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Real Worlds, Possible Worlds and Fantasy Worlds

10 January 2018

From The New York Times:

The act of reading alters your brain. It does so, first, because your thoughts are brain processes. When you read, neural patterns come and go as the words pass before you. Some of those patterns also give rise to memories, subtle molecular changes in cells and the signaling mechanisms that link them. And third, your brain is physically transformed by learning to read. The networks that underlie vision and language are changed. Even people who become literate in adulthood, as a team led by the French neurobiologist Stanislas Dehaene has shown, acquire differences that are visible in a brain scan. With and without literacy, the brain is the same basic organ, with the same shape and chemistry, but a reading brain is different in ways that count. As Cecilia Heyes says in her forthcoming book, “Cognitive Gadgets,” if one didn’t know that reading is a recent human invention (literate culture is perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 years old), a skill passed on through learning in each generation, it would be easy to mistake the brain patterns seen in reading as evidence for a genetically encoded reading instinct or “innate module.”

. . . .

E. O. Wilson’s new book, “The Origins of Creativity,” is about the role of the humanities in an intellectual culture increasingly dominated by science. Wilson values the humanities, but he wants them to have closer ties to some of the sciences, an argument that draws on his view of the relationships between human biology, thought and culture. “It is becoming increasingly clear,” he says at one point, “that natural selection has programmed every bit of human biology — every toe, hair and nipple, every molecular configuration in every cell, every neuron circuit in the brain, and within all that, every trait that makes us human.” But reading itself, the reading of books like his own, shows that this isn’t true. The circuits of the brain are changed by literacy, and the molecular configurations in countless cells are being altered as you pick up new ideas from the page, as they make their way into your memory. If what Wilson says were true, there would be no point in reading, in trying to learn songs or engage in many other activities. We’d have little resemblance to humans at all.

Link to the rest at The New York Times


3 Comments to “Real Worlds, Possible Worlds and Fantasy Worlds”

  1. Every nipple?

    • … “It is becoming increasingly clear,” …

      That they have no idea what they’re trying to talk about – which of course is why the NYTs had to pick it up and run with it … 😉

  2. Yes, reading changes your brain.
    So does playing video games, drinking too much, watching porn, being in an auto accident, doing drugs… Anything that involves strong emotion will do it.

    The human brain is a very malleable organ. The only way to avoid change is to spend your life in a sensory deprivation tank.

    Reading is fun.
    Reading is good.
    Reading is not magical.

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