The ability to think clearly is the result of the biochemical processes that occur in the brain cells. To ensure that these processes do not fail, a lot of things are required — from a sufficient amount of energy to a negligible dose of some element, without which the brain can not do.
Many times a day we talk and think about ourselves, but we rarely ask questions that are hidden behind an obvious and seemingly understandable “I.” What does determine how we think, what do we feel, how we perceive ourselves and what we are capable of? Are our possibilities are predetermined by nature? At the epicenter of this conflict is the brain that controls our entire life. This is one of the most complex systems in the universe: it is able to learn, grow and think about itself.
The discovery that the environment can influence the development and growth of the brain has become a veritable revolution in neuroscience. Experiments made by American professor Marian Diamond in 1964 showed that for rats grown in spacious cells with a bunch of toys, the cortex of the large hemispheres was 6% thicker than of those grown in small “boring” cells (Diamond et al.). This means that we can change the brain indirectly — without surgery and drugs.
For about four hundred years a man looked at the world as at an exact mechanism similar to a huge clock — and in the same way, perceived himself. It seemed that we are born with “preset settings” — and we can live in strictly defined frames. For a long time, it was believed that the adult brain is formed once and for all, and its cells die irrevocably. The scientists were convinced that as soon as the childhood ends, the brain grows old and degrades, and our thinking inevitably worsens, that brain damage is always fatal. It was thought that it is senseless to train people with congenital anomalies of the brain or those who have suffered damage during life. And although the idea of the neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to change under the influence of experience — was discovered in experiments since the end of the 18th century, it was rejected until the last decades. But now everything has changed.
With the advent of techniques for studying the brain of living people, we understand more about how people live and function, even if from birth they do not have a part or even one of the cerebral hemispheres. Previously, science did not believe that such people can study, engage in creativity and love their close ones — but this turned out to be untrue. In Norman Doje’s book “Plasticity of the Brain” are presented many examples of the neuroplasticity of the brain of such people.
The same property of the brain can explain the recovery from trauma-related paralysis, despite the deplorable predictions of doctors. Michael Merzenich showed in his experiments how nervous activity changes the brain’s work (“2016 KAVLI Prize in Neuroscience”). If the nerve that connects your hand to the brain is damaged, then after a while the brain will learn to use the neighboring nerve to control the same hand — it is enough to “force” the brain. Experiments proved that this body loses skills as easily as learning new: if it gets used to the fact that we do not use a limb, it erases it from the “brain map,” distributing previously used neurons for other, more urgent tasks. But if a person is put in a situation where he can only use an immobilized hand — after a few weeks the brain will again begin to “feel” it. These methods are used, for example, for recovery after a stroke. Of course, the recovery time depends on the severity of the damage — but these experiments force us to look at the idea of rehabilitation of patients differently.
The neuroplasticity can be used not only in the medical field, but also in the field of education, self-education, prolonging the active phase of life, etc. Information regarding neuroplasticity should become more widespread and for this its main principles should be formulated more clearly.
“2016 KAVLI Prize in Neuroscience.” KavliPrize, 6 Dec. 2016, http://www.kavliprize.org/prizes-and-laureates/prizes/2016-kavli-prize-neuroscience.
Diamond, Marian C., et al. “The Effects of an Enriched Environment on the Histology of the Rat Cerebral Cortex.” The Journal of Comparative Neurology, vol. 123, no. 1, May 2018, pp. 111–119, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cne.901230110.