Tools for dream typing

While trying any kind of sleep-typing, you probably want to use a keyboard like this:

This keyboard is missing every key that lets you delete words you’ve typed or otherwise send commands to the OS or text editor/messaging program you’re typing in (Ubuntu+ion3 and irssi here — your mileage may vary). When you drift off to unconscious sleep, it’s very easy to accidentally delete text, close the program, or other such counterproductive things.

It can be difficult to try to study something that by definition screws around with the thought processes you use to study it (I’m sure scientifically-minded drug-experimenter types would agree). But I have definitely had dreams where I was able to do some sciencey stuff while playing around — examining the simulated world to see how detailed it is (I wonder what rendering engine my brain uses …), testing what I can and can’t do in it, and so forth. Inevitably, since dreams are so hard to remember, I forget about the allure of the whole thing for long stretches of time. But eventually I have another vivid dream and start thinking about the possibility of playing around with a complete, realistic virtual world of my very own, and my inner SimCity player insists that I try it again.

Since dreams are so intangible when one’s awake, I don’t think that there’s any way for them to become a serious enough interest to detract from real life. But they’re a fascinating phenomenon and I’ve had fun when I’ve played around with them.  Also, a few nights ago I had a long dream where I spent a lovely afternoon with Janeane Garofalo. And when the negative results of your experiment are “a lovely afternoon with Janeane Garofalo,” you have a good experimental design on your hands.

134 replies on “Tools for dream typing”

  1. Dear xkcd, I do hope you will set up your dream keyboard to automatically post to this blog at 8AM or whatever. It would be so entertaining.

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  2. You scould also buy a graphic tablet and use some drawing software to do dream drawing !
    I can’t wait to read an unconscious XKCD comic !
    By the way, please refrain from posting any raptor-related dreams you might have, that would for sure prevent ME from sleeping ever again !
    And if by any chance you meet a red haired talking unicorn, back off, it’s MINE !

    P.S : Yipee ! My first comment on xkcd !

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  3. Have you read the chapter of Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman! where he talks about how to develop the skill of taking control of your dreams? Quite an interesting fellow.

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  4. Darn you and your lucid dreaming.
    *jealousy*
    I too look forward to an XKCD post directly from your unconscious/subconsious self ^_^

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  5. Ah, lucid dreaming, hanging out with celebrities, being Spider-Man, such fun, such fun.

    Ok I was just jealous of el-sio and wanted to post my first comment on xkcd too. Yay!

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  6. You might rather want to use one of those five key, one handed keyboards. I imagine it would be pretty complicated to move your whole hand and hit the right buttons while being asleep…

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  7. So, I don’t think I’ve ever dream-typed (well, maybe that would explain some college papers), but I have definitely been reading a book and dreamed several pages of text. I’ve also fallen asleep during movies, with my own plot line continuing in my dream, only to wake up later to be quite surprised.

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  8. I remember, years ago, watching this one episode of Batman where the entire thing is a dream, and he figures it out because he opens a book and finds gibberish inside. There was some explanation about him dreaming with the right side of his brain while language processing happens in the left hemisphere. (I might be getting some details wrong, I was like 10 when I watched this.)

    Now, if the Batman cartoons are in fact accurate (and they’ve never steered me wrong as yet), this might throw a wrench into your plans. I suggest you go into a lucid dream and ask the dark knight himself what he thinks.

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  9. Okay, if you are able to pull this off, you MUST, and I repeat MUST give us detailed explanation of the training process. Imagine being able to IM someone between make-out sessions with oneself to give a first-hand account.

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  10. A little off topic, but you know you’ve been using wikipedia too much when you see a red link in the article and wonder why a broken link is there.

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  11. What would really be fun would be to work out a way to make a _two way_ communications channel.

    Then you could have IMs sent from one dream to another. 🙂

    “True Names” anyone? 🙂

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  12. I think simply recording yourself when you talk in your sleep may be easier. If you are a sleep-talker that is. But I really hope you’ll pull this off anyway… it’s really original 🙂

    And I’d really like to see someone like you explore lucid dreaming (no newage-crap)

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  13. I actually did try the tape-recording thing once but the results were kind of unintelligible. But using a keyboard is certainly a really cool idea. It would probably be easy to get it to work for a hypnagogic state, but to get it working during your REM cycle might be tricky. I suppose you could train yourself by frequently typing out a description of your environment on an imaginary keyboard while you are awake until it became natural enough that you would do it unconciously … what do you guys think?

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  14. I tend to talk rather coherently during the most incoherent of dreams…
    But Rob may be on to something, habit seems like the best way to deal with subconscious activity.

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  15. I’ve read in a few places that the best way to gain near-perfect dream recall is to get in the habit of writing down as much as you can remember when you wake up. Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield talks about how the author trained herself to wake up after each REM cycle, and had a system where she could write without looking at the pad so she wouldn’t have to wake up fully. It involved bracing her pinky against the notepad to keep her lines of text straight.

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  16. It’s entirely possible – I once feel asleep in front of my lap top when I was trying to get started on a Uni paper…
    I’d been running through the plot for a short story I wanted to write later on while I’d been at work all day, and then in my sleep basically typed out a really short, stream of consciousnesses synopsis of the story whilst dreaming about it.

