family observations

What Do Babies Dream Of?

I returned home a couple of days ago from spending a glorious week-and-a-half with my new grandbaby.

He’s still considered to be in the newborn phase and does lots of sleeping. I, happily, did lots of holding while he was sleeping. (There’s no such thing as spoiling a baby by constantly holding one this young … a myth that circulated heavily when I was raising my kids. I ignored it then; I ignore it now.)

When it comes to babies, I have always assumed they have a rich inner life. This is due to my own experience. I have a vivid memory of a tornado warning when I was young. I remember being in a crib in midday and it was darker than it should have been. My mom came to get me. She, my older brother, and I went into some kind of basement shelter to wait out the storm. My dad was not home at the time. I had no idea when this incident occurred, so I asked my mom about it one day. Turns out I was about 6 months old.

If I, as a 6-month-old, had this much awareness of a tornado warning and it has stuck with me all this time, surely other babies have more going on in their minds than we give them credit for.

Back to my grandbaby ….

He’s been rotating between sleeping and eating, with very little awake time. When he sleeps, he often is in REM sleep, with his eyes rolling and darting back and forth behind his eyelids. Emotions cross his face like quickly passing rain showers. He smiles, then sticks his lip out in a pout, then frowns, all within a few seconds.

Because the majority of his life has been in utero or sleeping, his visual stimuli have been limited to this point. I have to wonder, what is he dreaming of? As his eyes move back and forth, is he seeing something while he is dreaming?

I have written on this blog before about aphantasia (see here and here), which is the inability to picture things with the mind’s eye when recalling something. My husband is aphantasiac, as is one of his sisters, so there appears to be a genetic component to it.

I, on the other hand, am hyperphantasiac, having a very detailed mental image of things I’m trying to recall … like that tornado warning memory.

My husband rarely recalls any dreams. People who are aphantasiac have difficulty spontaneously recalling memories and autobiographical details and I wonder if my husband’s lack of dream recall is caused by the lack of internal visualization.** It’s through the visual vividness of my dreams that I am able to remember them when I wake.

It’s too soon to tell whether Grandbaby is aphantasiac, hyperphantasiac, or somewhere in between, but it’s obvious that something is going on in his mind while he is dreaming. What could it be?

**Incidentally, I recently wondered if my husband’s difficulty in figuring out and remembering how to conduct certain operations on a computer is also related to his aphantasia. With GUI (graphical user interface), computers are heavily dependent on their visual components for operation. If you have difficulty calling up these operations in your mind’s eye, like you can’t remember which menu to look under for a specific operation, might this make learning computer functions more challenging?

Aphantasia researchers, you seriously need to talk to my husband.