Is it actually impossible to read text in a dream?
August 8, 2004 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Is it actually impossible to read text in a dream?

My Googling fails to find a decent source of information :(
posted by Krrrlson to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've heard that, but personally I've read stuff in dreams (parts of books, newspapers) so from personal experience I'd have to say no. Reading digital clocks on the other hand (as explained in the film Waking Life) gives me trouble.
posted by bobo123 at 10:33 PM on August 8, 2004

I've done it lots of times, even reading Tintin books and Jack Vance books I've never seen before, but I've rarely remembered anything after waking up.

I do remember having a dream once where I was reading an Edward Gorey book I'd never seen before called "101 Drawings Containing the Devil's Email Address". It was a book of about thirty line-drawings, each containing the devil's email address integrated into the drawings, ala Hirschfeld's "Ninas".

What the devil's email address was, I don't remember.

Once I dreamt that I was about to listen to a song played by Jefferson Airplane that was written by John Brunner, and my girlfriend at the time woke me up right before I got to. Boy, was I mad at her. In this case, I read the back of the CD case and saw that it was written by John Brunner written in italics under the title.

Don't remember the title, though.

So, yes, it's possible. It's just hard to remember it unless you write it down immediately upon waking.
posted by interrobang at 10:36 PM on August 8, 2004

bobo, interrobang: I'm curious, though... are you actually "reading", or do you just know what's written?

I realize it's a fine line... but (for example) when I dream, I don't "hear", I just get a cliffs notes of what they say... and I was just wondering if what you're calling "reading" is analogous.
posted by silusGROK at 10:54 PM on August 8, 2004

Response by poster: silusGROK -- I've also heard that it is possible to "know" what text says in a dream, but not to actually make out the letters and words.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2004

I've distinctly read text in dreams. Not just "understood" what it said, but actually read intelligible text. One occasion I remember was when I ended up taking BART to the non-existent North Oakland station. It was written, clear as day, in all caps on one of those brown station signs. (After which I ended up on a BART car watching Mr. T perform abstract mathematics, and then the dream got really strange...)
posted by wanderingmind at 11:03 PM on August 8, 2004

Dude... stay off the Fark.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:05 PM on August 8, 2004

I have read signs, covers of books, newspaper headlines, etc, in dreams, and I remember the font and spacing and such, so I think I was actually reading text. However, I've also dreamt of the scrambled text thing, especially on clocks or other digital displays, but I don't remember ever seeing scrambled text in a dream before I saw Waking Life... go figure.

I don't think it's possible to make blanket statements about what humans can or cannot experience in a dream.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:09 PM on August 8, 2004

It's possible, but people who read in dreams are probably actually just looking at paper and thinking "hmm, it says this" rather than rendering the actual glyphs in their mind.

Personally when I've tried to use reading as a reality check I usually get tricked by the "hey, I'm reading" syndrome and don't actually scrutinize to see if there are characters there or I just think I'm reading.

In a lucid dream practically anything is possible. If you're careful you presumably can activate the reading part of your brain and actually read (I haven't tried it). Probably on average it's unusual to be able to legitimately read in a dream, but the fact that it's possible in an LD means it surely occurs naturally here and there.
posted by abcde at 11:14 PM on August 8, 2004

silus, krrrlson: I've read things, as in looking at the letters on paper and deriving meaning out of them rather than just understanding automatically what I was looking at because "in the dream" the book meant something. The problem is just remembering what you've read afterward.
posted by interrobang at 11:16 PM on August 8, 2004

i always read in dreams. its almost always handwritten notes. or things people have handcrafted and never type or in books or signs. but its true reading and i remember what it says.
posted by c at 12:31 AM on August 9, 2004

I often have this sequence in a dream:

I'm reclining and reading a book or newspaper. As I read, I simultaneously concentrate very hard on the words, wondering how quickly I can read, and then notice when I blink. I keep my eyes closet for just a second, then two seconds, then three.... and notice that I can still read with my eyes closed.

That's how I know I'm dreaming - my mental model of reality doesn't connect the request to close my eyes with an inability to see.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:18 AM on August 9, 2004

I can usually read things in a dream... but if I try to read them again, it's somewhat different. That's what usually tips me off that I am dreaming. Now I wonder if I am unconsciously reading things over and over while awake to assure myself that I am actually awake?
posted by Shoeburyness at 1:39 AM on August 9, 2004

Back when I was trying to get into lucid dreaming I read about the sort of thing Shoeburyness posted. If you read something in a dream and read it again, it should have changed, letting you know you're dreaming and getting you into that lucid dream state. That's what they said at least.

