Can you read this?

Can you read this?

Can you read this? Give it a try.

I am hoping that you play my game and try to read the text above. Go ahead and try before you read the answer below.

P1000650

This is a rock from the Musée de Minéralogie in Paris. This has nothing to do with this post except that it prevents you from inadvertently seeing the solution to the scrambled text. And it is a striking piece of nature.

How’d you do? I am betting that you did just fine. Maybe you had some problems with neocortex, or maybe not. Here is the un-substituted text:

Here is the text which was scrambled to produce the image at the top.

Here is the text which was scrambled to produce the image at the top.

How did you read the scramble? Are you aware of how you figured it out? Or did you just “see” it? Do you think there is a rule to the scramble or do you think errors were inserted randomly? Make a guess. As you’re guessing, let me give you some numbers.

A running average of the proportion of letters changed in each word.

The proportion of letters changed per word is shown in a running average (over 3 words) from the beginning to the end of the text. Most letters were changed throughout.

Overall the average proportion of changed symbols per word was 61%. That means that on average, only 39% of the symbols in each word were correct. As it turns out, there was a rule. The substitutions were A-4; E-3; I-1; O-0; S-5; T-7; and every N was written backwards.

What does our ability to read text that is not actually there tell us? Once again it re-emphasizes how inaccurate perception is. We are not cameras. I am betting that even if you had trouble with the scramble, you thought that there was a message in there, which on a literal level is incorrect. Put another way, let’s say that you fed this text into an optical character recognition (OCR) program. I predict that gobbledygook would emerge. Once again, that free brain of yours would outperform the most sophisticated, costly computer.

So how come the human brain, the neocortex to be specific, out-performs OCR and speech recognition (speech to text) programs as well? Because so much more than optical signals from the retina (or auditory responses from the cochlea) feed into perception. In this case, we use context – this is a blog about the brain; the lengths of the words, their relative placements, and simple grammatical rules. Non-sensory clues help the brain interpret sensory input. When expectations and sensory input conflict, which goes out the window? The sensory input. Every time.

I want to hear from you. Please let me know:

  • Could you read the scramble without looking at the solution?
  • Did you think there was a pattern to the scramble?
  • Were you aware of what the scramble rules were?

As I wrote in a recent post, I am working on the 2nd edition of my textbook. I will be using this blog to try some ideas out. As a consequence, blogs will be occurring more frequently. In addition I really want – actually need – your feedback. For example if most people can’t read the scramble above, I need to know that. So please comment here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

108 Comments »

  1. To answer your questions.

    Yes I could read it , didn’t think about how to do it just did it.
    I knew there was a pattern and could tell you about some of the replacements/switches but didn’t focus on them.

    I am currently taking your course and love it. Only 1 week in but look forward to more.

    Helen

    Like

    • HI!
      I was able to read everything without formally “decoding,” except “neocortex.” When I got to that word I simply looked for other words with the substitute “n” in them. I recognized those words, so I deduced the word “neocortex”! Cool puzzle. 🙂

      Like

    • I could read the whole thing easily. i was aware there was a rule regarding which symbols replaced which letter and it never changed. while i did not pay much attention to which replaced which, because i read it quickly and the exact replacement symbol for a letter was brief and i didn’t pay much attention. i was aware as i read that the symbols meant the same letter throughout the puzzle. I’m surprised people had trouble with “neocortex” but that is most likely due to the fact not many people say “neocortex” that often, nor do they read it that often. 🙂

      Like

      • I could read the whole thing easily. i was aware there was a rule regarding which symbols replaced which letter and it never changed. while i did not pay much attention to which replaced which, because i read it quickly and the exact replacement symbol for a letter was brief and i didn’t pay much attention. i was aware as i read that the symbols meant the same letter throughout the puzzle. I’m surprised people had trouble with “neocortex” but that is most likely due to the fact not many people say “neocortex” that often, nor do they read it that often. 🙂 and i am sorry. i put this post in the wrong spot :/

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  2. I could read it, but I did have problems with the word “neocortex.” As I was quickly reading the text, I just skipped that word. I figured there was a pattern to the symbols, but I didn’t take the time to figure it out. I could tell “see” the pattern, but didn’t take time to put it into words.

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  3. yes I could read it easily; but I play around with that sort of thing quite often anyway: I can read and write mirror writing quite fluently and often use vowel/numeral substitutions for things like passwords (thanks, John leCarre!). I am left-handed and can raise my eyebrows independently – does that make a difference?

    Like

  4. -Could you read the scramble without looking at the solution?
    Yes (and I’m not a english speaker so it was more amazing!)
    -Did you think there was a pattern to the scramble?
    Yes, I’ve seen more text like that so I know some numbers were letters (A=4, E=3…).
    Maybe this “ability” is improve in young people, becouse we born and grow up with technologies and writing with numbers where a part of our life while we were teenagers.
    -Were you aware of what the scramble rules were?
    Yes.

    Like

  5. Answer 1 yes
    2 yes
    3 no
    I am not an English speaker but I have read it very quickly .There is also in Greek the same test with Greek letters ..

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  6. I was able to read through the text easily as it stated more quickly towards the end. I had no thoughts about a pattern while reading the text. I hesitated only at the word neocortex, and then noticed I was aware of who was writing this. Then neocortex was obvious! Funny that the association of author and word worked for me.

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  7. I read it all without problems. I realized that the characters are selected to somehow resemble the letters and the rest was just made up in my head. I did not have problem with ‘neocortex’ – I knew the world would be from the field discussed and it was first to come into mind and resembled the symbols. It was just a fragment of a second. I did not need to think about any ‘code’ to decode the text, I was just reading it, although it was clear that the substitutions took place according to it.
    Actually a lot of similar pictures and texts go around social networks these days 🙂

    Like

  8. I could read it. Only stumbled at “minority” and “neocortex”. And as you said, it became easier as I went along. Started your Neurobiology of Everyday Life really late. Am only in week 4. It’s such great stuff. Learning about the way the brain works is also like taking a philosophy class. Especially when you talk about perception. So really, what is real?

    Thank you for a great journey….

    Like

  9. I could read it. Yes, I recognized the pattern. As I read along I could see some rules being followed. The word neocortex took little longer time to read. The speed increases as you read more lines.

    I have read such texts before quite a few times albeit a while ago, and that “expectation” may have made it easy for me to read such a text.

    It has been an amazing journey through your Coursera course, and you have opened up a fascinating field of study for all of us. Thanks a billion (from all neurons in my brain : you made me aware of them and to love them!)

    Like

  10. even though my first language is Spanish i was able to read the whole sentence very easy without reading the solution. there is an Spanish scramble similar to yours and it was very easy to understand too! didn’t even put attention to find out what numbers were replacing what letters it is amazing how our brain works!

    Like

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