Why Reading Matters

Ratings: 7.88/10 from 26 users.


Why Reading MattersScience writer Rita Carter tells the story of how modern neuroscience has revealed that reading, something most of us take for granted, unlocks remarkable powers.

Carter explains how the classic novel Wuthering Heights allows us to step inside other minds and understand the world from different points of view, and she wonders whether the new digital revolution could threaten the values of classic reading.

Reading is an important skill that needs to be developed in children. Not only is it necessary for survival in the world of schools and (later on) universities, but in adult life as well.

The ability to learn about new subjects and find helpful information on anything from health problems and consumer protection to more academic research into science or the arts depends on the ability to read.

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53 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Kevin Travers

    "The most fascinating thing of all is this: the human brain. It's probably the most complex machine in the universe."

    LOL that's kind of a ridiculous statement.

  2. Top_Quark

    and exactly why is that statement ridiculous? would you care to explain please?

  3. Cristian Moldovan

    Is PS3 isn't it?

  4. Arnie

    This was an interesting documentary on the importance of reading in today's society of 2011.

    I would like to add some other observations that I have noticed in the public schools in North America. These observations have been observed in the San Francisco Bay area, Las Vegas Nevada and Ottawa, Canada.

    I have three children in the school system aged 7 1/2, 11 and 13 years.

    Public schools are very proactive at encouraging kids to read books. Schools simply cannot get kids to read enough books. However there are some kids who are delayed in reading due to brain development. Not all kids develop at the same rate.

    To get around this problem I began working with public schools to get the kids involved in creating their own books. The kids would be encouraged to draw artowrk about what they loved about their area and then write short stories about it. The work would be scanned and published as an eBook.

    The response from the public schools in the San Francisco Bay area, Las Vegas Nevada and Ottawa Canada was over whelming. Not one school or school district thought that the kids had the ability to create their own creative book. So not one public school tried.

    I found it very interesting especially since I was offering $60,000 in computer equipment, scanners, office equipment and office furniture to get an eBook creation project off the ground to encourage students to create their own picture and short story eBooks. Not one single school in North America wanted to get involved.

    The response was always the same, children can only read professionally created books, they are unable to create their own.

    When the idea was introduced into Russian schools, the response was very different. The Russian schools were very excited to have their students creating artwork and short stories about what they loved about their area to be scanned into "Russian Kids Art Album eBooks". I would complete projects for kids in Orshanka, and Volgodonsk Russia.

    To this day I still have the $60,000 in computers, scanners, office equipment and office furniture unable to find a school willing to empower their students to be creative and create the artwork and short stories to make their own "Kids Art Album eBooks".

    The public school system itself in North America has created the reading problem by NOT encouraging their students to be creative writers and artists.

  5. Aaron Hopkins

    The human brain is the most complex eight pounds of matter we have encountered. It has a greater number of neural connections than there are stars in the sky. Those connections are constantly restructuring as time passes and each individual has a different pattern based on their life experiences.

    Not only are brains in charge of the vast entropy reversal machine called the human body, they are also the seat of sentience. Mad respek from this biologist!

  6. Kevin Travers

    Well, we're hardly in a place to make a comment on the complexities of machinery in the universe. I mean, do we really have enough data on the machinery- biological or otherwise- of, say, the distant galaxy Arp 220? Or our nearest galaxy, Andromeda? Or even the closest stars?

    And it's "PROBABLY the most complex"- so somehow she had enough data to to come up with a probability formula, and she came up with 50%+ chance of the brain being the most complex?

    It would be like saying "earth probably has the most water in the universe!" sure, it has the most of any planet we know. If you said solar system, it would be a very accurate statement. But the whole universe? We don't KNOW enough about the universe to say ANYTHING is probable.

    So LOL, ridiculous statement. Doc's kind of interesting, though.

  7. wald0

    As an x-physics major I share your awe of the variouse natural systems that make up the universe. That said, none of those systems have created consciouseness, so to say they are as complex as the human brain is really like comparing apples to oranges. Also we can explain most of the underlying systems that compose say a galaxy or a star, not so with the human brain. Even though it is right here within arms reach it continues to elude our attempts to truly understand how it works. Everyone is entitled to thier opinion, but mine is that the human brain is quite certainly the most complicated machine, for lack of a better term, that we have yet encountered. After all, it was your human brain that looked out at the universe and decide it was more complicated than itself, your brain that is now reading this and computing a response, has a galaxy or a star ever done that? I argue they are not complex enough to do such a thing, they are simply mechanical systems incapable of self awareness. The primary obstacle to our full understanding of the universe's natural systems is distance, the scale of the universe is immense. The primary obstacle to understanding oif the human brain is its complexity.

  8. g isaac

    I'm a district level literacy specialist in a large county in Florida. We will gladly try it out (especially in one or two of our neediest schools).

