There is a wave of unrest among the students of today.
One informal analysis suggests short first names are strongly correlated with higher salaries. They are bad in several ways, and modern glyphs are little better.
For example, v and w, or m and n. People confuse them all the time, both in reading and in writing. Even though they share relatively few pixels, they are still identical under rotation, and we can see that.
We could confuse them if we were reading upside down, or at an angle, or just confuse them period. OK, so we now have a set of unique and dissimilar glyphs that are unambiguous about their orientation.
Well, we might want them to be easy to write as well as read. How do we define easy to write? We could have a complicated physiological model about what strokes can easily follow what movements and so on, but we will cop out and say: Rather than unwritable pixels in a grid, our primitives will be little geometric primitives.
The fewer the primitives and the closer to integers or common fractions the positioning of said primitives, the simpler and the better. We throw all these rules in, add a random starting population or better yet a population modeled after the existing alphabet, and begin our genetic algorithm.
What 26 glyphs will we get? Dehaene describes some fascinating and convincing evidence for the first kind of innateness. In one of the most interesting chapters, he argues that the shapes we use to make written letters mirror the shapes that primates use to recognize objects.
After all, I could use any arbitrary squiggle to encode the sound at the start of Tree instead of a T. But actually the shapes of written symbols are strikingly similar across many languages.
It turns out that T shapes are important to monkeys, too. When a monkey sees a T shape in the world, it is very likely to indicate the edge of an object - something the monkey can grab and maybe even eat.
A particular area of its brain pays special attention to those important shapes. Human brains use the same area to process letters. Dehaene makes a compelling case that these brain areas have been recycled We did not invent most of our letter shapes, he writes. They lay dormant in our brains for millions of years, and were merely rediscovered when our species invented writing and the alphabet.
But who is to say that a butterfly could not dream of a man?
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