Michael Merzenich studies neuroplasticity -- the brain's powerful ability to change itself and adapt -- and ways we might make use of that plasticity to heal injured brains and enhance the skills in healthy ones.
Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain's incredible power: its ability to actively re-wire itself. He's researching ways to harness the brain's plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function.
Notice at 9 minutes how when a monkey learns to use a tool to get food he develops new areas of/in the brain, same thing happens when a kid learns language i.e. massive brain change
This means that neuronal development and restructuring is possible with training. Since lack of brain exercise can increase the "noise" in your brain and make it less efficient over time, a type of brain gym for older people is likely in the future as part of daily activities.
"What is brain plasticity? Does it mean that our brains are made of plastic? Of course not. Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, describes how experiences reorganize neural pathways in the brain. Long lasting functional changes in the brain occur when we learn new things or memorize new information. These changes in neural connections are what we call neuroplasticity.
To illustrate the concept of plasticity, imagine the film of a camera. Pretend that the film represents your brain. Now imagine using the camera to take a picture of a tree. When a picture is taken, the film is exposed to new information -- that of the image of a tree. In order for the image to be retained, the film must react to the light and ?change? to record the image of the tree. Similarly, in order for new knowledge to be retained in memory, changes in the brain representing the new knowledge must occur.
To illustrate plasticity in another way, imagine making an impression of a coin in a lump of clay. In order for the impression of the coin to appear in the clay, changes must occur in the clay -- the shape of the clay changes as the coin is pressed into the clay. Similarly, the neural circuitry in the brain must reorganize in response to experience or sensory stimulation."
This means that the way you can build your muscles is the same way that you can build your brain i.e. with exercise.
Here is an introduction to neuroscience for beginners by Win Wenger PhD.
Other things equal: the older you are, the more readily you should be able to learn.
This is because human learning is by association. We make sense of current stimuli by relating them to previous experience. The older you are, the more experiences and the more aspects of more experiences you have ready to tie in with incoming new experiences, to recognize them in terms of previous concepts and experiences and to make sense of them.
You are not about to run out of memory capacity, either, in this lifetime or in a thousand lifetimes. You have more different possible connections available in your brain than there are atoms in the universe.
Alas, other things are not equal.
One of the regards in which they are not equal, is in the millions upon millions of brain cells you’ve allowed to languish unstimulated and unexercised, eventually to die, compared with the number of cells you’ve developed and the number of cells you’ve replaced.
Yet you know that only a tiny percentage of your physical brain is developed. So much is this the case that even when you are an octogenarian you could, with a little effort and direction, have several times more of your brain developed, online and firing, than when you were a youth!
This aspect, so counter to popular expectations of inevitable dwindling into senility, deserves at least two sidenotes:
- There is science behind the folklore you‘ve heard so often - to
the effect that only 5-10% of the physical brain is developed. It
always helps to go back to original sources and this instance is
certainly a good example of this principle. Going back to original
sources is what so many leaders of workshops in creativity and/or
self-development failed to do, passing along instead what became
mere folklore in this context. Folklore which is now being shrugged
aside AS mere folklore, so that people don’t have to think about the
enormous implications. A look at this 5-10% figure, and how that was
arrived at, is pretty instructive. J.Z. Young (A Model of the Brain.
Oxford Univ. Press, 1964) was the one who sampled brain cells in
various parts of the brain, and who literally counted what
proportion of the cells in his samples were developed compared with
how many were not developed...
...It IS true that only 5-10% of the cells in the human brain are developed at all. That part of his findings was correct. It is NOT true, however, that 5-10% or even 1% of the brain is developed. Consider....
...A neuron is considered developed if it has developed an insulating myelin sheath and has synaptically linked in to other neurons. That was what Young was counting. The method made no allowance for the DEGREE of development. Neurons have been counted with upward of 60,000 synaptic connections with other neurons - but most of the developed neurons in your brain or mine have only a dozen or so such connections. Factor together the percentage of cells developed with their degree of development, and the brain clearly is not 5% or so developed - but more like one ten-thousandths of one percent developed! In other words, there is some bit of room for improvement.
- Besides stimulus and feedback, a primary factor driving the
percentage and degree of development in the brain is the amount of
circulation reaching it. A substantial portion of the people who
have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, when examined turn out instead
to have been launched into an Alzheimer’s-like spiral dwindling of
their faculties through a failure of circulation in key areas of
their brain, or even more frequently an onset of anemia, conditions
for which some other treatments could be more appropriate than some
of the treatments which they are receiving as misdiagnosed
Alzheimer's victims. Very occasionally, reports have surfaced of
restoration of limb function after paralyzing spinal chord injury,
after extra arterial circulation has been routed through the site of
injury for some while. In any event it stands to reason that if one
improves the physical circulation of oxygen, energy, food energy and
nutrition TO the brain and removal of fatigue products and toxic
wastes FROM the brain, the physical condition and functioning of the
brain will improve.
