Altered Traits and Neuroplasticity

There have been many healthy memory blog posts on neuroplasticity, which is a topic of continuing attention. The first evidence of neuroplasticity was of a negative effect. Bruce McEwen produced evidence of how stressful events produce lingering neural scars. The research used a tree shrew, a small creature, but the research had a gigantic effect. The thinking, or rather dogma of the day, was that the neural system was fixed and could not change. It was research by Marian Diamond and her psychologist colleagues that documented that enriched environments increase the size of rats’ brains. Previous research had focused on the nature vs nurture issue. Genes defined nature and the environment defined nurture. Arguments abounded about whether intelligence and many other topics of interest were affected more by nature or more by nurture. The truth is that there is an interaction between nature and nurture. Traits altered by meditation are further examples of neuroplasticity at the positive end and post-traumatic stress disorder at the negative end.

Goleman and Davidson’s interests go beyond the merely healthy spectrum to an even more beneficial range of wholesome traits of being. Extremely positive altered traits, like equanimity and compassion, are a goal of mind training in contemplative traditions. They use the term altered trait as shorthand for this highly positive range.

Neuroplasticity provides a scientific basis for how repeated training can create those lasting qualities of being they encountered in a handful of exceptional yogis, swamis, monks, and lamas, Their altered traits fit ancient descriptions of lasting transformation at these higher levels.

Goleman and Davidson write, “A mind free from disturbance has value in lessening human suffering, a goal shared by science and meditative paths alike. But apart from lofty heights of being, there’s a more practical potential within reach of every one of us: a life best described as flourishing.

This post is taken from Goleman and Davidson’s “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”

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One Response to “Altered Traits and Neuroplasticity”

  1. russvane3 Says:

    I think I understand that one would like to suffer less.

    My question is: how is this different than a drug? The actual source of the suffering is not mitigated by meditation, as I understand your post. So if I fall down the steps, I still have a cast on my leg. If I work for an unnamed government agency full of sycophants, they are still there asking me to do meaningless work.

    My sense of flourishing is: actually becoming someone who changes the world for good (albeit my definition of ‘good’). Someone who lightens others’ loads, finds their genius, excites their passion, or mentors them so they can flourish.

    I believe that you are doing the latter: writing a blog to help us flourish through better brain health. If someone came up to you and said that it’s a person’s perspective that determines their flourishing, we’d probably both agree. But you and I would want them to critically think their way to flourishing, not breathe differently contemplating the perfectness of the universe.

    We’d want them to determine the actual situation, to the best of our perceptive and cognitive powers. To envision the future by generating several options that highlight the asymmetry of strategies. And then select one to implement, flexible enough to backtrack and re-select (if the universe’s feedback shows us that we’ve made a mistake).

    As always, a fan of your work;

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