David Amerland
Reading and the way it changes the brain


I’ve written about writing and mechanisms that are activated by it that neuroscience has discovered, before. But writing is only one half of a far more complex situation that is designed to do something seemingly incredible: tell us what the world is actually like and then, how we should live in it.

The truth is that we are no more born to read and write than we can naturally fly and swim. These are learned skills that come only after we intentionally apply ourselves to them. Reading and writing then are symbolic representations, a code in other words, that the brain learns to use in order to unlock and then navigate, higher-order functions that guide perception.

The ability of reading to rewire the brain’s functions so that we, for example, analyze images differently depending on our literacy points to a retrospectively obvious fact: the brain has been designed to adapt. So much so that the sniper’s self-affirming slogan of “Adapt. Overcome.” is seemingly its primary function.

Reading then changes the brain’s physiology and also helps it heal.

While our brain apparently evolved to be able to process language by being capable of processing letters it is nevertheless challenged when we apply its reading capability, a skill that’s barely 100 years old, to a hi-tech environment.

Reading has become a critical pathway to developing world-surviving skills. This is why psychologists sound the alarm bells when it comes to losing skills such as the ability to read deeply or the opportunity to read without distractions.

Digital as a cultural and lifestyle-altering layer; is inescapable. Inevitably it produces its own side effects that become part of the building pressure that will result in fresh adaptations in our neurobiochemical composition. Writing is a performance art. The writer is a creator in every sense of the word.

It’s the reader however who makes the writer’s art come to life. In reading we establish, reinforce and apply mental skills which we then get to use elsewhere. Attention, contemplation, knowledge and semantic memory are all skills which we need to have right now. We can enroll in specific (and expensive) mental skill-developing courses of course. Or, we can just learn to read at leisure and think deeply afterwards.

I know you don’t rush anything which is why you never fail each week to have coffee aplenty, croissants, donuts, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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