I've had the experience of things changing as I re-read them but I've never been smart enough to realize I was dreaming.
posted by frenetic at 5:35 AM on August 9, 2004

I read my blog in a dream once. Other than that I usually can't.
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:48 AM on August 9, 2004

My regular "oh-my-god-i'm-back-in-college" dreams often involve (a) reading the questions to an exam I haven't prepared for or (b) pouring through the course guide when I realize I don't have enough credits to graduate.
posted by mkultra at 7:01 AM on August 9, 2004

My experience coincides with Shoeburyness and frenetic. I have many times read things in dreams (often my dream journal), but there is very little persistence of the text (I lose the thread easily and if I try to reread it, it's different).
posted by rushmc at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2004

I absolutely cannot read in dreams, but it never clues me in that I'm dreaming, I only remember after the fact.
posted by Capn at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2004

I often read in dreams, sometimes I have a little 'subtitle stream' going on, usually in the upper right hand corner of my field of vision. Interacting with the dream and comprehending the 'subtitles' at the same time is usually difficult...but do-able.

I also seem to dream about reading bathroom graffiti more than the average bear. This has some significance, I'm sure, but I've never bothered checking into it.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:18 AM on August 9, 2004

Of course. I work with type (as a typesetter) and recently was at a large convention of typeface designers and graphic artists in San Francisco where there was a session that touched on dreaming about type - not just individual letterforms but set type. I constantly dream of work, often reading/editing/setting type. I can usually recognize the typefaces in the dreams as well. Man am I a big type nerd or what?
posted by luriete at 8:51 AM on August 9, 2004

I have had text-based dreams -- dreams in which the entire experience of the dream is through reading it out of a book, not experiencing it directly. Occasionally I'll look up from the "book", go and have some direct-experience dreaming, then settle back in to read the rest.

This talk about "you may think you're reading, but you're not really reading" doesn't make a lot of sense to me -- you're not really flying, either, but nobody would argue that you can't fly in your dreams.
posted by ook at 9:00 AM on August 9, 2004

I've had a number of lucid dream sequences wherein I'm reading a book or newspaper, distinctly processing the words in English text on the page. At the same time, I'm somehow realizing that it's all total gibberish, like some of the recent e-mail spam assembled from random words. Then there's a sublimely weird sensation as I continue to read the nonsense in a convincing, conversational inner "voice" while simultaneously being amazed that my brain is both generating and attempting to process this stuff at the same time. A few monents of contemplating this results in my waking up.
posted by Tubes at 9:37 AM on August 9, 2004

[b]Kwantsar[/b]: which reminds me of another interesting question: How common is it to be able to actually close your eyes in a dream? For me it either (when I'm LDing) wakes me up, or it's as if I'm seeing through my eyelids, or I close my eyes and end up in a different scene, with my eyes open. I think it's that a dream projects your neural noise into imagery and closing that off is disrupting the process.
posted by abcde at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2004

Damn.. UBBcode.. impulses..
posted by abcde at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2004

What is this thing you call lucid dreaming? I don't know if I ever had one of those and would like to know more about them. Are they just like ordinary dreams but more intense?
posted by Termite at 11:19 AM on August 9, 2004

Response by poster: If you are having a lucid dream, you are aware that you are dreaming. Knowing this, you can then theoretically do whatever the hell you please (note: may be dangerous if you frequently abuse hallucinogens or have a really loose grip on reality). It is also often possible to influence the content of your dream or force yourself to wake up if you so choose.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:34 AM on August 9, 2004

I've had experiences similar to Tubes, where the words are English but don't make sense together if I really look at them. I'm a writer, so I pay careful attention to anything I've written in my dreams to see if it's interesting. Sadly, I remember them as incredibly creative but it dissolves into gibberish on closer examination (much like my regular writing, I guess).

Lucid dreaming is a real kick. Whenever it happens, I try to fly. For some reason, I alternate between altitudes - either just above the electrical wires, or just above street level.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2004

I have definitely read text in dreams.
posted by bingo at 5:22 PM on August 9, 2004

A late addition: Last night I dreamt I read seat numbers. Of course I only remember reading the seat numbers (…8 and …9, I knew the exact numbers when I woke up but have since forgotten, I didn't remember this thread until later) and can't know whether I actually read them or just knew them, but the difference between remembering something only I can have observed happening and something actually happening gets rather philosophical.
posted by fvw at 11:32 PM on August 20, 2004

Interestingly enough, I have in the past been unable to read actual full text in a dream (it was speech bubbles in a cartoon in the specific dream I remember), and remembered this after waking up. I was aware of what they said however, though I lost this awareness as I awakened but was still half in the dream.
posted by fvw at 11:35 PM on August 20, 2004

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