Sunday SciKu | Word Form Area

For a long time I’ve been interested the Snake Detection Hypothesis, which says that it was primates’ co-evolution with snakes that allowed for the rapid development of our excellent vision—we had to be able to quickly recognize camouflaged snakes so they wouldn’t kill us as we coexisted for millions of years in the same habitat. My hunch has been, though I’ve never found any research on this topic, that it’s this same high-contrast pattern detection that allows us to read text, and that the “visual word form area” of the brain is an adaptive overlay on top of the snake detection area. If you look at the pattern on a snake, it kind of looks like text. Which has cool implications for the Eden myth, where it was the snake that taught us knowledge. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but it would be interesting if it is.

Anyway, this paper points toward that hypothesis, showing that the visual word form area is pre-wired into the brains of infants. They put 40 newborns into an fMRI machine and showed that they already have the VWFA. Which begs the question—how could this module have already evolved when majority literacy (let alone universal literacy) is only 75 years old? In 1820, only 12% of the global population could read—yet we already have a pre-wired VWFA just 200 years later? How is that possible? My answer: snakes.


your first words
snaking across the page
parting the grass


Sunday SciKu | Fossil Tracks

footprints in the sand

Photo by Kevin Bluer

A lot of the cool things about this story are in the science paper but not the article: They found mile-long tracks at White Sands National Park and determined it was a girl carrying a toddler, shifting the kid from one hip to the other and occasionally putting it down. She walked in a straight line like she knew exactly where she was going, at about 3.8 mph, so a brisk pace, and then followed the same path back a few hours later without the toddler. During the time in between, a giant ground sloth and a mammoth crossed her tracks. The mammoth just kept walking, but the ground sloth sniffed, then stood on its hind legs to look around, seemingly worried about human predation. A whole mysterious story in these tracks—and what happened to the toddler?


such a long walk into the future fossil


Blue-Grey Place


every morning the same morning      the same squawk of
the ironing board unfolding      the clink of spoon against
bowl      his oatmeal like tar      sugarless      the same
voices spilling over it      midwestern dialects most bland
therefore most pleasing to that secret place where
proximity stands for comfort      repetition the golden

status quo of Good Morning America      a car bomb
rocked North Ireland overnight but first how to fold your
linen napkins into swans of origami
      and lying in bed
as the water ran      the swish of steam      his hand pressing
hard into Dockers      he’d complain to no one about the
pleats      about a woman’s work      the silence of the

house      what he wouldn’t give for a blowjob and a bagel
right now      or just a day off his feet      and down the
hall      in my dark room      under comic book sheets     
call it the shadow of his second-hand solitude      call it
prescience or longing      call it letting go      or grabbing
on to patriarchy      his villainy stripped away with my

presence      but for the first time      and every time      I
wanted to be him in forty years      I wanted his grey hair
and grunting acceptance      I wanted every day to begin
and end just like it did:      bright morning on the yellow
walls      warm steam from an iron      the day’s news a
garbled redundancy on a small screen of black and white