Mis-reading headlines

July 31, 2009 at 11:32 am Leave a comment

Reading can be seen as a special type of visual perception. When we read a piece of text, our eye produces only a fairly low-quality images, skipping over or blurring many letters and even whole words. Our brains, magnificent machines that they are, then fill in those gaps and use our prior knowledge to make a good estimate of what we’re actually reading. The same thing happens with vision in general, the whole time: our brain is filling in the gaps, and hypothesising about how the world must be arranged in order to produce the current percept. Anyway…

When things go wrong, and we mis-read something, our brain usually replaces one word with another that (at least at a grammatical level) makes sense, and (at a purely visual level) looks similar. Hence my mis-reading of a headine in today’s Guardian. I read it as:

Scouse arrested after Iranian protest

and I thought a) why is the Guardian using the word “scouse” which is slang at best, and derogatory at worst? And b) why is some Mersey-sider getting especially involved in Iran? But then the rest of my brain kicked in, my eye skipped back to the more prosaic truth:

Scores arrested after Iranian protest

And suddenly the world makes sense again, even as it becomes a little sadder.

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