Physical Books May Offer Better Reading Comprehension than Ebooks

This has been my experience, and it’s good to hear that science may be bearing this out. Here’s a key quote from a brief article on this subject:

“Some scientists believe that our brain actually interprets written letters and words as physical objects—a reflection of the fact that our minds evolved to perceive things, not symbols,” writes Carr. “The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones. We quickly develop a mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its argument or story were a voyage unfolding through space. If you’ve ever picked up a book that you read long ago and discovered that your hands were able to locate a particular passage quickly, you’ve experienced this phenomenon.”

The question for me is whether there’s a way to be able to replicate this phenomena with e-books. I haven’t found one yet, but perhaps there is.

  • Ben

    I’m not sure about this.

    At minimum, there is the qualifier of the book being “lengthy and complicated”.

    Interestingly, I’ve read some other “evolutionary science” of the brain that purports the human brains “symbolic logic” ability is what makes us unique…we are uniquely capable at perceiving symbols in addition to things, in other words. (2nd Chapter of “Brain Rules” talks about this).

    IMO, it comes down to how much the reader is willing to interact with the text – turn the pages, underline, make notes, review, outline, etc. Easier to do that in a paper book, but that can also be done with an ebook, perhaps just on a separate notebook, etc.

  • Glenn Brooke

    I can often remember a passage or figure better if I recall where it was in the book (e.g., near the middle, right page). I’m still struggling to mark up ebooks and interact with them as effectively as I do physical books. Increasingly, my pattern is to start with a digital copy (Kindle), and do my first reading. If I like the book, then I get a physical copy and use that for markup and study, and sharing with others. Passing along a physical book that you’ve marked up and loved on is a huge gift to others.

    • Matt Perman

      I have the same experience. It’s been a challenge to figure out how to mark up ebooks and interact with them effectively. I try to highlight and add notes in them through the interface, but I still find that cumbersome and slow. I really like underlining for real and writing notes in the margin, and then being able to remember what I’ve read easier because of the hooks and framework that are created by the physical location of the passages in the book.

      Starting with the digital copy and then getting a physical copy for the sake of markup and study, if the book proves worth that, is a great idea.