Thursday, May 23, 2013
We Read More but We Read Less
Reviewed by OFW editor:
Carlos J Cortes
Published: August 07, 2012
We read much more than we did in the 70s or 80s, but it’s a different kind of reading.
Of course, behind every kind of reading or reading mechanism there’s its matching thought process. This is so because language and thought are so intrinsically bound that we communicate the same way we think. The thread of our thoughts is always guided by the structure of our language; therefore, a change in our thought process modifies our language structure and vice versa: we not only become what we read but how we read.
Through history, we have embraced every new technology and used it to explain ourselves. Thus, with the arrival of mechanical clocks, people dreamed that their brains could very well function as a machine with cogs, springs and levers. I recall that old comics depicted thought functions as pairs of meshing cogs. Now, in the software age, we’ve changed models and imagine our thought processes mimic those of a computer.
In the present, the average person spends much more time reading, be it labels, instructions, newspapers, instant messages or e-mails. Most of the time spent connected to the Internet is invested in reading. But it’s a different kind of reading.
A sequence of printed pages promotes a deep experience not only valuable on account of the information it contains but the intellectual process it encourages. In the calm territory we access during the intense and sustained reading of a book, we strike associations, we create our own inferences and analogies, we encourage our ideas to grow and expand; and therefore we think at more profound level.
A few years go, a team of scientists from the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, published a new brain-imaging study which shed light on what it means to “get lost” in a good book. The study suggested that readers create vivid mental simulations of the sounds, sights, tastes and movements described in prose while simultaneously activating brain regions used to process similar experiences in real life.
The team’s findings—as disclosed by Nicole Speer, lead author of the study—demonstrates that reading is not a passive exercise. Rather, readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. A reader captures details about actions and sensation from the text and integrates those with its personal knowledge from past experiences. He then runs the data through mental simulations using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when the reader performs, imagines, or observes similar real-world activities.
Many of us understand instinctively that our brains are physically changed by the experience of reading. I’m sure every one of us can think back to the way an extraordinary book has had a transformative effect on the way we viewed the world. Such transformation only takes place when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the emotional and mental chatter of the real world.
To forgo the gymnastics of intense reading to keep our brains in shape is significant because recent scientific research has also found a dramatic fall in empathy among teenagers in advanced western cultures. We can’t yet be sure why this is happening, but the best hypothesis is that it is the result of their immersion in the Internet and the quick-fire virtual world it offers.
The superficial reading of loose items on web pages or the tiny screens of our cell phones doesn’t promote deep thought, quite the contrary. Drawing our information from the Internet, forces our mind to function along different process lines. Jumping from one source of data to the other changes our neuronal pathways and diminishes our retentive capacity; we don’t need it as much.
We know that reading is the foundation stone of all education, and therefore an essential underpinning of the knowledge economy—which should be an aspect of public policy. But perhaps even more significant is its emotional role as the starting point for individual voyages of personal development and pleasure. Books can open up emotional, imaginative and historical landscapes that extend the corridors of the Internet. They can help create and reinforce our sense of self.
If reading—real reading that is—continues to decline it will change the very nature of our species. If we, in the future, are no longer wired for solitary reflection and creative thought, we will be diminished.
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Friday, 13 Jul 2012 07:46 AM
I like this. (
Brevity rules in a cell-screen world)
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