Liz Bates bates at CRL.UCSD.EDU
Fri Apr 25 17:59:35 UTC 1997

>Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 10:56:52 -0700
>From: Liz Bates <bates at>
>Subject: Re: innate
>Bcc: book-authors,brian,blf2 at
>When I play the piano, and do things with my fingers that are utterly
>unique and domain-specific.  I have been "adapted" to do that through
>experience with the task.  But that does NOT mean that, in any meaningful
>way, my hands have become "dedicated piano processors."  In the same vein,
>I do not doubt for a moment that, in most normal individuals, a distinct
>system of processors takes charge of the reading task after long
>experience with that task.  That does NOT mean, in any meaningful way,
>that those parts of the brian have become "dedicated reading processors."
>In fact, although I am familiar with the Posner work, I am also familiar
>with plenty of other work that suggests that the visual regions and
>object-recognition areas involved in reading have also "kept their day
>jobs" that is, they "do" reading but they continue to do other things too.
>And if those areas are damaged early in life, then other areas can take
>over to do the reading job.  I am not being dogmatic.  I honestly believe
>that is the most veridical, empirically defensible reading of the current
>literature on brain development and neural plasticity, and the current
>literature on neural imaging of patterns of activation during complex
>tasks.  So, not only do I reject the idea that certain areas of the cortex
>are innately specified with domain-specific processing or representations,
>I also reject the idea that ANY area of the cortex ends up handling one
>and only one kind of content (beyond the more banal fact that visual areas
>handle visual stimuli, and some visual areas handle especially complex
>visual stimuli...).  Even that workhorse for modularity, the distinction
>between a "what is it" and "where is it" system, has broken down in the
>last few years.  Putative color areas are also dropping like flies.  The
>weight of evidence is moving more and more toward highly distributed and
>dynamic representations, and against any "thing in a box" view -- and
>that's even AFTER experience has wrought its wonders in sculpting the
>And by the way, SURELY you were not suggested that evolution has anything
>to do with reading, much less that there is a dedicated neural system that
>evolved for reading!  There simply has been enough genetic time for such
>an innovation, particularly in view of the fact that universal literacy
>still eludes us, and any kind of literacy was a rare hothouse flower a
>hundred years ago. -liz
>Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 09:40:29 -0700 (PDT)
>Subject: Re: innate
>To: bates at CRL.UCSD.EDU
>MIME-version: 1.0
>I don't know if you are familiar with a series of works by Posner and
>his associates (Petersen, Raichle etc.) on the development of a reading
>module in the pre-striate areas of the left occipital lobe. The location
>is of course quite suggestive, being within the object regognition
>(ventral) stream (cf. Miskin and Ungerleider etc.). But the adaptation of
>that loication to a reading task seems to be, in itself, highly domain
>specific. Your 'weaker' position on domain specificity need not be quite
>as strong. In terms of evolution, it is very clear that all language-related
>modules were initially specialized to do other things. And even that while
>they process some aspects of language now, they may continue to do those
>"daytime" tasks. But it is still an open question whether in their capacity
>of language processors, they have or have not been restructured (reconfigured)
>in a highly domain-specific way. I think this is another area where one ought
>to resist rigid positions. At least two areas that are quitessential
>in language -- phonology and grammar -- exhibit enough unique characteristics
>to suggest that at least the mode of processing (if not the location) is
>rather unique and domain specific. This is not as extreme as the Chomskyite
>dogma. But I think, in evolutionary terms, it may be viewed as an intermediate
>stage, somwhere between a totally domain-general module and a totally domain-
>specific module. Since the evolution of phonology and grammar are, most
>the latest evolutionary additions to the array of capacities that combine in
>supporting human communication, finding them organized in such an "early"
>fashion should not be all that surprising.
>Best, TG

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