...HOW does one improve circulation to the brain? Come now: even if you’ve not looked into this topic previously, you can probably brainstorm a half dozen or more ways, half of which would successfully work. However, unless you’ve read our work on this point, the most powerful of all known ways probably would not have made it into your brainstormed list of methods for improving circulation to the brain. That most powerful way is held-breath underwater swimming—please see Two GUARANTEED Ways to Profoundly Improve Your Intelligence; "Did You Know? A Few Specific Points" (Winsights No. 77); and Breathing and Personality Traits: A Hypothesis (Winsights No. 61)—that combines the CO2-Carotid Effect (the more carbon di-oxide, within reason, that you have conserved in your bloodstream, the wider the Carotid arteries open to allow more circulation through to the brain) with the Mammalian Diving Response (we mammals have a reflex which powerfully sends more blood circulating to the brain and internal organs when we are under water). Also improved by this held-breath underwater swimming is one’s span of attention, allowing one to better see relationships and make sense of things.
The last few years in brain research have seen the discovery that the brain, all the time, is replacing some of its old cells with new neurons, and that the quality, speed and focus of this process is susceptible to many different kinds of influences as to stimulus and feedback, circulation, nutrition, select chemicals, and the “cognitive program” running in your necktop computer.
Educators in recent years have come to emphasize the value of feeding experience into a young child’s growing brain. They have described the condition of having a small amount of experience providing little “surface area” to which incoming new experiences can be linked and associated and made sense of - hence the desirability of enriching experience in a young child’s growing brain so that he instead has many ways to attach to and associate his ongoing new inputs. The case for this model is persuasive except for one thing:
- The observed phenomenon of the slowing of one’s learning with age.
I wonder what wonderful ranges of perception, understanding and experience could await us if we did not allow these losses or even reversed them, and the expanded “sticky surface area” of our mature lifetime-accumulated experience continued to make sense of our ongoing world unabated.....
This is an introduction to how you can increase your intelligence using what you have learned about brain plasticity...
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
The key to building intelligence is to get widely different, separate regions of the brain to work more closely together.
John Ertl's EEG brainwave analyzer, the most purely physiological "I.Q." test ever devised, found that intelligence is usually high when left and right sides have tightly knit phase relationships, low when they don't. Later evidence also suggests that the same is true for phase relationships (how quick an interval between the time one side is stimulated and the other side shows response) for front and back of the brain as well.
How to get different regions of the brain into such closer phase relationships? Consider that most of our learning and development depends upon our sensory feedback upon our own actions. Now let's look at the speed of that feedback —
Through millions of years of our mostly challenging history as a species, and before, we've had to be able to respond very quickly to external sensory information. Tiger! — quicker than thought we're running toward the campfire or shelter or grabbing a weapon. But internal perceptions — adjusting a cramped position, say, or adjusting for warming or cooling of the day, or developing a gradual feeling about a situation... These internal sensory perceptions have not been subjected to the same pressures for speed as have our external perceptions. Processing our feelings, say, takes a while.
So the feedback we get on our own externally expressed actions is immediate. Our internal awarenesses are less immediate. To set up a closer phase relationship between two or more very different, remote regions of the brain, take the characteristic activity of each of those parts of the brain and express those activities externally. Coordinating these with immediate sensory feedback will force those regions of the brain into a much closer phase relationship. Practice — exercise of that closer relationship — builds intelligence.
Processing a stimulus or sensory datum that has come into one part of the brain — much rides with how quickly other parts of the brain also get in on the act. If phase relationships are slack, the first region of the brain has done with it before the others receive it, so what they receive is a message of "job done, go back to sleep." If other regions receive the stimulus or datum faster than the first part of the brain can finish it, they get more involved with it. The person with close phase relationships in his brain characteristically will see more aspects to things, notice more, get more out of each experience because more of his brain is actively involved with it.
Characteristically, powerful pole-bridging activities include:
- Image-Streaming, drawing on subtle awarenesses from all over the brain, sorting them through the right temporal lobe as meaningful imagery, and describing them to focus them through the left temporal "word box." For how to Image-Stream, see last part of You Are Brighter Than You Think
- Sight-reading and playing music, especially for very young children. See Winsights No. 14, "A Fun Way to Teach Your 2-Year-Old to Sight-Read and Play Music".
Short extract from another article about how you can increase your IQ by learning how to hear pitch...
Another Brain-Boost through Music
Does it strengthen your intellect to hear better the pitch and tone of musical notes? If so, what can you do about it? And what does it mean for our schools?
At Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1994, Gottfried Schlaug, Lutz Jancke, Yanxiong Huang and Helmuth Steinmetz established that the main part of our brain for understanding nuances of word-meaning, the left plenum temporales, in people with perfect musical pitch is double the physical size of the same organ in people without perfect musical pitch!
— (Science, Feb. 3, 1995, vol. 267, 699-701.)