What We Read When We Think About Reading

I spent the other morning with my daughter at I-LABS, the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. She’d been tapped to be part of a study to see how typical preschoolers socialize and share, so I got to sit in an adjacent room watching on closed circuit TV while she and another little girl played games, pushed buttons, and divvied up little plastic bears under the guidance of a researcher. The other girl’s dad and I were equally tense about whether our kids would be generous with their bears (they were—whew) and equally fascinated by the mundane protocols of the experiment. Was it significant that the girls rode the swings in unison? Were the grad students aware that some four-year-olds will fork over an infinite number of blue bears but cling like misers to one precious purple bear? We didn’t understand everything that went on, but we were happy our girls could add to the sum of human knowledge in a small way. And they were happy that they got to keep their bears.

At home alone that afternoon, having dropped my daughter off at preschool, I subjected myself to a scientific experiment of my own. By reading a book, naturally. I didn’t have to be attached to an EEG machine or anything, I just sat in my usual chair and turned the pages as I usually do. There was a whole lot going on between my eyes and my brain, though, and I was aware of it all because of Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read....continued