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Marzshox

The reading brain

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As Maryanne Wolf coined in her book Proust and the Squid, the story and science of the reading brain, humans were never born to read. There is no genetic disposition, or specific brain region designed to tackle the act of reading. Actually, our brains miraculous ability to make sense of the written word, is a testimony to the brains plasticity.

It's billions of neurons and vast neural networks and various brain structures, combine and synchronize In such a way, that one may be able to obtain reading fluency.

These underlying structures that are recruited for reading, were actually developed for various tasks such as vision, language and speaking, memory and cognition. These areas combine their efforts in such a way, to make reading possible.

Once the basic ability to decode words from their smaller, combined syllables and letters, the brains neural circuitry to comprehend writing grows in competence.

As earlier brain structures for decoding become more efficient, they do also become more condensed, requiring less cortical "space". But slowly the expert reader emerges as these simpler operations become more automatic and less demanding on the brains varrying structures. (Streamlined for reading)

One discussion Maryanne Wolf is part of, is the topic of reading on the Internet. She fears, like many educators, that the Internet is "giving birth" to a generation of readers who do not have the capacity to deeply immerse themselves in deep reading. 

This type of reading that we should be doing includes reading complex syntax, increasing exposure to vocabulary in content area, exposure to complex material and topics written at length, which all aid in building robust reading and thinking skills.

(All of this requiring us to critically think, analyze, infer, and understand varying meanings of words, syntax, and the ability to follow cohesive argument + supporting details).

The fear is not only that reading ability has been compromised by all the skimming, scanning, and lack of focused attention due to digital media, but also the complexity of the reading online requires no deep thought/reading strategy. 

Most material online only superficiously scratches the surface of any topic, and material is often found on search engines based on number of hits, rather than based on valid source of information (powerful cited sources).

What are your thoughts?

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Two thoughts occured to me as I read your post.

One is that if reading is as unsuited to our brains as she says, then maybe these notions of neuroanatomy as destiny and genetics as destiny are wrong; we don't really face an anomaly that needs explaining away.

The other is that what she says about the internet is remarkably similar to what grownups were saying about TV when I was a child in the Eisenhower era.

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58 minutes ago, Reidy said:

Two thoughts occured to me as I read your post.

One is that if reading is as unsuited to our brains as she says, then maybe these notions of neuroanatomy as destiny and genetics as destiny are wrong; we don't really face an anomaly that needs explaining away.

The other is that what she says about the internet is remarkably similar to what grownups were saying about TV when I was a child in the Eisenhower era.

As for your first point, my average reading skills are not sufficient enough to draw anything conclusive from what you are saying at this time.

Secondly, there is still a bit of common thought that TV is detrimental to your health. Becoming sedentary for hours on end, is the foremost reason.

It's also been suggested that TV watching is such a passive experience, that requires no firing of neurons - unlike reading, which is a more cerebral activity.

However, most (who I've read) do not underestamate the impact of educational documenteries/TED talks/educational videos and lectures that can aid in your understanding of a subject.

Personally, I have learned a bit about Law from watching Judge Judy, Law and Order, or Better call Saul.

I don't watch TV, but since my mom constantly has it on, I may be more aware of celebrity gossip than your average person -- that I have picked up from E! News.

I'm a big movie buff anyways...

 

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1 hour ago, Reidy said:

Two thoughts occured to me as I read your post.

One is that if reading is as unsuited to our brains as she says, then maybe these notions of neuroanatomy as destiny and genetics as destiny are wrong; we don't really face an anomaly that needs explaining away.

From what I gather from rereading this excerpt from your post, you are suggesting that a humans predisposition of ability at specific task (reading), is actually not determined by genetic factors.

...Since such activity is learned by said brain by creating neural pathways amoung distinct strictly genetically unfolded brain components, that can be intergrated neurolly to create competence of said task?

Am I even making sense?

Deslexia would be considered a genetical formation that can affect reading!

Edited by Marzshox

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Welcome to the forum.

When reading silently, there is still minute muscle movement in the larynx, etc. taking place.  See Subvocalization.  Speech requires learning to control many complex motor activities, in a manner that is very similar to learning to make a jump shot in basketball.  As you get better, both become more automated and economical in the sense that they require less attentive behavior.  I believe the same goes for reading.  If you see a word, you can't help but grasp it's meaning via an activation of muscle memory (which I believe are controlled by the thalamacortical system including the basal ganglia), in addition to other cortical systems.

