For most of us, dreaming is a highly visual experience. We see colors, we see figures, sometimes-shadowy faces remind us of something scary. We dream this way because this is the way we explore and understand the world around us. But what about for someone who is blind? What if this person has been blind his or her whole life and has never experienced the world in a visual way?
Tommy Edison, a man who has been blind for his entire life, hosts a YouTube channel aimed at answering some of the questions that we, as non-blind people, may have. He created a video which addressed the issue of “How do Blind People Dream?”
Edison explains in the video that as he has been blind since birth, he has never had a visual dream before because he’s never experienced the world visual before so his unconscious doesn’t have a frame of reference for what it would be like to see in dreams or in real life.
His dreams mirror his life experience so his dreams include experiences and sensations of smell, sound, taste, and touch.
This area of dream research has actually been tackled several times over the years. Researchers has disxocered that if someone lost his or her sight before age five, them will almost never have images in dreams (there are a few exceptions as there always are). But for those who go blind in middle childhood or after the age of five, dreams can go either way. The later a person went blind and the longer he or she had visual experiences of the world, the greater the chances that the dreams are visual. It is thought that even for those who went blind late in life, visual dreams tend to fade the longer a person is blind.
"The key with that is it’s your brain that’s making the dream ... It’s really what your brain has experienced and what your brain continues to experience," Rachel Vreeman, assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, says. "People who are blind tend to have a lot more smells, hearing, tactile (sensations), which people who have vision tend to not have many of those. I can’t remember a dream that I’ve ever had, and I feel like a lot of sighted people feel the same way, where there were lots of textures, lots of smells."