The Origins of Reading

“Whatever language a person is reading, the same area of inferotemporal cortex, the visual word form area, is activated. Why should all human beings have this built-in facility for reading when writing is a relatively recent cultural invention?”

So asks Oliver Sacks in a piece featured in this week’s New Yorker, which discusses the work of Mark Changizi, who was previously featured on our March podcast.

Changizi’s groundbreaking research has shown that all forms of writing tap into our brain’s natural preferences for certain forms found in nature– that is, the forms of letters evolved from physical forms our brains knew long before written language came along. Sacks sums up this line of work: “Writing, a cultural tool, has evolved to make use of the inferotemporal neurons’ preference for certain shapes.”

About the author

Noah Hutton

Noah Hutton is a film director and curator, and was named a 2015 Salzburg Global Fellow in Neuroscience and Art.

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