Short term, long term and another type

How do the blind dream, I wonder? Obviously there are two kinds of answers to this question depending on if the individual ever had sight or not.

If not I imagine they have dreams where they sense things through touch, smell and all the rest. It seems obvious.

But maybe it’s not like that. You see I dream in a very unusual way. My dreams are like an audio book. I see nothing but hear myself describe it. It’s because of a problem that I have with memory.

I can never remember anyone’s name and I can never remember what anyone looks like when I can’t see them anymore. These are just some examples of the fault not the fault itself. Another is the way that I dream. And if it doesn’t seem like these things should be connected to each other then I should probably explain how they are.

In general there are three kinds of memory. Short term, long term and another type which has lots of different names but for now I’ll call unconscious memory.

Now imagine you’re having a conversation with someone. All of the conversation is being held in your short term memory but some of it is being transferred, if the information seems important enough to your long term memory. The information usually goes in in pairs. So you get soandso likes fish. You don’t copy the entire conversation just the important stuff.

But the thing is that you don’t copy “Michel likes fish” you copy “soandso likes fish”. And you also copy “soandso is called Michel”. And “soandso looks like…” well whatever they look like.

So far so simple. My brain seems to be very good at copying such things into my long term memory. I can remember all kinds of random stuff that I may have been exposed to only briefly.

So where’s the problem you may ask. Well it’s getting the info back out again. I have very slow visual comprehension, by very slow we are only talking microseconds longer than average but it’s enough. My brain is so concentrating on delivering me the information that I can’t usually deal with retrieving from memory something like a name at the same time as recognise who they are and all the other things that happen when I first meet somebody. However my memory will let me do things like pick up 11 hours later exactly where I was in the last sentence, without having to read the first half again, and finish it.

So how do I ever remember names you may ask. Well generally I don’t except a small circle of people. These people have entered into my memory via a different method, this mysterious “subconscious memory”. This memory is all the stuff that you just take for granted. The kind of memory where things stop having names but the name is the object. They become automatic.

Imagine a small bowl which has little grooves in the lip of it. When you first see it, that last sentence is how you would describe it. But once you see somebody use it, it becomes an ashtray. With objects and things this is quite an easy process and one which we did, in the main, in childhood. But it also happens with people. After a while people stop being “oh he was that guy who… what was his name?” and instead he becomes Paul. This process takes longer for me too but does enable me to remember some people at least. Also it’s handy for if anybody ever accuses you of objectifying them. Show them this and they’ll soon realise that it’s a good thing.

Interestingly this odd section of memory is also where prejudices are stored. If you don’t consciously think about it then it’s stored here. But most names are stored in long term. Just most people can access these bits of their long term memory better than I can.

The connection with dreams is simple. In visual dreams the part of the brain that deals with the images is working flat out, you see things very quickly and digest later (it is believed). My brain can’t really deal with this so just doesn’t bother (or it can’t express directly what it saw). Blind people, of course, may very well have underdeveloped visual areas of the brain – I don’t know.

So yes, how do blind people dream? I suppose I’ll have to ask somebody who is blind and see if they’ll tell me.

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