It’s a Kind of Magic

. I read something amazing this week. It was just a throwaway line in an article in a newspaper I was reading over someone’s shoulder on the bus. It said, roughly, that scientists still don’t understand how we actually read.

They don’t really know why our brains look at symbols on a page, and turn them into sounds, and words. And not just words, but feelings and emotions. How these scribbles on a page can make us smell a summer’s day in the words, or make us cry at a death, or our stomach lurch with fear.

How did the first caveman make a mark in the dust and decide ‘that mean ug’?

That fascinated me, the idea that reading is not understood or explained at all by science. And I remembered Arthur C Clarke’s 3rd law. ‘ Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’.

In a way, reading (and writing, in that we make strange signs on a page that can be read) is a very advanced technology, even if it is one that takes place entirely within the human brain. And it is not understood yet. Therefore – it could be perceived as magic.

So next time I cry at Jo the Crossing Sweeper’s death (Bleak House) or go warm all over when Monk kisses Hester (Sins of the Wolf) or giggle myself stupid at Miss Havisham and Thursday Next (Thursday Next novels) or even just read my shopping list (must remember to actually write one this week, and not just scribble it on the back of my hand) – I’m going to remember – there’s magic taking place there.

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