Excerpt from Subvocalization link:

Subvocalization, also known as implicit speech, inner vocalization, or subvocal articulation, is an inner speech that occurs during silent reading.[1] This inner speech is characterized by minute movements in the larynx and other muscles involved in the articulation of speech. Subvocalization plays a definitive role in the encoding and processing of verbal and acoustic information into memory storage. It is one of the components of Baddeley and Hitch's phonological loop proposal which accounts for the storage of these types of information into short-term memory.[2]

I haven't read the book you linked to, but does it address issues such as these?  I personally don't see that reading is anatomically different than learning to walk, ride a bike or throw a ball.  But I'm no neurologist!

I was originally put onto the above ideas from a book, I of the Vortex by Rodolfo Llinas.

 

Edited by New Buddha

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2 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

Welcome to the forum.

When reading silently, there is still minute muscle movement in the larynx, etc. taking place.  See Subvocalization.  Speech requires learning to control many complex motor activities, in a manner that is very similar to learning to make a jump shot in basketball.  As you get better, both become more automated and economical in the sense that they require less attentive behavior.  If you see a word, you can't help but grasp it's meaning.

Excerpt from Subvocalization link:

Subvocalization, also known as implicit speech, inner vocalization, or subvocal articulation, is an inner speech that occurs during silent reading.[1] This inner speech is characterized by minute movements in the larynx and other muscles involved in the articulation of speech. Subvocalization plays a definitive role in the encoding and processing of verbal and acoustic information into memory storage. It is one of the components of Baddeley and Hitch's phonological loop proposal which accounts for the storage of these types of information into short-term memory.[2]

I haven't read the book you linked to, but does it address issues such as these?  I personally don't see that reading is anatomically different than learning to walk, ride a bike or throw a ball.  But I'm no neurologist!

I was originally put onto the above ideas from a book, I of the Vortex by Rodolfo Llinas.

 

That's interesting. From what I have heard, sub vocalizing your words while you read impedes learning. However, the same people who believe this, likely subscribe to the Evelyn Wood form of reading, which is high speed reading. 

If you are an educator or otherwise in the know , you understand that is important to slow your speed down to really eat and digest what you're reading as opposed to just tasting the surface of the proverbial "food" on the page.

In reality, subvocalizing likely does no such wrong. And any advocate of literature, knows that true meaning found in various contexts and words, are to be inferred mostly through slow purposeful multiple rereadings.

And multiple reading strategies are to be employed, to improve the readers understanding.

I however, am not so great at utilizing various reading strategies. But in some form or another, I like most people, have developed what is required for the basics (of literacy).

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I'm not an educator or anything of the sort, lol.  I am interested in the idea (that persons such as Llinas hold) that the mind largely exists for coordination of motor activity, which allows us to move around in our environment, and that motor activity is central to all forms of learning. 

excerpt:

In I of the Vortex, Rodolfo Llinas, a founding father of modern brain science, presents an original view of the evolution and nature of mind. According to Llinas, the "mindness state" evolved to allow predictive interactions between mobile creatures and their environment. He illustrates the early evolution of mind through a primitive animal called the "sea squirt." The mobile larval form has a brainlike ganglion that receives sensory information about the surrounding environment. As an adult, the sea squirt attaches itself to a stationary object and then digests most of its own brain. This suggests that the nervous system evolved to allow active movement in animals. To move through the environment safely, a creature must anticipate the outcome of each movement on the basis of incoming sensory data. Thus the capacity to predict is most likely the ultimate brain function. One could even say that Self is the centralization of prediction.

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20 minutes ago, New Buddha said:

As an adult, the sea squirt attaches itself to a stationary object and then digests most of its own brain.

Sounds like the kids in college, who moved back in with their moms (attaches to stationary object and digests most of its own brain)

So, if I'm receiving you correctly, the mind or brain is essentially just a remarkable evolved organ which is designed to accommodate motor functions?

I think movement is largley possible because the brain. But the brain is also utilized for various other functions. Reading is just one remarkable feature of the brain.

