5000 years ago the biggest experiment in neuroplasticity has started

[Added November 2011]
I have to catch-up after more than 3 years. This is an age for neuroscience research. I have read a lot of new books and I will report here about four
that I have found amazing for the subject of this page.
Let’s start with the wonderful Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer who has become by now the reference for
anyone interested in memory and isn’t an expert in the field. The best book
written on the Art of Memory after the classic by Frances Yates. Or perhaps better because Joshua Foer has spent a year putting the method of loci to work.
Enough on Joshua although I could continue for many pages, being his book so
well written and documented.

I will report then three books together:

The first is about examples of “Neuroplasticity”. I was thinking about the
exploit by Joshua Foer: could this be considered an example of neuroplasticity
in action? Does a year of training to remember a deck of cards in about a minute, change permanently the brain? I have no idea. But there is another
task where we are almost all good which is a lot more difficult than remembering
a deck of cards: reading and writing. This task can be learned at any age because it isn’t hardwired in the brain (like speaking and hearing ).
And it requires many years (some languages are more difficult then others).
The results are astonishing because one has to remember by heart complete
dictionaries. In addition the speed that we reach shows that the brain processes many elements of the written language in parallel. There is no doubt
that this exercise changes permanently our brain. It is also a kind of perfect
paradigm of the “right” way to teach a complex task (i.e. on how to teach a person to become an Einstein or a Mozart). Since in our families everyone learns
how to read and write sometime after 6 years, all younger people see their older
sibling and the parents do funny things with books and other written material.
So they are highly motivated and want to discover the secret behind this as
soon as possible. Well, this will take years, like it happened for Joshua, but
the final result is apparently a lot better that learning to play the best videogame.

The little voice in the head

[Added June 2005]
The voice in the head ,when we read silently, is indeed a voice! Experiments
have shown that we really hear the sound of a voice reading the text (i.e.
it is as if the brain runs an experiment simulating ourselves that read the
words in the text aloud and then understands the meaning of the written text).

The visual pattern of words plays no role in understanding. The Chinese
people also, when read silently , understand the written text because of the
sound heard and not because of the pattern of ideograms.

For the same reason deaf people have problems learning to read.

From the same fact comes a suggestion to improve learning of new languages:
when you read a text , always imagine hearing the sound of the words also if
you don’t know exactly the correct sound.