Scène uit 'Perchance to Dream'

Scène uit ‘Perchance to Dream’

Batman: The Animated Series was a popular American cartoon in the early 90s. In episode 26, ‘Perchance to Dream’, Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne notices that something is wrong: he can’t read.

The words in his newspaper become a mash of letters. All of his books are suddenly unintelligible. This leads the master detective to a conclusion: he must be dreaming.

Dream mistake 1

Can you read in dreams? The series’ creators obviously didn’t think so. But they were mistaken. Though most people have difficulty performing rational tasks like reading in their dreams, some people can definitely dream intelligible text.

In the Youtube clip comments several viewers question Bruce’s conclusion, as they have read in their dreams. In my work as a dream counsellor, my clients often mention specific text that appeared in their dreams. Sometimes just one meaningful word that they could see as clear as day.

Dream mistake 2

Bruce immediately suspected that he was dreaming when he couldn’t read his newspaper. He knows that reading is a function of the right half of the brain, while dreaming comes from the left. It must therefore be impossible to read something in a dream, he thinks. But this is the second big misunderstanding: dreams do not originate left or right in the brain. While dreaming we are capable of using all of our brain, and most of the time we do use all of it.

Beeld dromend brein

Illustration: CT scan of a dreaming brain

You can hardly blame the writers for this error. In the nineties we were flooded with ideas about the left and right half of the brain, and the specific functions that were attributed to each side.

These days, most of that information has proven to be false, explains psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist in the video below. After the first brain surgeries in the sixties and seventies a flood of theories emerged about a task division between left and right brain hemispheres. It lead to a popularisation that since then has proved to be completely false:

It’s not true that one part of the brain does reason and the other does emotion. Both are profoundly involved in both. It’s not true that language lies only in the left hemisphere. It doesn’t: important aspects are in the right. It’s not true that visual imagery is only in the right hemisphere; lots of it is in the left. (…) For imagination you need both hemispheres. For reason you need both hemispheres.

A silent scientific revolution.

The last 20 years a silent revolution has been taking place when it comes to brain research. New brain imagery techniques have put old ideas of ‘how it works in the brain’ upside down. We now know for example that our brain will start working the minute we do nothing, and that most of our thinking happens without us noticing.

Our ideas about the process of dreaming have altered significantly, as well. We’ve seen research that shows that we can practice motor skills while dreaming, or solve problems in our sleep. Dreaming is no longer seen as confined to REM-sleep. And reading in dreams may not be a daily occurrence for everyone, but it is definitely possible.

Nowadays more and more people (like me) talk about dreaming as sleep mentation. Scientists are acting much more careful these days when it comes to claiming something is ‘impossible’ in a dream. Because you never know…