There are a few people, don't get me wrong, who have continued smoking weed after highschool and evolved into heavier habits. These people likely use the brain just for movement.

But the brain is responsible for a varying display of functions.

 

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I was reading the "Look Inside" text on Amazon of the book you mention.  I wonder, if we could bring a homosapien from 50k years ago to the present, could he learn to read?  Or is the Author saying that there have been anatomical changes to the brain since written language was developed that were not present prior, and that these have been handed down via some mechanism?

Edited by New Buddha

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Reading itself, or more specifically writing, has been around for 5,500 years.

Originally cavemen drawings and Egyptian hieroglyphs were amoung the first to arrive in civilization. Interestingly, writing began in three different regions of the planet, all around the same time. One culture of which was the Myans.

These early writing systems were unlike what we know as the alphabet today. In Egyptian alphabet one would draw a word in the form of a picture, and to add past tense or to indicate there several of let's say "Egyptian birds", one would simply indicate this be drawing another image next to it.

As for an ancient gorilla man. I think that 50,000 years is close enough to present date. So I say yes, he could learn to read.

They say everything you learn is passed down via genes. That includes people who were strong and built strength while farming.- the ancestors will be strong also.

However, once one changes their brain by reading, I don't think that this skill will be passed down genetically. 

 

 

Edited by Marzshox

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15 hours ago, Marzshox said:

They say everything you learn is passed down via genes. That includes people who were strong and built strength while farming.- the ancestors will be strong also.

However, once one changes their brain by reading, I don't think that this skill will be passed down genetically. 

I realize this is incidental to the topic, but what do you mean by the first sentence? Do you mean "was" rather than ""is"? Are you saying that everything we learn and the strengths we have were passed down from our ancestors to us via genes? Or are you also implying that things we learn, or strengths we gain, will be passed on to our children, via our genes.

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15 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

I realize this is incidental to the topic, but what do you mean by the first sentence? Do you mean "was" rather than ""is"? Are you saying that everything we learn and the strengths we have were passed down from our ancestors to us via genes? Or are you also implying that things we learn, or strengths we gain, will be passed on to our children, via our genes.

Sorry, let me be more clear. I thought it was common knowledge, but now I see how ridiculous it sounds: That every memory and experience one has in their lifetime, is passed down to their ancestors.

Though the memories are largely subconscious, I still can see how this Idea may seem preposterous. I also do not know of any evidence to prove this hypothesis, but I have encountered this idea at more than one place and time.

As for the rest of your post, it's largely up to opinions, opinions I do not possess.

I believe that all traits that are beneficial for the species, are indeed passed down. It's just hard to say what is passed down genetically and what must be passed down through learning. 

For example, if I practice video games at a professional level, will my offspring be better at games too because they share a trait... or did my playing pass down more successful "video game genes" (that I had honed, and now they can do it because of passed genes.)

I'm treading in deep water on this topic. I'm not sure I have the answers, but this field of study is probably pretty thorough and well established.

I suppose a googling would be a good idea to clear things up.

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14 minutes ago, Marzshox said:

Sorry, let me be more clear. I thought it was common knowledge, but now I see how ridiculous it sounds: That every memory and experience one has in their lifetime, is passed down to their ancestors.

I don't mean to nitpick, but I assume you meant "descendants" rather than "ancestors".

You imply "it" is common knowledge, but I have seen some misunderstandings of the theory of evolution, so it is not clear what "it" means. Anyway, let me put it in my words so you can respond.

Individual parents pass their genes to their kids. If a parent learns some skill, or becomes strong by exercising, that does not change the parent's genes. Therefore, it does not change the genes that are passed down to the children. Virtually all biologists will agree with this, and will also agree this is completely consistent with the theory of evolution.

One of the most common MISinterpretations of the theory of evolution is that it implies change of individual organisms (e.g. individual humans) while interacting with their environments. It does not imply this at all: genes do not change in an individual, when that individual adapts to the environment, therefore no modification (better adapted for the changed environment) is passed to the next generation. Whatever is passed was already there in the parents' genes. The new stuff would be minimal "accidental" mutations, not things that changed for the parent.

The theory of evolution says that when the environment changes, some individuals adapt better than others (for a host of reasons). One such reason, there is something already in their genes, that has made them different in some way (taller, fatter, more resilient to thirst), and that enables them to adapt better. And, sometimes, those adaptations affect the number of children they bear.

