Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy new neural connections

Oliver Sacks has a nice Op-Ed piece this morning in the New York Times, titled, "This Year, Change Your Mind". In the article, Sacks urges us to engage our brains in challenging new tasks and activities, and keep learning even as we age. Though we may tend to lose the motivation to keep trying out new experiences over time, and have less time to set aside from work, he notes that we're not so limited by our biology.  He writes:
While some areas of the brain are hard-wired from birth or early childhood, other areas — especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older. 
He cites a number of examples of neuroplasticity (the ability of our brain to strengthen and create new neural connections) in adults, including this one:
I have had many reports from ordinary people who take up a new sport or a musical instrument in their 50s or 60s, and not only become quite proficient, but derive great joy from doing so. Eliza Bussey, a journalist in her mid-50s who now studies harp at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore, could not read a note of music a few years ago. In a letter to me, she wrote about what it was like learning to play Handel’s “Passacaille”: “I have felt, for example, my brain and fingers trying to connect, to form new synapses. ... I know that my brain has dramatically changed.” Ms. Bussey is no doubt right: her brain has changed.
From an academic standpoint, I think these findings suggest another direction in which we should rethink our present system of education, which emphasizes learning only for children and young-adults, and  provides relatively fewer opportunities for life-long learning among adults in their thirties and beyond.

Anyway, I sure do look forward to continue changing my brain this year, and wish you many new neural connections too.

No comments: