Math Dreams, Dyslexia, and Brain Changes

Numbers - Math DreamsWork 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:

  1. I read much more slowly than pretty much all of my intellectual peers — about 300 words per minute once I get going.
  2. I’m terrible with names, which is why reading Dostoyevsky is so hard.
  3. 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.

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.

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.

16 thoughts on “Math Dreams, Dyslexia, and Brain Changes

  1. For someone who loves reading as much as I do, I am don’t think I have ever had a dream where I was reading.

    • It’s not pleasant. It’s like most things in dreams: difficult. Maybe it’s because I read so many little things.

      It’s funny though. Other than the fact that I wrote about it, I can’t remember the dream. I remember the images I formed in remembering it. But if I hadn’t written about it, it would be completely gone.

      • I find that is the case…you lose the memory of it. Probably just as well considering some dreams.

            • Been there. It’s no fun. A thing I used to do when I was really sad, I’d find a good Chinese buffet place. I’d buy a really thick publication of some kind (like the Sunday “Times” or one of those old Playboy interviews with fascinating authors) and just sit and read and nibble at my plate for a few hours. It didn’t make life better, but it made life less sucky for a few hours.

  2. I can read in my dreams, but sometimes the words will shift or change while I’m reading. You’d think this would be a clue to me that I was dreaming, but it usually isn’t.

    I have certain… neurodiversities, though dyslexia isn’t one of them. I do have “handedness” difficulties, am almost fully ambidextrous, and have difficulty telling left from right. (I guess correctly about a third of the time. Worse than a coin flip.) So your thoughts about cross-brain dominance sounds exceedingly reasonable.

    • Huh! That’s one hell of a challenge and I salute your intelligence (with only 10-20% envy for having a sharp brain) for overcoming it. But it’s also (strictly from a data collection standpoint) kind of a fascinating human anomaly I’m thankful you shared.

      When I was a teen, my mom was a 9-1-1 dispatcher. And this was 25 years ago, well before GPS was hooked into 9-1-1, so part of the job requirement was knowing your city map by heart. If there’s a dying kid on Vine & Birch streets, and you’re in radio contact with every ambulance, you need to know which ambulances are closest to Vine & Birch. So my mom knew the map, every side street on it, almost all of ’em.

      But she couldn’t do left/right! Especially after she got divorced! Married, she could associate “left” with her ring hand. Once that ring came off, “left” and “right” were meaningless to her.

      So if I was having Mom drive me to a school outing at a museum or something, I couldn’t say “turn left at this next light.” I had to say, “turn north/south/E/W at this next light.” If I knew exactly what the cardinal directions were at all times, Mom understood my directions. “Left/right,” no way!

      You probably won’t be surprised how quickly I and my brothers adapted to this … ;)

    • I know what you mean about words in dreams. They aren’t concrete. But then, nothing in my dreams are concrete.

      To this day, I only know right from left by imagining myself throwing a ball and imagining what “feels” right. I figured that out when I was about 5 and I’ve never gotten beyond it. If I can avoid memorizing something, I will.

      • Here’s a fun thing. Where did the term “southpaw” come from? Well, every baseball stadium in the world has home plate on the western side of the field, as otherwise the setting sun would be in batters’ eyes. (The grandstand seats block the sun for pitchers.)

        So, a pitcher throws west. So, a pitcher throwing left handed is using the south-sided arm. Hence “southpaw.”

        • If that is true, that is magnificent. Why didn’t you write a whole article about that?! That’s just too great!

          • God, can you imagine the research to prove it was true? That’d be almost impossible …

            You give good advice as usual, I hope to get back to writing more. It’s called depression, and it sucks! Every time I think I’m finally done with my former employer, I get another letter from hospitals or lawyers or another “helpful”/menacing phone call from their HR department. Just let me pay my bills and leave me the fuck alone!

            Even the baseball stuff is hard for me now. Last year I wrote posts weeks in advance. Now I do them, if I do them at all, at 3 AM the night before they go up at 8 AM. I still want to do it, because it has moments, and usually doesn’t require much soul-searching. I just don’t feel like writing these days.

            Some fun stuff, though: A few weeks ago I learned the acronym TOOTBLAN. This means, wonderfully, “thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop,” for unfortunate baserunning decisions. I dunno who came up with it (too bad, they should be lauded forever) but not long after I learned it, I got to see one of the finest examples I can recall: https://youtu.be/fPqecTvbPQQ

            And, far better, this clip (although nothing beats “TOOTBLAN” as an acronym.) It’s a college baseball crowd cheer in Texas (which, I thought, only cared about high school football.) The crowd only does it when a visiting pitcher issues a four-pitch walk. It’s amazing. I really DO want to write about this and how it represents the best of America, but my heart isn’t in writing right now. Anyhoo, it will make you smile:

            https://twitter.com/NCAACWS/status/742125715240288262

            • First: I’m like that. When I get depressed, I get behind on work — especially here. Writing is really hard to grind out, and depression requires that. Hey, check out Stephen King’s On Writing. I think it might inspire you. Also, he talks about the process of moving from a drunk, coke-addicted writer to a clean and sober one. He said he really wasn’t certain he would be able to do it, but that he decided his wife and kids mattered more than the writing to him. I’m not saying you are a drunk, coke-addicted writer; I’m just talking about the process seeing yourself as a writer in a different way.

              That play was amazing! I love the split second that the 2nd baseman decides he has an out on 3rd. Plays like that are what make baseball so great.

              I think there should be special (funny) names for things like when the catcher throws down his mask and it hits the umpire. My father told me last night, “I just heard the catcher is the most dangerous position.” I thought, well, yeah. 100 mph balls flying at you. Batters occasionally hitting your head. It’s got to kill your knees. Also, I think you are contractually obligated to advertise Blue-Emu if you survive!

              (How many FC readers will get that “joke”? One!)

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