Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
  • Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
  • Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention

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by Stanislas Dehaene
     
 


A renowned cognitive neuroscientist?s fascinating and highly informative account of how the brain acquires reading

How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene provides an accessible account of the brain circuitry of reading and explores what he calls the

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Overview


A renowned cognitive neuroscientist?s fascinating and highly informative account of how the brain acquires reading

How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene provides an accessible account of the brain circuitry of reading and explores what he calls the ?reading paradox?: Our cortex is the product of millions of years of evolution in a world without writing, so how did it adapt to recognize words? Reading in the Brain describes pioneering research on how we process language, revealing the hidden logic of spelling and the existence of powerful unconscious mechanisms for decoding words of any size, case, or font.

Dehaene?s research will fascinate not only readers interested in science and culture, but also educators concerned with debates on how we learn to read, and who wrestle with pathologies such as dyslexia. Like Steven Pinker, Dehaene argues that the mind is not a blank slate: Writing systems across all cultures rely on the same brain circuits, and reading is only possible insofar as it fits within the limits of a primate brain. Setting cutting-edge science in the context of cultural debate, Reading in the Brain is an unparalleled guide to a uniquely human ability.

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Okie
In this fascinating and scholarly book, French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene explains what scientists now know about how the human brain performs the feat of reading, and what made this astonishing cultural invention biologically possible.
—The Washington Post
Alison Gopnik
[Stanislas Dehaene's] gifts, on display in Reading in the Brain, include an aptitude for complex experiments and an appetite for detail. This makes for excellent science but not, paradoxically, easy reading. Still, his book will repay careful study
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov. 16)
Library Journal
What's behind the invention of reading? Well, for starters, brain plasticity, the evolution of neurocircuits capable of processing visual with audio information, and the expansion of the prefrontal cortex leading to a behavior described as consciousness. The evolutionary infusion of these elements along with a novel hijacking from their evolved use intersects with human culture and incites a revolution: a culture with texts and brains that read those texts. All this drives neuroscientist Dehaene's (experimental cognitive psychology, Collège de France) thesis that the invention of reading has less to do with constructs, such as alphabets, words, and sentence structures, than the mechanics and limits of our brains. Simply, our brains didn't evolve to read, but they are flexible enough to learn new tricks. Dehaene supports his thesis with references to a smorgasbord of research, traversing such subjects as anatomy, reading mechanics, primate evolution, history of linguistics, literacy, dyslexia, and brain symmetry. VERDICT This will appeal to a broad audience interested in the cognitive sciences, reading, and linguistics. Some chapters will attract those who teach reading and languages and parents of children with reading disabilities.—Scott Vieira, Johnson Cty. Lib., KS\
Kirkus Reviews
A neuroscientist explains how the brain deals with reading. Dehaene (Experimental Cognitive Psychology/College de France; The Cognitive Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2002, etc.) begins by pointing out that the brain contains circuitry exquisitely attuned to reading. Humans began to read only 5,000 years ago, so eons of evolution could not have designed it. Since genes haven't evolved to enable us to read, writing systems have adapted to constraints in the human brain. The author describes experiments using dazzling, high-tech devices that image the brain while a subject reads. The retina sends everything we see to the extensive visual areas at the rear of the brain. An instant later, any written word, in any language, lights up a tiny area. Closer examination of this "letterbox area" reveals a smaller section sensitive only to simple lines and curves, an adjacent area that forms these into letters and another that recognizes words. This is the identical area and mechanism which animals use to recognize objects in their environment, so evolution has cleverly recycled existing brain circuits to handle reading. Dehaene stresses that these findings should help teach reading-phonics trump the whole word method, which has no basis in brain physiology-and treat dyslexia, which is rare in "transparent" languages (i.e., where one letter equals one sound) like Italian but epidemic in English where irregular spelling makes it much harder for the brain to decode words. Dense with ideas and experiments, but richly rewarding for readers willing to put in the effort.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670021109
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/12/2009
Pages:
388
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.36(h) x 1.28(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Oliver Sacks
We are fortunate that Stanislas Dehaene, the leading authority on the neuroscience of language, is also a beautiful writer. His READING IN THE BRAIN brings together the cognitive, the cultural, and the neurological in an elegant, compelling narrative. It is a revelatory work.
Howard Engel
The complicated partnership of eye and mind that transforms printed symbols into sound, music, and meaning, and gives rise to thought, is the subject of this intriguing study. It's a wondrous journey: like that of stout Cortez, like H.M. Stanley's search for Dr. David Livingstone, like the next stunning probe into outer space. (Howard Engel, co-author of The Man Who Forgot How to Read)
Dean Falk
Reading in the Brain isn't just about reading. It comes nearer than anything I have encountered to explaining how humans think, and does so with a simple elegance that can be grasped by scientists and nonscientists alike. Dehaene provides insight about the neurological underpinnings of the spectacular cognitive skills that characterize our species. Students of human evolution are not the only ones who will find Reading in the Brain fascinating. Parents, educators, and anyone else who nurtures the intellectual development of children cannot afford to ignore Dehaene's observations about the best methods for teaching them to read! (Dean Falk, author of Finding our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language)
Maryanne Wolf
In a moment when knowledge about the reading brain may be the key to its preservation, Stanislas Dehaene's book provides the next critical rung of that knowledge. He does this through insights gained from his own prolific research, through his comprehensive grasp of the neurosciences, and through his unique combination of common sense and wisdom that shines through every chapter. (Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain)
Joseph LeDoux
Stanislas Dehaene takes us on a journey into the science of reading. We travel past firing neurons in monkeys, brain activation patterns in humans, people with brain damage, and culture as a whole. It's a proactive and enjoyable synthesis of a tremendous amount of information, with just the right balance between getting the facts right and making them accessible to lay readers. (Joseph LeDoux, University Professsor NYU, author of Synaptic Self and The Emotional Brain.)

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Meet the Author


STANISLAS DEHAENE is the director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Saclay, France, and the professor of experimental cognitive psychology at the Collge de France. He is the author of Reading in the Brain.

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Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
neurodrew More than 1 year ago
I was fascinated by this book, since I am a reader, and a neurologist. The brain contains pathways that are specialized for recognizing letter shapes, and for associating the sounds of words with the letter shapes. This could not have evolved in the past 3000 years; it is scripts that have been adjusted to take advantage of the wiring patterns in the brains originally specialized for recognizing 3 dimensional objects. The author is a neuroscientist specializing in neuro-imaging and reading. He makes a very good case against whole language methods of teaching reading and in favor of phonics methods. He explores the field of dyslexia, and explores other areas of brain function that might have borrowed evolved neuronal pathways. There are practioners of neuroethics and neuroesthetics. His concept is that the human brain ultimately is better at reshaping itself in response to stimuli than that of other species.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Perhaps the previous reviewer a) does not have properly taught/developed reading skills and strategies, or b) has reading comprehension deficits.