Monday, May 28, 2007

Contemplate Neurogenesis

Over a lifetime, the human mind can evolve wonderfully. The brain itself evolves to meet the demands placed on it. First it creates new connections on the fibers that extend from the brain cells. Then the cells grow new fibers. And now, science has discovered, the brain grows new brain cells. Neurogenesis, the process is called.

This may not seem that big a deal. Muscles grow new muscle cells. But the teaching has been for years that nerve tissue, once damaged, cannot regrow. We are born with one set of brain cells, and we must preserve them fearfully, we were taught. It turns out, though, that those of us who were fearlessly blowing our brain cells away were growing new ones as the old ones died.

Brain cells are born in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The new cells then migrate to where the brain is working hardest. They howdy up the other cells, begin networking, and get involved.

Where the mind works the hardest, there grows the brain. We become more like ourselves each day. Our own nature being the best, we grow chauvinistic, xenophobic, racist as we compare ourselves to others not so fortunate as to be us. Whatever we do with our brain, we do better and better and better.

Playing chess, for example, requires some centers of the brain, but not others. Emotions must be suppressed, so that pure rationality plays the game. Successful rationality seeks further success. There can be a loss of the emotional side of a chessplayer's life experience. Soldiers can discover a similar loss. Studying flowers may help them recover by focusing their minds on the living and the vulnerable.

When a mind is not exploring new alternatives, not making decisions to try new things, do the baby brain cells it produces then reinforce existing behavior?

For some people, a repeated decision to wash one's hands before doing something can reinforce the parts of the brain that the mind used to make that decision, and soon one washes for everything. A mind like this is automatically patterning.

People who rarely choose new paths develop habits which they then depend upon to guide them. Ruts.

If, however, available choices become broader and broader as so often happens these days, ruts may erode as minds reach to grasp new levels of understanding and brains grow new cells to support that reach.

A mind that gets started seeing the humor in everything can connect emotion and logic. A continued focus on all parts at once can develop the habit of being whole.

Want to grow your feeling side? As you walk down the street, glance at each person who passes and try to think of the word that best describes how he or she feels.

Just a little hobby. I tried it. After five weeks, suddenly I'm seeing into people like I've never seen before. One can invent new hobbies that open one up.

But how can one keep from merely echoing the known? How can one become what one can not yet conceive?

This question will require some contemplation.

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