Our brain can become fossilized when fewer new brain connections are made (review previous posts). However, there is now a realization that our brain has potential powers and uses that have not even begun to be explored. As I earlier stated, there is now an understanding that even with certain brain injuries there is a brain plasticity that has a certain reserve and redundancy that may flare-up and compensate for what has been lost in another part of the brain. I advance the idea that our brain’s potential, reserve, and redundancy will take on new meaning when brain research fully includes and incorporates the sciences of Energetics (Ch. 2), Epigenetics (Ch. 6), and Noetics (Ch. 24).
As we get older, old age has certain failing mind-body faculties related to seeing, hearing, physical agility, and mental acuity. However, old age also brings accumulated knowledge that adds to our wisdom. Brain research now indicates that there is “life-long brain plasticity.” (Goldberg, 2005) Even in old age our brain can rewire itself. Even in old age we can challenge our brain. Old age doesn’t have to be about dotardism, caducity, or being weak-minded. What was once thought impossible is the growth and development of new synaptic connections even at an older age. Brain decline is either from disease or the brain is not being used —> “use it or lose it.” For some individuals old age can lead to atrophy with non-brain usage. The brain that is not used (at any age) can be frozen with few new brain connections being made. According to neurologist Richard Restak, “the brain never wears out; it gets better the more we use it; it changes in structure and function throughout our lives. As a consequence of this plasticity we sculpt our brain according to our life experiences.” (2009) What research is starting to investigate is the advent of those superagers who are not just living longer, but are engaged with life and are performing and functioning productivity well into their late 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. This research confirms that an, “old dog can learn new tricks.”
I recently made a post about the rigidity of the human brain. However, thankfully there is a substantial amount of brain plasticity, permeability, and elasticity. Plasticity has Greek roots and means to be formed or to be molded. Brain plasticity is about being adaptable, adjustable, and regenerative. The human brain is a dynamic organ where neural networks are capable of adapting and adjusting to new stimuli and to new experiences. We can decide to acquire additional neuronal stimulation and input that can enhance brain functioning. Neuroplasticity is especially prominent when it comes to learning new skills, or activating innate talents and abilities that have been dormant. Brain plasticity is learning, growing, and changing with new experiences. Brain research has even indicated that if certain parts of the brain are impaired by a stroke or some other degenerative injury, the brain in some cases has an anatomical neuronic compensatory and elasticity capable of restoring some of the lost functioning. The prefrontal cortex (PFG) of our brain is an especially neuroplastic cortical region. There is brain plasticity in neural functioning as our brains acquire additional input and stimulation. The prefrontal lobe (the most anterior frontal cortex) has dense connections with other areas of the brain and this allows synapses to continuously be re-configured.
The human brain is most rigid and resistant to change where there are embedded childhood belief, values, prejudices and early trauma. However, under the right circumstances the brain can reconfigure itself and go beyond early rigid input. Under the right circumstances our brain can even reconfigure by addressing past trauma, abuse, and pain. No one says this is easy. For any reconfiguration of the brain can be extremely difficult. What this amounts to is: 1.) we allow our brain to maintain early stage emotional conditioning (even atrophy and go further backwards) or, 2.) we decide to grow through new experiences, learning, thinking, skepticism, questioning, and to re-evaluate our life. A person can even bravely revisit early emotional conditioning (some traumatic) allowing those Limbic rooted emotions to resurface and face them (Re-enactment Therapy). Brain plasticity (micro-plasticity) related to trauma is only possible by allowing our brain to confirm and confront past hurtful experiences —-> walking through the pain and not going around it by putting up the defense mechanism of avoidance.
The Human Brain Rigidity and Plasticity Dualism – The Reptilian and Limbic Brains are quantum-chemically-electronically wired to be negativistic when threatened and in accepting new information. Reptilian and Limbic Brains have significant instinctual deterministic ways of interacting with the world. The Reptilian Brain is positioned to rigidly defend from outside threat. The Limbic Brain is set up to stubbornly engage environmental stimuli. Early developmental learning (ages 0-7) takes place at the Limbic Brain emotional level. The early Limbic Brain learning of one’s cultural norms, beliefs, fears, worldviews are implanted for a lifetime. The very sense of oneself, positive or negative, is engrained at this early age. The acceptance of our natural impulses are set at this Mammalian Brain level. Skills of learning, adapting, and changing can be traced back to the formative years of ages 0-7. Much of the rigidity that comes from the Limbic emotional brain spills over into the Neocortex thinking brain. However, and importantly, the Neocortex has a cognitive capacity that is open to learning new information. Posts to come will detail the rigid parts of our brain, and the more flexible and adaptable parts.
In recent posts I maintained that we have a dualistic brain. One dualism is where our brain is structurally and functionally divided into two symmetrical hemispheres with each hemisphere sharing sections of the 4 lobes (review frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal). The 2-halfs are connected by thick nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. I will theorize in later posts that the corpus callosum will play a major role in future human evolutionary cerebralization and positive growth as a species (i. e. Next Step in Human Evolution). Our brain has a Right (R) hemisphere and a Left (L) hemisphere. The 2-hemispheres have multicellular specialization, but through the corpus callosum there is communication and cooperation between the hemispheres. The Left Hemisphere is more sequential, rational, logical, and objective. The Left Brain helps us with reasoning and with subject areas of math, science, and problem solving. The Right Hemisphere is more reflective and is more about randomness, synthesizing, and subjectivity. It has some intuitive capacity. The Right Brain is attuned to humanistic areas of art, music, painting, and poetry. We need both hemispheres. For example, in interpersonal communication the left side observes what is going on, and at the same time the right side tries to understand the meaning of the words exchanged. Both sides are important for empathetic communication. If the logical L-side predominates it can interfere with R-side intuitive capability.