Friday, September 11, 2009

Dreaming in Technicolor

I recently received an email with some dream research that made me stop and think. One of the points was about dreaming in color which was seen to increase in subjects tested after 1960 as compared with 1915. The researchers had hypothesized that the increase in people found to dream in color might be attributed to the switch from black-and-white images on TV and film to color.

I can offer some anecdotal evidence about color dreaming. Long before my family even owned a TV, I dreamed in color. In fact, until around the age of 4 or 5, my dreams were in a particular kind of color that is more saturated and beautiful than real life. The trees and grass, for instance, were in various shades of blue and red and purple and pink and orange - all sorts of colors. There was almost no black or brown in my dreams, only these brighter colors.

I actually recall the last "technicolor" dream I had because I was so sad afterward. I never had those brightly colored dreams again.

I was standing on the banks of a pond. It was winter and there were people skating on the ice but I didn't feel cold and I was not dressed in winter clothing. The trees and grass were brightly colored, as I have described. Then I suddenly noticed for the first time in any of my dreams a little house - it was a small, brown cabin made of brown wood. There was smoke coming from the roof as if a fire was burning somewhere inside. I noticed skaters coming off the pond would then go into the little house, so I became curious.

I walked over and went into the house and smelled hot chocolate. People were getting warm drinking hot chocolate. The colors inside the house were what I now think of as "normal" and I had never dreamed of normal every-day colors before. I went over and got some hot chocolate for myself and drank it, even though I was not cold.

After that dream, I never saw the "real" bright colors anymore.

This dream might almost be one of those cautionary fairy tales where the hero is supposed to take the worn, leather bridle instead of the the silver or golden one. Or perhaps even worse - the one that advises you not to open a certain door.

I have more anecdotal evidence about color. I was told when I had my son that babies see colors more brightly that we do, and as they grow up, they learn to limit their color palette to match the expectations of others.

My son is bi-racial (his father is (black) African-American and I am (white) Scotch-Irish-French-American.) So we had a lot of friends of all different races and my son would often draw pictures of them with his crayons. Whenever he drew a dark-skinned person, he would make them purple. When he drew light-skinned people, he made them orange. I am sure these are the colors he actually saw because when he was older, the colors became more muted.

I have only had one black-and-white dream in my whole life and it really scared me because I was afraid the colors had disappeared. It was after I had been given sleeping pills after surgery in a hospital. The dream was also frightening because I didn't have any control over my dream body. I saw my son playing on a sliding board and he was going to fall, but I couldn't run over and catch him because the sidewalk I was standing on began to undulate like the ocean.

I have never taken sleeping pills again.