  9. g isaac

    This is an interesting documentary. It makes me wonder:
    1.) Is it possible that our view of 'reading' is too narrow and needs to be expanded to fit new contexts?
    2.) Has reading evolved over time and developed into a new 'thing'?
    3.) Intuitively, I feel that the next great exploration into the brain will include an understanding of the inner workings of the mind from the inside-out (as opposed to the other way around). Will this new exploration open gateways never explored? Will we discover new healing powers? Change the way we see our 'selves' and others?

    Thanks for making me think!

  10. dmxi

    haven't seen it yet but that is obselete concerning the nature of this topic:''to be lost in a scripture opens doorways into unknown realms of oneself & many others,if not the entire cosmos!''.....true words by a great man....me grand-pops!

  11. Imightberiding

    Interesting... just finished watching a doc on my computer about reading, instead of reading about it. Seriously though, I almost experience symptoms of withdrawal if I don't have a good novel to read every evening. The connection this program made about reading & empathy was something I found both fascinating & very true. Of course if you are not an avid reader you likely don't give a s#!@ about what I think.

  12. John Krisfalusci

    I grew up with the encyclopedia britannica and guiness book of world records. that explains my fondness for useless facts! no wonder i love science so much! ^_^

  13. alans

    We read on the computer, does it make a difference?

  14. Ryan Evans

    Sounds like me! I never thought about it, but I love useless bits of info and I also grew up with those books :)

  15. 46nTwo

    OMG i love how you just said science is filled with useless facts!

  16. AndyA121

    I always tell my students that " If you can read, you can do anything!
    You can teach yourself many things.

  17. drinker69

    Thats what I said. Don't rip off other peoples comments. Ban this person!

  18. Carlos Granados

    I think is more ridiculous to find people unaware of their own power. Maybe you should read a little more about it Kevin, the brain, indeed, is the most wonderful and perfect product ever made by evolution.

  19. phillip wong

    Is the universe really the most complex thing in the universe? really? First, the question presuppose we know with complete objectivity of all the things and objects in the universe. Second, the question presuppose we have a measure to rank everything in the universe. Does the first assumption hold? Do we know everything in the universe? I think not. Perhaps there are infinity many universes, and if so, are we going to saying our brain in the most complex thing in all those universes as well? Obviously not.

  20. StillRV

    There really isn't anything ridiculous about that statement at all. We truly know very little about the brain and consciousness. The common thought is that we use only a small percentage of the brain, and yet evolution clearly shows that no anatomical development serves no purpose. So it stands to reason that we are wrong and that the entire brain has function and use and we just don't know it. Therefore it is possibly the most complex machine in the universe. And I think that any alien race who has created some super machine you envision would likely argue that their brains (the ones that invented said device) is more complex than the device its self. Just logical reasoning.

  21. phillip wong

    Perhaps those alien brains are more complex? You think?

    Some we know every little about what happen at the big bang, so by your logic, it is also the most complex in the universe? That is surely some logical reasoning you have.

  22. PaulGloor

    In a documentary such as this, is the only thing many of you can take away from it the technicality of their claims "The human brain is the most complex thing in the universe" ? Take a P600 signal on it. Seriously.

    My curiosity, would heavy reading in a child/young adult actually change the shape of the skull, that is, before the cranial sutures have completely fused, and might that alter the potential benefits of reading by age group?

  23. Harley Aguilar

    How many times can you say "bit" in one show...don't know why british people think that's cute, it's just annoying...

  24. ray_s

    Treating the brain as a machine unduly limits it capacity.

  25. phillip wong

    Machines are things people typically make. No one ever make the brain.

  26. phillip wong

    Well, look at the Jews, and their religious devotion to reading their complex Talmud. There is got to be a connect between intense reading( Jewish children do), and IQ scores. East Asians are another group with very high reading, study rate, and we have the highest IQ. Perhaps it is all genes, but here, you have two groups that do amazingly well in life, and high intense reading at a early age.

  27. Lynda Connor

    Also, could be diet, less tv, regular schedule, meditation.

  28. Kenneth Ketchum

    What a waste of brain power. It is preferable that you write about how to prepare for the coming economic, social and environmental collapse because mankind (particularly Western man ie., European archetype) with all of its so called wisdom and knowledge, use their mental resources to advance the destruction of all living species on this planet. See the documentary for free: WHAT A WAY TO GO: LIFE AT THE END OF EMPIRE see this doc for free online and get back to me.

  29. Kenneth Ketchum

    See part three of the brilliant documentary: WAKE UP CALL - NEW WORLD ORDER DOCUMENTARY titled MIND CONTROL where educators clearly point out that American's system of education is only about INDOCTRINATION to accept values and information that serves the ruling classes. John Rockefeller, the founder of the NATIONAL Education Association said WE NEED A SOCIETY OF WORKERS AND NOT THINKERS. He said that because thinkers would challenge the very system of corporate enslavement that keeps our minds off of what is really important in relation to our day to day existence. See that do on utube.

