Am I Going Blind in My Dreams?

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 12, 2017

For months now I’ve been noticing how my dreams are getting darker. Not psychologically dark, but dark like the night. Events seemingly take place at night, or the daytime feels like nighttime – like those old day-for-night shots in westerns. I don’t know if this is a new condition of my dreams, or they’ve always been dark. I can vaguely remember having some well-lit dreams, but I’m not sure. Memory is such an unreliable source of information. Do you dream about brightly lit places?

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Last year I realized I had aphantasia, what some people call mind blindness. It’s the inability to recall visual memories when you close your eyes. I wrote “What Can You See That I Can’t” and “What Do You See When You Read?” I thought it was 2016 when I first discovered this condition, but I found an older essay, “How Good Is Your Visual Memory?” from 2012. What I wrote prefigured the 2016 discovery that the condition has a name. Last year I assume I had poor visual memory during the day, but my brain could generate visuals just fine at night in my dreams. Now I’m wondering if that was a false assumption. Or, am I changing, and my dreams are actually getting darker. I woke up the other night and wondered if I was going blind in my dreams.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a black and white world and crave color and brightness. Now this might be my own fault. In recent decades I’ve become an indoor person and even more of a bookworm. Maybe I spend too much time looking at black and white letters and not enough time at the full spectrum world. I also spend more time listening to music with my eyes closed thinking about what I’m writing, and that’s not very visual either.

I should say that I see color. And my daytime world is bright. I am very nearsighted, but my vision is healthy enough.

In recent months I’ve been getting out of the house even less. I used to walk and ride a bike for exercise.  I have spinal stenosis and in the last couple months my back, hip and leg pains have been reduced 90%. I learn that when I stopped walking or biking because of bad weather. I’ve been feeling better by not exercising outside. But that means I spend even more time indoors. Could this cause reduce light in my dreams? I’ve been wondering if my dream world is becoming darker because I don’t feed my mind enough light during the day. Maybe I should sit outside, or go on drives.

I’m also looking at art less. I’ve stopped going to museums and studying art books. Can art fuel visual imagery in dreams? I wish I could draw. I see websites like Urban Sketchers or bloggers like Peggy Willett and wonder if I paid more attention to the visual world if it would improve my visual memory, and enhance my dreams with better lighting and color?

I also have to consider aging. I know getting old means mental and physical decline. Maybe darker dreams and fading visual memory is just a side-effect of getting old?

The other night I had a beautiful dream. It was dark, and I was outside with other people. Someone pointed up and said there was a comet. I looked, and there was a greenish comet in the sky. I said, “That’s a good one. I never seen one so bright.” It actually looked very realistic, and not like astronomy photos. It was just a bright green head, bigger than any star, with a long triangular trail of faint green gas behind it. But even inside this dream I wondered why everything else was so dark.

JWH

Living Life As It Happens Versus Making Dreams Comes True

Do you measure happiness by the number of dreams you’ve made come true, or by accepting life as it comes to you?  It’s very hard to control reality.  If your whim is to go to the movies, that’s not to hard to make real.  But if your whim is to travel to Europe, that requires a lot of effort to make into a reality.  If your dream is to become a Nobel Prize winning scientist, then you’re moving into the world of chance, no matter how hard you work.

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Recently, my wife and I were talking about our regrets, and things we wished we had done when we were young.  We are both lazy, and neither one of us have strong motivational drives.  I said it’s a shame we didn’t do more when we were young, but maybe we did the things we really wanted to do, like watch TV, go to the movies, play with our cats, hang out with friends and family, read books, and so on – just ordinary everyday things.

Our friend Olivia has been on hundreds of vacations, while Susan and I have probably been on less than 50 each in our whole life.  If you measure success in life by where you’ve been, then we have little.  We know many people with beautifully decorated homes that we envy, but our house has the couch potato décor of two TV watching experts.  We’ve met rich and successful people, and by those yardsticks we come up short too.  But have they read the thousands of books I have?  I’m a bookworm, so I live to read.

If success in life is measured by making fantasies come true, we haven’t done very well.  The trouble is I have at least a dozen good fantasies a day – that’s about a quarter million daydreams in my lifetime.  Which ones should I have made come true?  You see, I think our society is too bamboozled by desires.

Because of television we see how millions of other people live and we think we should have their lives too.  If we see someone go to Colorado for a ski trip we feel bad if we can’t too.  If we know someone with a Porsche we feel bad we don’t have an high performance sports car too.  Susan’s brother and wife are going on their second trip to Europe, and Susan probably feels bad we’ve never had our first. 

Me, I feel I go to Europe all the time.  The two books I’m currently listening to are from Russia and England.  The last movie I watched from Netflix was French.  I regularly read The Guardian.  I watch a lot of TV from England, read a lot of books by European authors, and regularly read histories about Europe.  I love European painters, and have seen many of their great work here in traveling exhibits.  I’m studying classical music, most of which has European origins.  In high school I studied German, and in college Spanish.  And I can’t count how many documentaries I’ve seen on European history, art and science.  I once started an internet business with a guy from Paris.  It’s not like I don’t know about the place, I’ve just never been there.  I’m fascinated by Western civilization, but have little desire to see the relics, and if I did, the main reason would be to see the paintings.  Most of what I actually like about Europe is in books and music, which transcends space and time.

One of the things I realized from my discussion with Susan was that I live in my head, and I think most people don’t.  To Susan and most of my friends, the real world is where they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste external to their bodies.  Success is measured by experience or accumulation. 

I live in a different world.  I think life is philosophical, and you live it as it happens.  Success is measured by how well you digest it.  It’s not what you see, but how you see  it.  It’s not what you earn, but how you earn it.  It’s not who you know, but how you know each other.

What’s funny, is by my method of measuring, or theirs, no matter how much external or internal success you find, it’s never enough.  If you don’t die with regrets, then you never looked very far.

JWH – 4/19/14