Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I'm working on a book with Steve Strauss whose claim to fame other than being Bess Altwerger's husband, is that he has both a Ph.d in linguistics and an MD in neurology.The other authors are Peter Fries and Eric Paulson.

Steve has brought our reading theory and modern brain theory together to show that our model of reading is consistent with emerging brain theory. I won't go into all of it, but an important aspect of both is the understanding of the importance of prediction.

In reading we have seen that the brain is predicting what it will find as it continues to read.One evidence of that is that  that the eye only fixates on about 70% of the words in any text . The brain, through instructions it send to the thalamus, tells the eye what it predicts it will see and the eye then seeks out evidence to confirm what the brain has predicted and to form new predictions.

A new insight coming from brain research i s that, even in insects, each action, whether mental or physical
contains within it a predication of the next action. That makes it possible to function smoothly and to make continuous response to each situation.

This week we were driving the LA freeways. And I thought about how cars in close proximity traveling at speeds often exceeding 80 miles an hour manage to avoid hitting each other. Each driver is making continual decisions on what to do next as the car hurls forward toward its destination.

The brain can't go through a decision making process each time it needs to what to do next. It must be able to react immediately. It can do so because of what Steve calls feed forward. The brain doesn't feed back to input from the eyes, it feeds forward ready to take the next step.

In reading the brain is making decisions not only from input it is getting from the eye but from information it has stored in the cortex. What we think we see is more important then what we actually see. Perceptions are always the result of what the eye provides as input and what the brain has predicted.

In our book we focus on the illusion that readers have seen all the letters in all the words. Yet as I said they have only fixated about 70% of the words. What they have not seen they have predicted, And on the basis of what is perceived the reader is constructing meaning. Contrary to common focus on careful word identification,  reading is an efficient process of making sense with the least amount of visual input necessary to be effective  in making sense.


1 comment:

  1. I look forward to the book.
    I can remember in one of his visits to Australia Frank Smith grabbing his audience with the statement that "We're all time travellers. We spend our waking lives about ten seconds in the future-- if we didn't we wouldn't have survived as a species'.