Sunday, 31 May 2015
When we say that the brain is "plastic", we don't talk about the polymers. Brain plasticity means that the brain is marvelously responsive, adaptable and eternally changing. Its adaptations and changes occur in response to the demands and pressures of the environment that it encounters. We are literally remaking our brain and accumulating a trove of experiences and memories, every minute of the day; everyday of the week; every month and every year.
One important aspect of brain plasticity is the ability to retain and store more specific memories. We talk too much of memories but where are these memories stored? The storage of experience as memories is the foundation upon which the brain builds its capacity to continually remodel itself. Memory storage is carried out on the molecular level, and the synapse is the workhouse for ensuring that memories are preserved for long periods of time. Preservation of memories over the short term occurs because existing synapses are strengthened.
Another important component of brain plasticity is the concept of critical periods. These are relatively limited windows of opportunity during which the brain can learn, change and develop. If the opportunity is not seized during the critical period, the window may close forever ( Don't worry too much as there are brain training methodologies to open up the window). The concept has many important implications for building better brains, for enhancing creativity and for education. Examining everyday human life, inadequate environmental exposure results in failure to learn something during the critical period.
One of the best ways to get a new perspective on things to enhance this plasticity is to tackle a new field that you know little or nothing about. We might own our own creativity to bridge across these new disciplines. Many people have a secret longing to do something different from the work that is their daily bread. If you have always wanted to try your hand at painting or to master a foreign language, take the time and effort to do it. Do it in depth and with a passion, for this is the only way that you will really exercise your brain. Intense curiosity also aids this plasticity. This accelerates creativity. The seeds of creativity may be planted by nature but nurture helps it germinate, flower and grow. Nature cannot be changed but nurture is under our control.
We know that brain plasticity continues throughout life, and that using the brain is good for it. Individuals can do more to exercise their brains than they currently do, creating the possibility that they can slow aging process and perhaps lessen their risks for degenerative brain diseases.