Work has been really stressful. I’m afraid that my boss thinks far too highly off me. I am just a writer. That’s really about it — I’m no manager. This stress came up in a recurring dream I had last night. It involved a bus trip. I was trying to make a connection. But it was all screwed up. I have these dreams all the time. But this one involved a bus schedule. And I noticed something interesting about it: I couldn’t read it. I often have math dreams but this was a different kind — more a number dream.
Now I know: supposedly none of us can read in our dreams because they are the result of our right brains that don’t know much about language. But the truth is that I can read in dreams. Admittedly, the reading is rudimentary — rarely more than a sentence in length. This may be the result of the difficulty that I had learning to read.
How Dyslexia Changed My Brain
People think of dyslexia as the problem of flipping letters and words around. But that’s not true. Dyslexia is a disorder that causes otherwise mentally capable people from learning to read. It’s hard for me to say that I have dyslexia, because I fought hard against it and have overcome it. But there are residuals of it:
- I read much more slowly than pretty much all of my intellectual peers — about 300 words per minute once I get going.
- I’m terrible with names, which is why reading Dostoyevsky is so hard.
- I panic if I know I have to read something quickly.
But otherwise, I read quite well and quite accurately. And since I most clearly was not born to be a writer, spending so much time as I do in the right side of my brain, it isn’t surprising that I would have formed connects between the hemispheres that other people don’t need. And don’t think I say this with any self-satisfaction, because I wish it weren’t so. I wish the opening of Bob’s Burgers (which features two written jokes) didn’t cause me anxiety. (The Simpsons is even worse because the chalkboard joke can be very long.)
The Unbearable Greyness of Math Dreams
Anyway, getting back to the dream, I held a bus schedule in my hand. Now a bus schedule has almost no words on it. And this was a Gold Gate Transit bus schedule, so I knew what all the words were anyway. I just needed to look at the numbers. But there were none. Really: I couldn’t make out anything. It was just grey. That wasn’t that stressful, however. I’ve been in that exact location in dreams before and I knew what I had to do was walk up the hill, because the bus didn’t pick up where it let off. Still, I like to know when the bus comes.
What I find most remarkable about this is that I have math dreams. When I was studying math seriously, I had amazingly vibrant, even explosive, dreams about math. But they were completely abstract. There were no numbers. There were not even any things. I can’t quite explain it. The closest I’ve come is the scene at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day where the T-1000 has been dropped in the molten iron. It tries shifting its shape into everything it had been before. That’s what the dreams were like, but there was nothing concrete that I was trying — and no end result I was moving toward.
Will All Math Dreams Be Thus?
Last night’s dream may just have been a fluke. Maybe in other math dreams, I will be able to read numbers just fine. But I do wonder if my difficulties in reading haven’t forced me to rework my brain in ways that math hasn’t. Numbers aren’t math just as words aren’t language. In fact, even that greatly overstates the importance of numbers to math.
There are only 10 number characters, compared to 26 letter characters. And the number characters combine in a perfectly consistent way. Combining “2” and “3” gives you “23” and we all know what that is. Combining “t” and “i” gives you “ti.” But there is no meaning to it. In fact, we don’t even know how to pronounce it. It could sound like “tie” as in, well, “tie” (or “tight” if you prefer). It could sound like “tea” as in “etiology.” Or it could sound like “sh” as in “mention.” (See Ghoti — generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw, although actually never used by him.)
The brain is a funny old thing. I find it fascinating that my brain changed the way it worked because some avenues of problem solving were closed off to it.