The Brain Was Not Designed To Read

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From a recent presentation by Guinevere Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University: “There’s something really important to remember and that sometimes we forget. When we study the reading brain, we have to remember the brain was not designed to read.” Eden said language has been around for hundreds of thousands of years and it develops spontaneously in a child. Reading, however, does not. “Reading is a cultural invention,” Eden said. “There’s nothing designed in the brain to make us readers. Reading has only been around for 4,000 years, maybe a little longer. There are no systems in place from an evolutionary perspective designed for reading.” The brain is apportioned for various tasks. However, Eden said, when people learn to read, brain areas designed for other skills are being converted for the reading skill. “It’s important to remember this is a skill that we have invented and we use to access knowledge and information,” Eden said. “It’s not a skill that we have a designated brain region for. It’s something the brain has to learn and it takes many years to learn it. For some individuals, it’s just a huge challenge to do this very specific skill”: http://bit.ly/IQoksz.

The researcher Stanislas Dehaene has a wonderful phrase for this borrowing of brain areas designed for other tasks: he calls it “neuronal recycling.” It’s important to remember that none of us are born to read the way we’re born to speak our native language; each individual brain has to be painstakingly rewired in order to perform this newfangled (evolutionarily speaking) skill.

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4 Responses to “The Brain Was Not Designed To Read”

  1. Joe Paz says:

    So that’s why I never spotted a capital K when hunting out in the wild! Love the phrase neuronal recycling.

  2. Olaf Lewitz says:

    I prefer the term “Deliberate Exaptation” for phenomena like this.
    We have delegated a good part of human evolution to culture; and this is one of the examples where the unintended use happens on purpose.
    Recycling to me sounds as if the brain regions wouldn’t be used for their “original purpose” anymore, if such a phrase makes sense for the human brain.
    Do specific neurons have a specific duty in the human brain?
    Thanks for an inspiring post!
    Take care

  3. Andrew says:

    so, that’s why so many people are reluctant to sit down and read… I think I need to start making my blog posts a tad bit shorter!…

  4. Alvaro says:

    We digest symbols and drawings more easily than reading a paragraph.
    Maybe we should change the way we write. In a written page all points of the page are the same. In a graph all points are different. Maybe pages should be more like C-maps.

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