Trends in Neuroscience and Education

The History of Writing Reflects the Effects of Education on Discourse Structure: Implications for Literacy, Orality, Psychosis and the Axial Age

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Background: Graph analysis detects psychosis and literacy acquisition. Bronze Age literature has been proposed to contain childish or psychotic features, which would only have matured during the Axial Age (∼800-200 BC), a putative boundary for contemporary mentality. Method: Graph analysis of literary texts spanning ∼4,500 years shows remarkable asymptotic changes over time. Results: While lexical diversity, long-range recurrence and graph length increase away from randomness, short-range recurrence declines towards random levels. Bronze Age texts are structurally similar to oral reports from literate typical children and literate psychotic adults, but distinct from poetry, and from narratives by preliterate preschoolers or Amerindians. Text structure reconstitutes the “arrow-of-time”, converging to educated adult levels at the Axial Age onset. Conclusion: The educational pathways of oral and literate traditions are structurally divergent, with a decreasing range of recurrence in the former, and an increasing range of recurrence in the latter. Education is seemingly the driving force underlying discourse maturation.