  30. ray_s

    It absolutely makes a difference. You can't thumb back through the pages of a computer the way you would through a book for an impression that you vaguely remember on that left-hand page with a certain lay out. A computer has a search function, but it's completely incapable of searching for impressions, or understanding them Whoever heard of a computer that can browse the way a human does, or remember the smell of a madeleine.

  31. ray_s

    Maybe it's because the teachers never learned how to make books themselves. Their own teachers told them they couldn't do it, so they can't. I remember the question coming up in the context of workbooks for elementary foreign language learning, and there seemed to be a total lack of confidence to do it.

    There is a complete myth about the accuracy commercially created texts, and I'm sure the publishers want it to stay that way.

  32. drinker69

    So are you from the United States? You guys have absolutely got to get your country together ASAP or you're headed for disaster. I'm not American but I find your situation interesting. I know nothing about politics but it sounds to me Ron Paul is your best shot at repairing damage. Common sense is needed not just in the states but everywhere. But a nation the size of America and its current lifestyle cannot continue. That doesn't mean you can't be happy just scale back and you won't have to go to war with people thousands of miles away. The US government is also in need of overhaul as its clear they're leading the masses down a path to nowhere. The time for deceit and lies is over. Good luck and Happy New Year.

  33. PaulGloor

    Its understandable that it would make a significant impact on learning, at a young age the brain is more plastic and would respond readily to reading. What I was wondering is if its possible that the physical shape of the skull might be altered by the increased development in specific areas of the brain before the skull has fused completely. I guess thats more in the area of that 'measuring the bumps' theory mentioned in the doc tho.

  34. StillRV

    Yes, The logical conclusion being that the brain, being human or other highly developed exemplar, is the most complex thing in the universe. Since the brain is capable of creation where other machines or systems are only capable of reproduction.
    You mention the big bang as an example of something complex. However, as you said we know little about it and therefore it may not have been as complex as we imagine. Lack of knowledge of a thing does not make the thing itself complex. I know nothing about knitting and yet it is not a nobel worthy pass time. Also the big bang is not a "something" in the universe, therefore not in the running for most complex thing in the universe.

  35. daddychiefs

    So a Proust fan is in our midst. The little European Market in my town just got Chocolate Madeleines, in addition to the regular ones, which I love, but I went through a bag of the chocolate ones in 3 days, they are so startlingly good.

    Sadly, all too often in today's world, "practicality" trumps Art. An example being my son, who got a Kindle for Christmas, because it saves him about $700 in books each semester. Of course when he goes to Law School next year, he will have to start building his Library, so he will have to buy real books. Another example would be my time as a Graphic Artist. I had to know how to layout pieces of film for each page in a book on a sheet of mylar in such a fashion that it would fold into 32 consecutive pages, sometimes it was a 32 page newsletter, sometimes a 464 page book. After 2000, all of that could be done on the computer screen, fed through a processor, which would spit out a finished plate ready for press. Progress and technology making our lives convenient, is bleeding the Art from our world, and that is a precious thing to lose.

    Honestly, I've found the pace of many European Cities to be much more to my liking than in the States. I never like the idea of wishing my time away, but I will enjoy retiring to Tuscany.

  36. His Forever

    LOL. I used to read avidly. Now I do so with a mouse in my hand! My wife thinks I'm having an "affair" with my computer ---- need to switch back to books, I guess.

  37. Achems_Razor

    Charles, an affair with your computer? mouse in your hand? my, my, you have been watching too many of the weird docs that Vlatko sometimes puts on, such as "my car is my lover" "married to the eiffel tower" and women straddling a picket fence, forgot the others, something about a bridge, and so on.

    Of course it would be somewhat easy to get it on with your PC, porn anyone?? Just don't take it to bed, might get electrocuted. lol

  38. Guest

    It would be interesting to have access to all pass searches on people's computer....bet you anything most people have a visit or two...on kinky stuff of their kind. What's your secret?

  39. drinker69

    I wanna rub that womans feet in the thumbnail pic so baaaaad. Reading is good.

  40. Mark Betty

    The brain is, 'by some measures,' the most complex thing 'we currently know of' in the universe, but with a number of additional qualifiers. 1) Dolphin brains are known to have more complex structures. 2) Another qualifier would be 'pound-for-pound'. The ecosystem of a living planet is more complex than a single human brain, similarly the internet taken as a whole, but both are much larger (however on a universal scale this size difference wouldn't amount to much). The question of maximum potential complexity is a physical one, limited by properties such as heat dissipation, energy requirements and the interplay of fundamental forces (which limit miniaturization). Because of limitations inherent in carbon based, DNA replicating living systems, it is likely that systems will soon be developed (of comparable size) that outpace the brain in complexity. (It is also worth noting that the human brain is not at the maximum potential, even for such systems) The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University estimates that computer systems that exceed the brain's complexity will be developed by 2020. I say by 2050.

