The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.
Neuroplasticity and Response Ability
Response ability, in the context used here, is not what one ‘should’ do according to established norms or standards of the day. Responsibility is one’s ability to respond, to novel situations, new experiences, additional information and trying or traumatic incidents or events. Neuroplasticity is, basically, the brain’s capacity to learn, to adapt, adjust, reformulate and, simply stated, to change. Neuroplasticity is at the basis of all development from birth into early adulthood. Although neuroplasticity remains operative in adulthood, it has generally become less employed and can become sclerotic due to lack of use. The problem with thinking we know is that we then tend to close the door on learning, growing, maturing in both understanding of self and the world. The notion of ‘life long learning’ is predicated on the value of maintaining neuroplasticity so as to prevent psychesclerosis.
Plasticity is a term that means ‘moldable.’ Plastic material can be easily molded into various shapes. In a similar way, the intricately complex neural network of the brain can be shaped. It is, in fact, shaped by the natural process of interacting with the environment. It may be shaped in ways that are not necessarily conducive to well-being, or response ability. Rigid, fixed neural patterns prevent fluidity of response such that what may have been learned as a useful response remains the standard response in situations where it is not useful and may even be detrimental. For example, A child may learn that he, or she, can get what they want by amplifying a temper tantrum, which may work in the home, as a child, for a while. But, it clearly would not work in a marriage. And yet, if that is the established neurological patterns of response to frustration, that is what will be exhibited in behaviors. Neuroplasticity suggests that such an adult can learn new ways of responding to frustration other than a temper tantrum.
Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, is a process that involves adaptive structural and functional changes to the brain. A good definition is “the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.
The brain itself is remarkably adaptive, i.e., plastic, which is, perhaps, the foundation of evolution, and suggests possibilities of development that are as yet undreamed of; what was science fiction a century ago is today accepted as normal. The brain of today is different than the brain of ten thousand years ago in the same way the brain of an adult is different than the brain of a child. The brain is technically described as
the mass of nerve tissue in the anterior end of an organism. The brain integrates sensory information and directs motor responses; in higher vertebrates it is also the center of learning. The human brain weighs approximately 1.4 kg (3 pounds) and is made up of billions of cells called neurons. Junctions between neurons, known as synapses, enable electrical and chemical messages to be transmitted from one neuron to the next in the brain, a process that underlies basic sensory functions and that is critical to learning, memory and thought formation, and other cognitive activities.
Because the brain is critical in the integration of sensory information, the relationship between learning, response ability and neuroplasticity is significant. Our sense of reality, both personal and collective, is predicated on sensory experience. Neuroplasticity is that feature of the human brain which allows it to transcend itself, to reshape itself, to remodel, rewire, renovate and redo itself, which implies the modification of both personal and collective realities. Any substantial sustainable change in cognition, emotion and behavior from current norms and standards requires new learning, which requires neuroplasticity. If learning has become difficult, it can be made easier, and enjoyable by employing some of the methods known as superlearning.
Superlearning may become one of the more important skills in the near future. Education is less about acquiring and storing information in memory than it is about learning how to access new information and introduce, integrate and reinforce new thinking. New thinking is progress as a new pair of shoes is to more comfortable walking. As the notable scientist Albert Einstein is reported to have said, ‘you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.’ What is needed is, in addition to new thinking, new responses. New responses to age old conflicts is at the very least better than the established patterns of modern responses which appear to maintain the age-old conflicts. Even common experiences such as frustrations or failures are often responded to with old, out-dated, dysfunctional and unhealthy thoughts and actions, such as depression, defeat, belittlement, anger and even violence. Neuroplasticity and response ability suggests that failure, frustration, disappointment, loss and trauma can be responded to with resourcefulness, resilience, adaptation and healing. We can mold our lives into something other than what is now considered normal; we can discover and respond to the varieties of challenging life experiences in ways that are much more conducive to developmental well-being, if the desire is there to do so.
We are dealing with the best-educated generation in history. But they’ve got a brain dressed up with nowhere to go.