Reading Upside Down

Is it possible to read a book in five minutes? Can you read a book backwards? Upside-down? What if everything you knew about reading turned out to be only a small part of the picture? What if you could read faster and with greater comprehension?

These questions and more rattled around in my mind when I attended a three-day workshop on the concept of PhotoReading®. The workshop taught the PhotoReading® Whole Mind System, developed by Paul R. Scheele of Learning Strategies Corporation. This unique reading technique is described in Scheele’s book PhotoReading (2007.)

I had written a history exam the previous week, the results of which can only be described as dismal. Although everything on the exam was covered in the course, my aging brain had difficulty retaining the information. Every detail I read in the textbook seemed to enter my brain through my eyes then leak out some hidden drain in the back of my head, never to be recalled. If there was a way to make the information stick, I wanted to know.

The skill, I learned, is a multi-step process, and at its core is the photo part. Just by exposing the text to the eyes, the information on the page is absorbed by the subconscious mind. Sounds hocus-pocus-y and perhaps a bit too good to be true. But is it? In his book PhotoReading, Scheele claims the conscious mind has a bandwidth of 40 bits per second, while the unconscious mind can process 10,000,000 bits per second. With the PhotoReading® system, the information on the page bypasses the conscious mind with its limited capacity and is delivered directly to the unconscious mind. Books can even be read backwards or upside-down. The mind can still comprehend it.

Traditional reading is a left-brain activity. At a rate of around 200 words per minute, we use the logical left brain, consciously following the sequence of the words and analyzing details. PhotoReading® uses the creative right brain. Taking in around 25,000 words per minute, this activity looks at the whole picture rather than focusing on details. During the workshop, I and the other attendees learned to relax our eyes, flip the pages of a book at a steady pace, and keep our conscious minds from interfering. At the rate of 1 to 2 seconds per page, our unconscious minds “read” a 300-page book in approximately 5 minutes.

Is it really that easy? Yes. And no. I found the skill itself easy to acquire. But that’s just one step of a 5-step process. There are two preliminary steps, “prepare” and “preview,” that are necessary to get into the right frame of mind and to the right state of relaxation. After PhotoReading®, there are two additional activities, “postview” and “activate,” that help make the information available to the conscious mind. The last of these activities involves reviewing the material in several different ways. This “activation” step, which does include some conscious reading, may take an hour or more.

But does it really work? My initial assessment is that, whether my subconscious mind can take in a page of text at a glance or not, there is real value in the pre- and post-reading activities. I already notice that I can focus better when I’m reading. I now PhotoRead each book, using the whole 5-step process, then read again in the conventional way. I notice an increase in my ability to retain information, which could simply be due to covering the material several times. I plan to stick with it for a few months to see how useful I find it. Maybe I’ll be able to PhotoRead my way to learning a new language or improving my chess game. Or, just maybe, my next exam won’t be such a trial.

PhotoReading by Paul R. Scheele is available in bookstores, libraries, and through PhotoReading® workshops are held worldwide by certified trainers; DVD seminars are also available on the Learning Strategies website.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario