I am looking into several systems for improving learning speeds and ran into a question I seem unable to answer on my own:

When we read a word, it somehow gets converted into it's abstract meaning. To be clear in my further descriptions, I will encapsulate written information into " and abstract information into +

For example, a person fluent in English and Japanese (or Chinese for this particular example) could look at the letters




and in both cases convert this information into the internal representation of +tree+.

My questions are

  1. Is my understanding of the reading process accurate?
  2. If yes, what zone(s) of the brain would handle this conversion?
  3. Where in the brain on the 10-20 System would these zones be located?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Do you mean specifically written information? That's quite different from, say, spatial information extracted from a visual scene. $\endgroup$ – Krysta Sep 9 '14 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ A caveat: Knowing where in the brain something happens tells us almost nothing about how it happens (although it does make for a pretty picture in magazines). If you are interested in how words are processed, the go-to reference is usually Colheart et al's (2001) Dual Route Cascaded (DRC) model - although this is a bit of a monster of a paper, so you can find easy summaries of it on Google. $\endgroup$ – Eoin is on the job market Sep 10 '14 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ Krysta - > Yes, specifically written information. $\endgroup$ – 0x90 Sep 11 '14 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Eoin -> Thank you for the pointer. I am mostly interested in where in the brain we might detect activity during the conversion process. $\endgroup$ – 0x90 Sep 11 '14 at 4:30

The short answer is we don't know for sure. Look up "alexia" and "agraphia"; pinpointing the regions of the brain that, if damaged, interfere with reading might give some indication of the cortical regions involved.

Visual cortex (back of the brain) is obviously necessary for the general population, but it's clearly possible for blind people to learn to read without vision. I'm not aware if blind people require an intact visual cortex or not.

There is a nice study showing that semantic information is present in a very compact form in the hippocampus: Invariant visual representation by single-neurons in the human brain. Quian Quiroga R, Reddy L, Kreiman G, Koch C and Fried I Nature, 435: 1102-1107; 2005. PDF

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