The act of reading is so easily taken for granted that we forget what an astounding feat it is. How can a few black marks on white paper evoke an entire universe of meanings? It's even more amazing when we consider that we read using a primate brain that evolved to serve an entirely different purpose. In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene explores every aspect of this human invention, from its origins to its neural underpinnings. A world authority on the subject, Dehaene reveals the hidden logic of spelling, describes pioneering research on hiw we process languages, and takes us into a new appreciation of the brain and its wondrous capacity to adapt.
French scientist Stanislas Dehaene is the director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Saclay, France, professor of experimental cognitive psychology at the College de France, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
"Brings together the cognitive, the cultural, and the neurological in an elegant, compelling narrative. A revelatory work."--Oliver Sacks, MD
The transparent and automatic feat of reading comprehension disguises an intricate biological effort, ably analyzed in this fascinating study. Drawing on scads of brain-imaging studies, case histories of stroke victims and ingenious cognitive psychology experiments, cognitive neuroscientist Dehaene (The Number Sense) diagrams the neural machinery that translates marks on paper into language, sound and meaning. It's a complex and surprising circuitry, both specific, in that it is housed in parts of the cortex that perform specific processing tasks, and puzzlingly abstract. (The brain, Dehaene hypothesizes, registers words mainly as collections of pairs of letters.) The author proposes reading as an example of neuronal recycling--the recruitment of previously evolved neural circuits to accomplish cultural innovations--and uses this idea to explore how ancient scribes shaped writing systems around the brain's potential and limitations. (He likewise attacks modern whole language reading pedagogy as an unnatural imposition on a brain attuned to learning by phonics.) This lively, lucid treatise proves once again that Dehaene is one of our most gifted expositors of science; he makes the workings of the mind less mysterious, but no less miraculous. Illus. --Publishers Weekly
400 pages. 2010