You are reading this right now- because I don’t post video blogs and because reading is a most efficient modality to obtain information. Most of us are capable of reading 500+ wpm (some of us closer to 2000) and can accommodate changes in type design and size with ease.
Did you ever wonder how we learn to read? Neuroscientists view the brain as if it were modular. This means that our brain is arranged into a series of conduits that are specialized for different functions. And, each module has a different task than that of another. It was originally thought that our genetic code specifies our modules. But, reading is something we must be taught- it’s not like walking, talking, or remembering, so it’s probably not related to our genetic code. Our ability to read seems to emanate from a portion of our brain’s cortex just behind the left ear (termed the “letterbox area”). The scanning takes about 150 milliseconds- and from this region the information is sent to a variety of brain regions scattered across both brain hemispheres. (If any of these regions are damaged, the subject exhibits loss in the elements of language.) [By the way, it’s why humans can decipher Captcha’s but computers can’t!]
We generally read about 12 characters at a clip, even though we can see the whole page of text. And, even though we are focused on the letters, our brain virtually ignores them to perceive the meaning of the words. And, we can even decipher text that has characters misplaced. [See below for an example.] And, it seems that reading does not truly involve just one module, but a series of regions of our brain. Those areas that process language interact with those that process visual details; other modules that process speech are usually involved.
This new model, propounded by Stansilas Dehaene, may explain dyslexia better than our previous concepts. Dyslexia, according to Dehaene is the result of our incorrectly decoding speech– not by confusing letters. It’s why phonics is proving to be the better modality for teaching reading.
We need to train the brain to correspond letters with their sounds, so that the vision and hearing centers coordinate to decode words never seen before. (This is how children can learn to read words that they have never been taught.) And, since our brain is inherently plastic (at birth; I discussed plasticity on 8 August), each subsequent generation of humans learns the environment of its parents, wiring the brain in subtly different fashion than the generation previous; in just a few generations, the brain can be wired differently. (Remember, it’s taken less than 4000 years or so for us to have developed reading and writing. It’s also why my parents read papers and I read computer screens.)
Here’s a simple “test” to show you how your brain reads (for about 55% of you, anyway):
I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! If you can raed this forwrad it