In such cases we would end up with a slightly larger number in the next generation who are genetically predisposed to adapt as well. In addition -- outside the theory of evolution -- since this next generation has parents who have adapted, they may learn those adaptive behaviors from their parents (not via genes, just copy-cat child learning). If the adaptation remains useful in the environment faced by this next generation, they too will have more children than the individuals without the adaptation. Repeat this over many generations, and you could have a whole generation that can trace back its ancestry to one of the individuals who had the adaptation. The gene itself (or at least the particular variation we're focused on) has not changed at all. 

 

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Yeah, I meant decedents not ancestors. Sorry, It's been awhile since I've typed this much online.

4 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

 Individual parents pass their genes to their kids. If a parent learns some skill, or becomes strong by exercising, that does not change the parent's genes. Therefore, it does not change the genes that are passed down to the children. Virtually all biologists will agree with this, and will also agree this is completely consistent with the theory of evolution. 

 

Glad you cleared this up. This teaches me something I did not know.

 

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From Lamarckism:

Lamarckism (or Lamarckian inheritance) is the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it has acquired during its lifetime to its offspring (also known as heritability of acquired characteristics or soft inheritance).

This was prior to Darwin, and discredited by genetics.

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15 hours ago, New Buddha said:

Father and mothers usually pass down characteristic and personality traits.

But this usually occurs as offspring mimicks behavior or learns to act by watching their parents. You often hear the comment "You're just like your mother".

I think most of us learn how to handle much of life by having witnessed how our parents had handled it.

 

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These days, it is fashionable to attribute all sorts of things to genes. Also, billions of dollars in funding for such research. I'd take it with a huge pinch of salt.

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I'm not sure what billions in funding for research matters.

I think the point Grames is making is this point in the link:

" So, how iron-clad is the First Law? Clearly, not all traits are heritable, right? Right. However, there are only a distinct set of exceptions. Traits that are dependent on content aren’t heritable at all. These include what language you speak, in which particular church you worship, what specific political party you identify. However, the degree and manner to which one interacts with these things are very heritable: how proficient you are with language, how church-going you are, how liberal or conservative. In short, genes can’t specify the content, but they can strongly affect how you interact with that content. "

Although I don't think the article is written with the best skill, it has some worthwhile points like the one above. I'd add though that even if a trait is considerably hereditary, it doesn't really tell us about effect sizes.

Edited by Eiuol

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23 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

In short, genes can’t specify the content, but they can strongly affect how you interact with that content. "

I think this is the crux that need be taken with the "pinch of salt".

"Genes", to me, reeks of determinism. Until the metaphysically causal factors are clearly separated from the epistemically causal factors, this will continue to remain at odds.

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On 3/22/2016 at 10:29 PM, dream_weaver said:

Until the metaphysically causal factors are clearly separated from the epistemically causal factors, this will continue to remain at odds.

By "metaphysically causal" do you mean external pressures and compulsion and by "epistemically causal" do you mean internal causation by the conceptual faculty and its contents?

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Good catch. By metaphysical causality it is the identification of any entities capacity to act as it does. I shouldn't have used epistemically causal.  It would be causal in the volitional sense, which would be the control of the conceptual faculty and its contents.

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I am always astonished at the persistence of the conceptual disconnect that is revealed by questions like the title of this article. What else can reading a novel do BUT change your brain? What other possible explanation can there be for the emotions, memories, and perceptions that are triggered by reading text but changes occurring somewhere in the brain, particularly changes in synaptic strengths? The actual question is whether we can finally SEE the changes experimentally.  Anyways, the best reason for reading is that it enriches your life. And it certainly enriches your children’s lives. Kids who are avid readers read better, write better, concentrate better, and do better in all of their subjects, across the board. As an essay writer I've been writing about the issue a lot, and found that it didn’t even matter much what my students read, as long as they had a love and habit of reading. Many of my best readers, as kids, read comic books, fantasy and romance and mystery series, and much popular fiction. A love of reading is the best educational gift you can give to your children. 

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11 hours ago, sca1een said:

I am always astonished at the persistence of the conceptual disconnect that is revealed by questions like the title of this article.

Welcome to the forum.  Which "article" are you referring to?

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