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Do Visually-Impaired People Have Dreams and How?

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Written by Selinsu Roza Almaz


Blindness is the lack of vision, which also refers to the loss of vision that cannot be corrected either with contact lenses or with glasses. It is divided into two types: partial blindness and complete blindness. Partial blindness causes very circumscribed vision; complete blindness causes people to not see at all, including light. It seems a bit ambivalent, is it not? But what about dreaming, do they really dream or not, and how do they dream? Today, I will talk about how visually impaired people dream.


The answer to the previous question is yes, as a matter of fact, visually impaired people do dream, even in visual images. For the people who were born with eyesight and then later went blind, it is not surprising that they experience visual sensations while dreaming. Because they already have the experience, it does not matter for how long, they can understand what is going on and what objects look like. Moreover, dreams are drawn from memories that are stored in the brain, which means in order to have dreams, we need memories that come from experiences. But what is more incredible is the discovery that people who were born blind also dream in visual images.


The experience of vision involves three-step: the transformation of a pattern of light to electrical impulses in the eyes, the conduction of these electrical impulses from the eyes to the brain along the optic nerves, and the decoding and gathering of these impulses into visual sensations. If any of these steps are momentously impaired or damaged, blindness occurs. Therefore, people who are blind since birth, though, technically have the facility to experience visual sensations inside the brain but have nothing to decode electrical impulses with visual information. Put differently, they are capable of having visual experiences but these experiences cannot arise from the outside world. However, dreams do not utterly originate from the outside world. Thus, it is possible for people who experience vision impairment since birth to dream in visual images. Scientists, still, are carrying out research studies in order to determine if visually impaired people dream in visual images.


You may be wondering, ‘‘Why don’t we just ask visually impaired people whether they dream in visual images or not?’’ The problem is that since they cannot see since birth, they do not how the outside world looks like, thus they tend to answer no. Moreover, they do not care as much as we think they would, because of their lack of experience. For example, let us suppose that you have a pencil or something that you can feel, and you lose it, you would feel the lack of the loss; but since you never have had that pencil, you would not feel the lack of that item. In short, asking such a question would be unnecessary.


Over time, scientists have performed brain scans on some visually impaired people while they were asleep. What scientists have found is that visually impaired people have the same similar vision-related electrical activity in the brain as people who have eyesight. That means they have visual images while sleeping, but they just do not know how to describe them. Yet, they do not see as many detailed images as we do and have never formed visual memories connected to the external world. The visual sensations must originate from the electrical fluctuations, which means that visually impaired people do not experience detailed visions of actual objects such as a pencil as abovementioned. On the contrary, they probably tend to see spots or blobs of color floating around or flashing, and generally use their other senses such as hearing, touching, and so on. In conclusion, the current evidence and information suggest that people who are blind since birth do indeed dream in visual images, but we do not know what exactly they see.


References:
  1. What does "blindness" really mean? (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2022, from https://www.fightingblindness.org/resources/what-does-blindness-really-mean-67

  2. Vision Impairment and blindness. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/blindness-and-visual-impairment

  3. Protecting sight. (2022, October 13). Retrieved October 29, 2022, from https://www.sightsavers.org/protecting-sight/

  4. Do blind people dream in visual images? (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2022, from https://www.wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2020/02/11/do-blind-people-dream-in-visual-images/

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