A Funny Thing Happens
Muse Science Magazine for Kids|October 2020
A Funny Thing Happens
How jokes and wordplay reveal the inner workings of our reading minds
By Nick D'Alto

JANE SAW THE PIRATE ON THE SHIP WITH THE TELESCOPE.

Wait, who had the telescope? Jane, or the pirate? Or was the telescope simply on the ship?

THE HORSE RACED PAST THE BARN FELL.

That doesn’t make any sense. But try reading “raced” as “ridden at a fast pace.” What a difference!

Are you laughing? Or just plain confused? For cognitive neuroscientists (experts who study how the brain works), brain teasers like these aren’t just funny phrases. They’re windows into how our brains operate and how reading happens. By studying patients’ brain activity using high-tech devices, these experts can glimpse what happens inside our brains as we try to puzzle out these challenging sentences.

Are you ready to do some “mind reading” yourself? Try deciphering these three surprising sentences.

Mind Reader #1: The person humming tunes pianos.

That make no sense, right? It sounds like words are missing. Now try thinking of “tunes” as an action—not a set of songs. Aha!

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October 2020