In the digital age where we are at, the majority give little thought or consideration for the written word – that which has little to do with feeding the brain with distilled information, and more to do with nurturing it with engaging stories, deep insights, and profound philosophies.
Of course, any form of information one finds useful should be seized the moment it pops up, but that doesn’t exclude the need for that one activity which has been proven, time and time again, to make us smarter, healthier, and more empathetic beings: reading.
It seems like the fast-paced world we have created has left little space for the diligent, patient, and time-consuming activity which helps our minds develop in a process which can be seen as miraculous.
Instead, we focus on click-baits that serve little purpose when you realize that 90% of the information you have come across has vanished into thin air the moment you came to the end of those engaging and ‘mind-boggling’ articles.
And perhaps the main reason why we have become so unable to focus our attention in a way that would prove healthy (and thus truly succeed in retaining the information we find important,) is because we haven’t been paying much attention to the development of our mind.
And how does reading fit in this process?
The lack of reading has been shown to cognitively handicap the individual for life while putting them in a socially and intellectually endangered position. Illiteracy has long been associated with the lack of essential mental faculties, and studies have proved this to be true in many instances.
A study which examined 72 children and the effects reading had on their brains has found that reading attributed to the creation of new white matter in the brain (it being responsible for system-wide communication).
White matter serves as a carrier of information between regions of grey matter – the place where information is processed. In other words, reading helped these children to process information more efficiently.
And the good news doesn’t stop there. The immensity of the benefits of reading can only be intensified if you start reading in a foreign language. This practice not only improves your communication skills but also the regions of your brain responsible for spatial navigation and learning new information increase in size.
And reading for pleasure activates so much of the brain that we tend not to use in our day-to-day mundanities. It stimulates and affects regions of the brain which involve the actions and objects you’re reading about.
By simply thinking of a word that has popped up, such as “lavender” or “soap,” your brain will activate the parts which are responsible for scent. As LA-based author Derek Beres explains, those regions remain silent when you read, for example, “chair.” Now imagine the stimulation the brain receives if you read “leather chair.”
This, however, is just one aspect (however important), of how powerful reading is. If you look at the messages these books are meant to send, and the depth of the narrators’, protagonists’, antagonists’, (and you name it,) perception of their reality, a whole universe outside your perception opens up.
This universe of perception offers you a different viewpoint on things that are closely related to life’s truths – viewpoints that allow you to experience empathy first-hand and start developing an understanding of the possibilities that the human mind can come with.
Author Annie Murphy Paul explains this perfectly: “In one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”
And this notion is strongly backed by science. In a study led by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, it was found that the brain networks used to understand stories and those used to navigate interactions with individuals overlapped.
In other words, our brain uses the same mechanisms to understand books and people. This further proves just how powerful reading can be in developing one’s empathy and reasoning when social interactions come into play.
So, what’s the main excuse that prevents us from gaining these powerful mental abilities and extending our capacity of reasoning and understanding? In this digital era, many consider books to be obsolete and irrelevant.
However, even a few pages a day can make a difference for the developing mind and can strengthen and improve one’s intellect and empathy. Is reading, then, truly obsolete or are we becoming obsolete without it?
Inspired by: Big Think