Uninformed Comment

Can you read in dreams?

Posted in Psychology and perception by uninformedcomment on May 28, 2009

Can we read in dreams?

Years ago, I read somewhere something on the lines of:

If you’re ever unsure if you’re dreaming or not, try reading some text.  It’s impossible to read in dreams.

Since then, I’d sometimes wondered if that’s true.  Can we really not read at all in dreams?  I’d certainly had dreams in which books, newspapers and so on had appeared – if it’s true that I couldn’t have read them if I’d tried, then what would the text have looked like?

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to find out for myself.

It all began when I started spending a lot of time in Second Life, the online virtual reality social phenomenon thing, where the main method of talking to people was through text chat.  I’d done that sort of thing a lot before, mainly on IRC, but for some reason the use of text chat in SL started making appearances in my dreams.


Random sample of typical SL chat (names jumbled)

The first time this happened, I dreamed that I was chatting to a friend in SL , and everything they typed was complete gibberish.  I was startled and worried about them – it was as if they’d suddenly lost their faculties.    I woke up in shock, and was very relieved to realise that I’d been dreaming.

The dream kept happening from time to time for several months, and then one time I realised that I was dreaming – while still in the dream.  Since I can’t read what they’re saying, I thought, it must be one of those dreams.  And, as this kept happening, I began to observe, to study the text that I couldn’t read.  Why couldn’t I read it?  If I concentrated hard enough, could I make anything out at all?

The answer to the last question was “not really”.  At first glance, the text was normal letters, spaces, punctuation and so on – just meaningless – but when I tried to focus hard on it, I found that letter shapes were jumbled and illegible, especially in longer words.  Occasionally, I thought I could maybe make out a short word like ‘so’ or ‘as’, but they didn’t add any meaning even if “correct”.

I’ve attempted to depict here something like it; this doesn’t look very far off the kind of  thing I could see:


That’s not a perfect illustration, but trying to read it now does seem to me something very reminiscent of trying to read in dreams, to an almost eery degree.  It really doesn’t say anything at all, being just a jumble of modified partial letters, so there’s no point trying to decode it, and I believe that’s equally true of the dreams themselves.  It’s as if your subconscious mind is not only incapable of creating imaginary text, it’s also incapable of giving it any meaning at all.

I’ve not had the dream for quite a while now.  But if I should find myself  in a situation where I don’t know if I’m dreaming, I’ll be sure to look around for a book to read.

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