Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hurovitz et al.: "The Dreams of Blind Men and Women" (1999)

This a report of a study in which 15 partially or totally blind participants were asked to keep a dream diary for two months. Analysis showed that even some congentially blind subjects ocaasionally described their experiences in visual terms.

The article was published in the journal Dreaming, but it's also availble at the University of Santa Cruz website.

Pretty to touch
The study is of course open to all the usual problems with introspection, and all the cases of visual terminology are ambiguous. In many cases, it seems as if the congenitally blind subjects have simply adopted visual concepts like pretty with reference to other senses.

For instance, one subject said that smooth things are "prettier to touch" and explained:
I think if anyone prefers rough textures it's because they are seeing them besides feeling them and the material might look pretty to them.
It is difficult to say whether this should count as a metaphor. One might say that this person is simply playing along in the language game of "pretty" with whatever sensual resources she has; but remember, so are we.

Glad to see you
Another class of ambiguities stems from the use of visual terms that may or may not have been instances of the common metaphors SEEING IS UNDERSTANDING or SEEING IS KNOWING.

For instance, the authors quote a description from a congentially blind woman. She dreamt that
she and her husband (also blind) visited Thomas Jefferson at Monticello she reported that Jefferson "was glad to meet us and he didn't care if we couldn't see."
As far as I can understand, the authors read the word see in this sentence as meaning "notice." This is perhaps based on some contextual clues that were not quoted in the article.

They also interpret the phrase seeing the baby occuring in another record as a metaphor for "knowing." If these are indeed correct readings, then blindness is does not seem to be a hindrance to the competet use of that metaphor.

The phenomenology of everthing else
I just need to quote this beautiful description of the modalities that occured most often in the dreams:
The participants "felt" the warmth of the sun, the texture of a coat, the edge of a knife, the slope of the ground, vibrations, snow, or the soft fur of a dog. They "smelled" fire, tobacco, aftershave lotion, fresh air, food, or coffee. They noted the "taste" of a cigar, a cup of coffee, or an orange. These dream sensations seemed to reflect their use of or pleasure in these sense modalities in waking life.

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