Neuroplasticity

It isn’t the obligation of science to deliver truths that make us feel good. A trope of the Enlightenment thinkers was the arch, but frequently devastating use of textural analysis and the scientific method to eliminate superstition, faith-based presumptions and “traditional” ways of understanding, frequently leaving us disappointed but, like a reader at the conclusion of The Hound of the Baskervilles, relieved that mythical monsters cannot exist in a modern world.

And yet, neuroplasticity has the potential to give us all a positive, even optimistic trust that some things in our largely Newtonian universe can change for the good. The term, coined by Polish scientist Jerzy Konorski, refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt to injury or dysfunction by rewiring itself.

Until neuroplasticity was identified and established as a fact, people assumed that we were born with our brains more-or-less intact, and that brain cells that died off were not replaced (a convenient explanation for numerous diseases that were called “senility”). We were stuck with the brain that we had at birth, and that, after a pubescent blossoming of skill, it was all downhill from there.

Of course, some stroke victims recovered their speech and loss of movement, usually after arduous labor. This was explained as other parts of the brain developing heightened sensitivities, or otherwise “taking over” for the damaged sections.

No one was certain that the brain actually changed itself until near the end of the 20th century, when examinations of brain tissue showed growth and adaptation up until the moment of death. What did all this neural reconstruction mean?

Simply put, this rewiring is a kind of learning. We can not just improve old ways of doing things and acquire new skills, we can actually change the way we think. That means altering habitual, counter-productive ways of understanding ourselves and others.

Neuroplasticity is a physical proof of cognitive therapy, in which some mental illnesses can be treated by changing the way you think. Instead of waiting (or fearing) that the worst things will happen, or reacting with explosive anger, or despair, you imagine good things happening, peaceful intent and a general hope that things can get better.

And the brain responds by rewiring itself to incorporate those thoughts.

So, I’m going to apply some of this to my creative obstacles that, while being somewhat typical for a writer, are strong enough to stop me from writing.

Wish me luck!

 

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