  41. sknb

    I remember when I was a little girl I refused to learn to read. I thought it had no use, and i was wickedly stubborn. I was old enough that I remember what it felt like to look at writing and know it had symbolic value, or was the name of something , but being unable to connect it to meaning or sound. Then, finally, when I was almost 7 I learned to read and became obsessed with it.

    When I was writing poetry regularly my brain definitely functioned differently.

  42. Mistymoo

    I think reading is one of the greatest gifts - knowledge is power, you can unlock a whole world

  43. Mistymoo

    Also i have learned so much since i left school from reading on all kinds of subjects and have enpowered myself now

  44. Ray Stewart

    I am a history buff and know a lot about this kind of thing, mainly reading from books, internet search and also studying it at collage and university.

    Discovered in the mid 90's there is evidence that suggests the first Symbolic Written Word (made by drawings) was created 8500 BC in modern day Turkey, but there’s much more evidence that shows words where made in 10,100 BC in what is now Iraq.

    A professor a British archaeologist Leonard Wooley, in 1929 (I think it was) done some digs to uncover the first evidence of people writing down records of their daily lives, dating back just 1,500 BC but he began the long standing project in finding new sites throughout the globe.

    In 1984 an archaeologist, Richard C Cooper found a hidden cave in Southern Spain, where pottery with symbols upon them in the form of squares and other shapes, plus double or single lines. At first they where just seen as patens, but after much research and after more findings around the same area, these shapes where classified as letters.

    So when this writer Rita Carter suggests that the written word / alphabet appeared about 5000 years ago, she’s wrong in so many ways.

  45. Robyn318

    Very good documentary.

    I find that I need to constantly be reading and learning. It keeps me balanced; when life gets too busy and I don’t read for a while, I find my diet suffers, then I don’t get enough exercise and tend to become more withdrawn. I now have become aware of this and when I see I am gaining unwanted weight, and starting to feel emotionally isolated it is one of the first things I check, then correct.

    Another thing I have noticed about myself over the years is that when I am in ‘learning mode’ I grasp new concepts easier and when I stop reading and learning it takes me a while to get back into that learning groove again.

  46. Bibliotheca

    "Although most of us take it as granted ,reading is so remarkable.Reading and writing can not come naturally,doing so the brain must change."
    This is an interesting documentary!
    Once I wondered how will I be able cultivate in me a culture of reading and writing (for I aspire to be a writer) and this documentary is paving the path!

    There are great things to be learnt here,imagine how Prof Maryanne Wolf said that Human beings were never born to read or write but to speak,see,smell and hear.

    So what were we born for?
    To speak,see ,smell, and hear?
    There is no single place in the world which is not affected by environmental pollution so that what we see,smell,hear in not all there is.Primitive people(ancestors) felt nature to the extend that they did not need reading ,writing,storing information,...!

    We live in an opposite reality.Reading is an important skill that needs to be developed in children. Not only is it necessary for survival in the world of schools and (later on) universities, but in adult life as well."

    We learn from Nature that The Environment is a very important factor for development and change(Since Reading and writing can not come naturally but the brain must go some changes).
    We need the force of environment like this ,media ,education that encourage people to read and write in a creative way so as to form a complete human fit from the 21st Century and the generation to come.

    By taking into account that changes won't happen if I only focus on how to benefit from others in the number of information I publish either hard copy(Books) or soft copies(On internet).

    Today humanity is recognizing how worthless information sold for money gain are not valuable.
    Rather by choosing the mutual responsibility for one another we can bring about the changes we aspire:The culture creative reading and writing.

  47. Albert Cephas

    Because the view is entirely anthropocentric and does little to account for "intelligence" beyond that which we use and take for the term. The issue here is that we need to redefine this term and
    consider things on a different(i.e. multidimensional) scale. That quote is self aggrandizing at the least and totally biased at the most.

  48. zaphodity

    I think digital technology is just part of the evolution of reading, who knows, maybe in the future we'll have devices like the one from the movie Brainstorm where we can step into the thoughts, feelings and imaginations of others.

  49. JMF123

    quite emotive for a doco - but some good points for a discerning viewer

  50. v_arrow

    I absolutely agree :) except of being afraid classic books will be lost in the digital revolution, in fact i have a digital copy of Wuthering Heights on my iPad, it's just as fun as reading the paperbacks. Hey it even saves trees. :)

  51. royal

    reading matters but you didnt give the most important reasons why reading matters. You gave a very narrow reason. You didnt give us
    THE reason why we should read but you gave us A reason why we should read.

  52. Ed Lamange

    collage? COLLEGE Spelling is just as important!!

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