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Blindness and Dreaming

What blind people experience in their dreams depends upon when and even how they were blinded. The dreams of someone born blind have different characteristics from those of someone who had a period of being sighted.

In fact one of the earliest of systematic dream studies was reported by a German – C. Heermann – in 1838 (reported by Robert Castle in Our Dreaming Mind). Heermann studied the dreams of a hundred blind people. The fourteen subjects who had lost their sight prior to age five had no visual imagery in their dreams. Those who lost sight between five and seven years of age had varied visual and non visual dreams. Visual imagery was present in all the dreams of those who lost their sight after age seven. Heermann also reported that visual dreams persisted in subjects for up to fifty years after they had lost their sight.

In 1888 another researcher in the USA studied the dreams of two hundred blind people without knowing of the study published by Heermann. His findings were almost identical. None of the thirty two subjects blind before age five experienced visual dreaming. It was variable in the six subjects blind between ages five and seven, and present in all twenty people who became blind after the age of seven.

As with some language studies, these finding suggest an enormous change occurring in the brain and learning process between the age of five and seven.

People who are born blind, although they have no visual dreams at all, do have very vivid and multi dimensional auditory dreams. One blind subject reported a dream in which she was carrying on several conversations at the same time, as well as noticing the sound of a hair dryer, washing machine and the sound of dishes being moved. Touch taste and smell also play a larger part in the dreams of the blind than they do in those of the sighted.

The famous blind and deaf woman Helen Keller wrote about her immensely active and dynamic dream life in her book The World I live In. She says ‘I am moved to pleasure by visions of ineffable beauty which I have never beheld in the physical world. Once in a dream I held in my hand a pearl. In dreams we catch glimpses of a life larger than our own. Thoughts are imparted to us far above our ordinary thinking.’

She goes on to say, “My dreams have strangely changed during the past twelve years. Before and after my teacher first came to me, they were devoid of sound, of thought or emotion of any kind, except fear, and only came in the form of sensations. I would often dream that I ran into a still, dark room, and that, while I stood there, I felt something fall heavily without any noise, causing the floor to shake up and down violently; and each time I woke up with a jump. As I learned more and more about the objects around me, this strange dream ceased to haunt me; but I was in a high state of excitement and received impressions very easily. It is not strange then that I dreamed at the time of a wolf, which seemed to rush towards me and put his cruel teeth deep into my body! I could not speak (the fact was, I could only spell with my fingers), and I tried to scream; but no sound escaped from my lips. It is very likely that I had heard the story of Red Riding Hood, and was deeply impressed by it. This dream, however, passed away in time, and I began to dream of objects outside myself.” See Symbolism of Dreams and their Imagery

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