The task of cognitive psychology – that branch of psychology which studies how the mind works – is possibly the most complicated in all science, because it demands, among other things, that the intelligence study itself. Whether or not the mind can describes its own workings in an intellectually useful way is a question still to be answered, but the effort is certainly worth making. The work reprinted here is an early and extraordinary vigorous attempt to describe some of the workings of the mind by studying one of the mind by studying one of the most complex of its operations. In the author's words, And so to completely analyze what we do when we read would almost be the acme of a psychologist's achievements, for it would be to describe very many of the most intricate workings of the human mind, as well as to unravel the tangled story of the most remarkable specific performance that civilization has learned in all its history. Edmund Burke Huey's The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading stands even now as one of the few illuminating and extensive works on that particular cognitive process, and although sixty years old, its theoretical speculations touch on most of the major issues in modern cognitive psychology.
On the experimental observation of reading as a psychological process, remarkably little empirical information has been added to what Huey knew, although some of the phenomena have since been measured more precisely. His treatment of the teaching of reading – although this has been heavily amplified since – stands as an informative and useful introduction to the subject. But in his discussion of reading as a means by which information is transferred from the printed page to the reader's mind – really from one mind to another – Huey is still regarded as first rate.
Taking the viewpoint that reading is an information-processing activity, one in which an arbitrary set of symbols is used to transfer information from one mind to another, Huey first turns his attention to the reader, or processor of information. He describes the motions of the eyes as they affect reading and then examines the nature of what is seen and the perceptual aspects of printed text that become conscious. He then speculates on the higher-level cognitive operations by means of which we translate into meanings in our minds the psychological results of the first two stages.