    Unfortunately my unconscious brain isn’t in very good control of my hands – spelling mistakes were abundant. Also, my sleeping mind has a tendency to use internet acronyms and the word ‘lol’.
    It was messy.

    I think the only reason it worked so well to such a degree for me is that I’m a full time author who spends most of his free time at a key board, and then of course there’s Uni work and instant messaging, alongside blogging.

    So yeah, it’s a plausible concept. Just don’t expect perfect spelling and for your fingers to hit the right keys every time.

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  17. The above comment reminded me that one time I was taking notes in class and I was so tired that I feel asleep while still typing! Unfortunately the result was gibberish. I woke up and looked at what I wrote and thought, “Huh?? ::backspace!::” I can’t remember how much the gibberish resembled real words. I wish I hadn’t deleted it! Too bad I didn’t have that keyboard. I wasn’t dreaming, but it still would have been interesting to reread.

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  18. Just wanted to add that it there has been experiments of dream to “real world” communication. Susan Blackmore has a quite a good article on it (and on Lucid dreaming in general):

    http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Articles/si91ld.html

    Quote:
    “In one experiment with researchers Morton Schatzman and Peter Fenwick, in London, Worsley planned to draw large triangles and to signal with flicks of his eyes every time he did so. While he dreamed, the electromyogram, recording small muscle movements, showed not only the eye signals but spikes of electrical activity in the right forearm just afterward. This showed that the preplanned actions in the dream produced corresponding muscle movements”

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  19. didn’t feynman do something like this?
    and about the grape juice-raptor thing, where’d you squeeze the juice? all over yourself like with mosquito repellent?yuck. or at the Thing? where? do you wait till you can see the whites of its eyes?
    *sigh* it’s just too hard. I’d rather stay holed up home.

    oh and I heart xkcd.

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  20. Lucid dreams are great. I remember once acknowledging that I don’t have to make physical effort to move, and I particularly like the way I can be spared from gravity at will.

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  21. I don’t usually know I’m dreaming, and can’t really fly, but sometimes I sort of swim through the air.

    Speaking of interdream communication, lucid dreamers can sometimes meet at a specified place in their dreams, and have shared experience of things that happen in the dream. Whether they’re really communicating or just responding to a suggestion they agreed on beforehand is an exercise left to the dreamer.

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  22. I have printed this comic http://xkcd.com/c137.html I put it on my notebook .
    I only had play with lucid dreams once and was fun… I need to do it again… and maybe left reallity for the matrix. Then I just hack to land phone line to tal to you guys… watch out for the attachements of the messages it could be a rapptor.exe.img 🙂

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  23. I did experience something somewhat like typing in my sleep. I had been typing something, and though I don’t remember what it is right now, I was tired and falling asleep as I did it with the TV on. What I tried to write turned out alright, save for I swapped a few names for those of characters of the show. I snapped out of it a moment later though.

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  24. My husband used to talk in his sleep a great deal – unfortunately the meds he takes to lessen his manic-depression, while improving his quality-of-life in most respects, seem to have dampened this aspect of it. Anyway, I used to tell him when he woke up (often from the sound of my laughter) what I’d heard, so he could remember.

    Um, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but sometimes he dreamed he was a raptor. However, as a raptor, his main interest was making out with another raptor (i.e. me).

    Oh, he also sang a lengthy song about flamingoes once.

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  25. As a lucid dreamer I can vouch for the scrambled text thing, it’s just one of the things you can use to check if you’re dreaming. For an entertaining stare-at-moving-images introduction, I recommend Waking Life as linked to above.

    Otherwise Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (oops http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TBZRY2G3 ) is a great introductory book on the topic, written by one of the topic’s pioneer researchers (modern science-type research, that is).

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  26. Lucid dreaming is very interesting to me. I had a lucid dream once in elementary school (In detention… I’d rather not discuss it). I didn’t know it at the time but it was a lucid dream, for a while at least. I didn’t know what it was called until I was looking through one of those useless-crap catalogues that has nothing but kitsch, and I found one of those Lucid Dreaming devices. Didn’t buy it, but I found the advertisement informative.

    I honestly thought you were kidding in the comic. I don’t see a problem with the text, as most people don’t even LOOK at keyboards when they are typing. Since you are typing, not reading, there shouldn’t be any problems.

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  27. I once wrote an e-mail to a girl while I was blackout drunk, which is sort of similar. It looked like I typed it with my forehead.

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  28. Supposedly you can listen to certain interfering tones, and your brain’s rhythm (“brainwaves”) will “entrain” to it, subtly changing your mood or making you sleepy or alert or whatever.

    You can use an EEG to measure that rhythm, and then I guess when you connect the output of the EEG back into your headphones, it becomes biofeedback?

    http://openeeg.sourceforge.net/

    I’ve always wondered what would happen if two people wore such EEGs, but listened to each other’s brainwaves. What if the two people were sleeping next to each other?

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  29. I fell asleep once watching a movie in Japanese, and the dialogue switched to english… It didn’t make a bit of sense, but maybe that’s what they were really saying! The subtitles lie!

