Start with this clip from Batman: The Animated Series episode called “Perchance to Dream.”
In the episode, recurring villain
Scarecrow Mad Hatter places Batman in a dream state, but Batman figures this out when he tries to read a newspaper… and can’t.
Until very recently, and by very recently I mean this morning, I thought it was impossible to read in dreams. Batman’s oversimplified explanation has no scientific basis, but it is widely believed that reading in dreams isn’t possible.
This morning, I dreamt that I had received an odd packet in the mail. It was a jumble of documents, some demanding money, some showing money paid, and finally I found the text of a lawsuit. I know I was able to read it in my dream because I remember seeing that my name was spelled “Jeff Eagg” and I remember reading that I had allegedly paid $9 towards a $2,200 bill. I can remember the text, its position on the page, and the quality of the font.
After the relief of this being just a dream, I sat up and thought “I just read in a dream.” And off to Google I went.
If you’ve ever experienced “lucid dreaming,” that is the ability to control your actions in a dream, you may have wondered if you were dreaming. There are two good ways to answer this question. 1) Have you ever asked that question when you were awake? Probably not. And 2) Try to read something.
I’ve done this test and found that I couldn’t read anything. I could see the text, but it was much as is depicted in the Batman episode: just waves of lines and shapes with no actual words.
But I did read in a dream… what does that prove? Not much at all. Scientific American ran an article by Jordan Lite in 2010 called How Can You Control Your Dreams? In it, Jordan interviewed psychology professor Deirdre Barrett, author of the book The Committee of Sleep. She explains that for those folks who actually can read in dreams, they’ll likely encounter difficulty and only pick up a few words. In fact, that’s what I had experienced.
I suspect that rather than actually reading (after all, there wasn’t anything real to read!) I was dreaming that I was reading, and now, I’m just remembering that portion of the dream.
It’s a subtle difference, but it boils down to this: Trying to read requires your brain to interpret text, and dreaming that you’re reading doesn’t.
I can assure you that if you’re reading this, you are awake. If you’re listening to it in podcast form, well, I can’t be so sure.