The other week, helping my grand-daughters to read their school books, I was suddenly struck by how wonderful the process of reading actually is. You start by learning the letters; then sounding them together (a process fraught with difficulty in English, since there is neither rhyme nor reason in how letters are arranged or pronounced. ) Finally a miracle happens and oh! how amazing and wonderful – you can read!

I’m not convinced that we fully understand how this is done. I could see for example that my grand-daughter read in advance of herself, for she would stumble over easy words that she knew. two or three words before a long and difficult one that she could see coming up.

But when you consider the speed at which an accomplished reader can read (and retain the information), clearly we are not reading word by word. Do we cast our eye down the middle of the page and guess the words at the ends of the lines? I myself am absolutely useless at proof reading. I just see what ought to be there, and don’t identify any errors. Whatever the actual process, we are not aware of it being operative as we read.

This leads me on to the mystery of thinking. Since I speak only one language easily, I have frequently asked multi-linguists : in which language do you think? (There is never any clear answer.) On reflection, I wonder if we think in words or language at all? Consider the occasion when we hear of some crisis which urgently requires our attention but we are engaged in some task which we cannot leave. But when you are free to consider the matter again, you find your brain has been, unbeknown to you, dealing with the isue, and has a number of options laid out for you. Most assuredly that process of thought was not in words.

It is humbling to reflect that we do not entirely understand the process of being ourselves.