Dogs don’t read the words on a page. Neither did Coco, the famous gorilla that learned to communicate using simple hand signs. So what affords humans the unique ability to read and write, and why do we do it? These kinds of questions drive Zeynep Saygin’s research at Ohio State. Her team’s recent discovery sets the stage for some answers.
Brain experts already knew about the visual cortex—an area of the brain where neurons fire as we interpret faces, shapes, and words. But Saygin’s group seeks to understand what happens in our brains as we learn to read.
The team compared functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data sets from 40 newborns to similar scans of 40 adults. fMRI shows neuron activity within the brain, so the comparison would indicate if baby brains come into the world already equipped with the wiring necessary to perceive and process letters later in life.
Literate adults have close connections between the part of the brain that processes the sight of letters, called the visual word form area (VWFA), and the brain’s nearby language network. The researchers discovered that newborn brains come prewired with similarly tight connections between the two areas.
They published their discovery in Scientific Reports.1
Saygin, the senior author of the study, told Ohio State News, “Even at birth, the VWFA is more connected functionally to the language network of the brain than it is to other areas. It is an incredibly exciting finding.”2
Lead author Jin Li said, “It’s interesting to think about how and why our brains develop functional modules that are sensitive to specific things like faces, objects, and words.”2
From a Darwinian perspective, our brains’ functional modules would have incrementally developed over eons for our survival. But in what scenario would our ancestors have been forced to read or die? For that matter, how could such pressures reach into and rewire our brains?
On the other hand, if humans came from supernatural creation instead of mere nature, then the possibility opens for God to have intentionally prewired our brains “to see words.”2 And why would a Creator do that?
Reading is the key to understanding the most important information for time and eternity found in the Bible. Scripture says we were created for God, that our sins have driven a wedge between us and God, but that God sent His Son to take our sins upon Himself in order to restore our relationship with Him.
So, it makes sense that a God who has invested so much into us would also have endowed us with the prewiring needed to see letters. That way each can learn to read, take up the Bible, and discover the way back to Him.
1. Li, J. et al. 2020. Innate connectivity patterns drive the development of the visual word form area. Scientific Reports. 10: 18039.
2. Grabmeier, J. Humans are born with brains ‘prewired’ to see words. Ohio State News. Posted on news.osu.edu October 22, 2020.
*Dr. Brian Thomas is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in paleobiochemistry from the University of Liverpool.
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