the element of apparent impossibility. In that dream, in other words, I knew that it was implausible for me to drive, but that I must drive to save my children.

Dreams are fascinating material by any measure, but how blind people in particular experience what is commonly considered a visual realm is an often-asked question.

Some 'see,' some don't

Ray Lang, a Columbus reader, recently wrote:

At work the other day, a discussion started concerning what someone blind from birth would dream. The dreams of sighted people always center around images, usually connected with something that may have recently happened to them. The discussion went on for quite some time, religion popped up - and before you knew it the table was evenly divided. Do blind people dream in images?

The best answer is, it depends. People who have never seen, who have been blind from birth, generally report that their dream life resembles the relationship to environment experienced while awake. In other words, those who have never seen cannot duplicate the experience of sight while dreaming. You might say, they would never dream of it. Instead, a combination of remaining senses - audio, tactile, olfactory - is employed to navigate and interact with physical space.

Adults who have recently lost vision say they continue to dream visually for a time, while those who lose vision gradually, over a period of years, often find that vision loss in dreams lags a year or so behind. Those who have always had limited, impaired vision say that they have basically that same amount of limited vision in dreams, and those for whom many years have passed since the loss of sight sometimes find that visual images in dreams fade or blur with time.

In other words, dreams for all of us - with or without sight, hearing, or any other function - will generally reflect what we know when awake: If your primary language is English, it is unlikely that you will dream in French.

Enhanced perception

For me, having lost vision in childhood, definite visual images remained in my dreams through adolescence. Since that time, there is instead a kind of enhanced perception, an awareness customarily associated with sight that is detected without sight.

Actual blindness is rarely present in my dreams, just as it rarely takes center stage in my reality. It came into that recurring dream, I suspect, as a symbol of the enormous challenge of keeping my children safe.

As for how religion entered the debate among Ray Lang's co-workers, it turns out that some believed God would insert images into the dreams of blind people as a favor.

I think if God were going to dally in such frivolous pursuits, he/she would be more inclined to insert the news into the dreams of all that having a lovely life is not contingent on seeing or hearing or being otherwise free of disability or difference.

But that's my other recurring dream, the one I have with my eyes wide open.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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