These ten fundamentals come from Dr. Merzenich’s book, “Soft-Wired” with elaboration and comments by Healthy Memory (HM).
1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it.
If you force it the learning will be inefficient and of poor quality. I find it surprising that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation. Meditation is one of the best, if not the best, means of restoring the mind.
2. The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (or worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change.
Once again HM marvels that Dr. Merzenich, in spite of his participation in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India with the Dalai Lama that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation. Meditation provides an ideal means of gaining control of one’s attention, and an ideal means of focusing attention.
3. What actually changes in the brain are the strength of the connections that are engage together, moment by moment, in time.
Both neurorgenesis, the forming of new neurons, and synaptogenesis, the forming of new connections among neurons are involved. It is also important to realize that these neurons are not necessarily adjacent to each other. Neurons transmit signals through axons that can be quite long. So a single neuron in the prefrontal cortex can be sending a signal to another neuron in a distant part of the brain. These connections can be quite long and complicated. Their interactions have been described as being conversations within the brain.
4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability.
So the process of learning involves increasing this cell-to-cell cooperation, cells which can be quite far apart depending upon the type of learning, and the reliability of the learning.
5. The brain also strengthens the connections between those teams of neurons representing separate moments of activity that represent each little part of an action or thought.
So these signals need to be strengthened in terms of the time sequence of the actions or thoughts.
6 Initial changes are just temporary.
So with the exception of certain extraordinary conditions, these changes will be lost unless they are strengthened by further activity.
7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways, and involving precisely the same processes, that construct changes with the external world
So thinking alone will strengthens these processes. Thinking and mental rehearsal are very important.
8. Memory guides and controls most learning.
Indeed, memory is key. Memory is a device for time travel. It reviews what it can find in memory and then uses it to solve problems, to consider alternative courses of action, to make a joke, or for pleasure.
9. Every moment of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize and to reduce the disruptive power of—potentially interfering and background or “noise.
This is all good.
10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is to produce positive ones.
So brain activity can be destructive. Thinking negative thoughts and having a fixed mindset are damaging and do not allow us to fulfill our potential. HM is reminded of an incident that took place in his last place of employment. He was riding down in an elevator and one of the fellow passengers in the elevator remarked to his friend, that when he retired he was going to do absolutely nothing. If all he could find on television were Luci reruns,, he would just watch “I Love Lucy.” HM would place a large wager that serious dementia was not too far in this individual’s future.
HM would like to add a couple of more comments.
Please read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”, and “More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline.” The longer we live, the more we have in memory, and if we have growth mindsets we have even more in memory. This might appear to slow us down, but in reality we have rich mindsets with brains with many long interconnections within them. In addition to adding to these mindsets it is healthy to review old memories. Writing a biography or a family history can be enriching.
It is also important to realize that our brains continue to work even when you stop thinking about something. My wife and I are frustrated when we know something, the name of an actress,for example, but can’t remember it. We become frustrated, but find that the name comes into consciousness, unsolicited at some later time. HM thinks this is very healthy, so he resists trying to google something that he is sure he knows. He will try for a while to remember it. He knows that when he stops consciously thinking about it, his brain will continue searching and will probably eventually find it. HM believes that this unconscious bran activity is reactivating memory circuits and providing for memory health.
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