Monday, June 27, 2011

The Shallows: Ch. 2 Part A

The Vital Paths

In chapter 1, Carr gave his personal experience. In this chapter, he reaches into history to show how new tools (technologies) changed different individuals. Technology gives us new metaphors for description, new ways of defining time and space. Does it also influence us physiologically?

In 1895, a very young Sigmund Freud hypothesized the existence and purpose of cells in the brain. (Then he needed money, so he went into psychoanalysis. But other scientists eventually discovered the neuron thing.)

All of our thoughts, emotions and memories are turned into electrical impulses in our brains. These are transmitted along paths of neurons, controlled by endings called synapses (what Freud called ‘contact barriers’). There are billions of these neurons, each with many branching dendrites, which in turn have their own synaptic terminals. The synapses control whether an electrical impulse is stimulated or suppressed. (The electrical impulse is the thought, emotion or memory. I’m reminding myself, lol.) All the neurons are connected to one another in what seems to me to be the craziest, most intricate web ever. Scientists still don’t understand how it all works.

But they now know that the adult brain is malleable. Yes. Our adult brains can change like kids’ brains do— not as much, but still quite a bit. This makes me very, very happy. It means you can teach an old dog new tricks. When a child OR adult experiences a sensation or perform a task, a chemical reaction takes place in the neurons. This is communicated across synapses. Certain neurons’ connections become either stronger or weaker. We can strengthen or weaken the connection by repetition of the activity or sensation.

Can you say habit training? Charlotte Mason was really onto something. I wonder if she knew about Freud’s unpublished research? What’s really interesting is that the false idea of the unchangeable adult brain was scientific dogma until the late 20th Century. Carr calls it “neurological nihilism”. Ha. One scientist did experiments proving adult neuroplasticity for thirty years before anyone paid any attention!

There is much more-- think of the implications where using the Internet is concerned. But I am writing short narrations. I will continue this chapter next time.

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