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  30. I once had a very lucid dream, I got a phone call from a friend of mine & my partners.

    In this dream, I said “You want to talk to her? Yeah, she’s here. I’ll just pass you over.” – I got the call on a mobile, of course.

    At this point, I woke up, to find my partner looking at me a bit funny, as it seems I’d actually said the words out loud, and had my hand cupped as if I were holding the phone, outstretched to give to her.

    Could always try sleep-SMSing…

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  31. I have a real problem. I can answer phonecalls while im sleeping! I talk normally and all, and when I wake up I kind of remember that someone called me on a dream. My best friend called me some years ago and we spend 2 hours talking, when I woke up I called her and asked her if I did speak to her and what did I say.. I could only remember talking to her, not the content :s

    I still do, it freaks me out!

    What would I do if I could also do that typing on msn?? Better not think about it.

    P.S: The spam protection keeps telling me that the sum of 5+10 is not 15. Maybe im dreaming on 15?

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  32. >I have a real problem.

    Pfff.. Just do a reality check and you’ll see even this is not real.
    There. 5+10.

    Happened to me once.. I picked up the phone, and the guy calling wanted to know where some keys to the jail cells were. Call was at 4:00 am on a saturday night.
    I was into Chrono Trigger or Zelda at the time.. good thing I didn’t start “you’ll need to take the stairs on the left of the castle, then kill the two guards with the morning star and use your boomerang to…”.
    I just mumbled that I didn’t have the keys and hung up.
    (My dad was the Sargent at that police station.. made sense they called him, but he was away on a ski trip at the time)

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  33. The “Powers of Ten” reference indirectly linked you to Will Wrights “Spore”.

    You just entered an entirely new sphere of awesome.

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  34. I’m getting better at recognizing my dreams. Last night I had a fairly normal dream about eating with some friends, when some weird things started to happen. So I started testing to see if it was a dream.

    Test 1: I tried reading small numbers. Asked one of my friends to show me his watch. I actually passed this test. I could read the numbers. Later I realized though that I didn’t actually see a time, just the numbers.

    Test 2: I wasn’t convinced though, so I tried writing something down. I started writing some random words, and I noticed I made a lot more mistakes than I do when I’m awake. Writing is hard in your dreams. Also I notice my handwriting was different. So I started to get the feeling I was dreaming after all. So I did the final test…

    Test 3: Try moving stuff with your mind. This always works for me when I’m dreaming, but by now I know that when I can do it it 100% certainly is a dream. Alas…

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  35. The best and simplest way to get lucid in a dream is to get in the habit of pulling your finger at random times during the day AND when something out of the ordinary happens. When you do it, really concentrate hard and ask “is this a dream” and pull your finger to see if it stretches like taffy. The idea is that if you do it often in real life, it will carry over to the dream.

    If you manage to realize you’re dreaming, immediately spend 15-30 seconds concentrating on studying the details of your entire hand, this improves the clarity and the length of time of the dream.

    If you start to feel like your dream is slipping, hold on to an object like a chair or a person and concentrate really hard on making the dream state stable.

    As far as remembering dreams, there are two things I do. In the dream I will spend time concentrating on the details of what just happened. And I have objects that I associate dreams with. In this case, my computer mouse. So if I dreamt I was spiderman, I would think of bashing spiderman’s head in with a mouse.

    Then when I wake up, I don’t move and I immediately think of what my dream was about. If that doesn’t work, then I think about what memory my mouse is associated with. If that doesn’t work, then throughout the day I will try to recall the dream going back to those methods.

    I didn’t realize you could type in a dream, I thought the only thing you could have any real control over was your eye movement.

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  36. I read about this device once — it’s a set of goggles with LED’s that point right at your eyes. The idea is that it automatically (either by timer, or by being hooked up to an EEG to monitor when you hit theta waves — the latter being much more accurate, but the former being much less expensive) flashes the LEDs when you enter your REM states.

    I don’t know this for sure, since I’ve never done it, but it’s supposed to somehow help you “wake up” in your dream.

    I imagine setting it up wouldn’t be terribly hard if you were just doing the timer. Most people enter REM sleep after about 4 or 5 hours. That still doesn’t solve the keyboarding issue though….

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  37. I read about an experiment:

    Apparently even the most sensitive instruments could barely detect differences in finger pressure made by a lucid dreamer attempting to type (they used eye movements to signal attempts). So on a real keyboard, you’re out of luck—unless you’re actually sleepwalking (which is entirely unconscious and probably what most of these “I did it!” posters experienced). The body is paralyzed when you dream (ever wake up before your body did, and couldn’t move?).

    I’ll agree with Anon1’s recommendation of Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen LaBerge. It’s a good place to start. Here’s his website, which contains some quantitative experiments and articles: http://www.lucidity.com/

    Awesome comics, by the way!

    PS: if any of you reading this have questions, I happen to know a lot about sleep and dreaming, including interpreting. I’m a gmail user: Vi.Hart

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  38. You should consider getting Optimus keyboard then (hhttp://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/). Costs a fortune though.

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