Now, lets talk about the actual brain. Amazing discoveries in neuroscience were made in last 20 years or so, like breathtaking researches on neuron-plasticity, proving that brain is able to develop new neuronal pathways in the process of adaptation (learning) through all life, not only in childhood.
Such a thought was not possible in my university years (in 80ties of the last century, just around 30 years ago) – the common paradigm was that the brain can “get more” until end of adolescence. After reaching adulthood we were only losing slowly (or faster if a disease or an accident was happening) our brain abilities.
I was observing perhaps the biggest in my life experiences proof of such fantastic adaptability of the brain, when I was working in a hospital in early 1990s; it was a patient under my psychological care there, a man in his 30s who lost roughly 1/4 of his brain as a result of an accident. His recovery went through a long way from inability to speak, recognize words, memorize anything, and a loos of ability to walk and to control his physiological functions – to regain the control over walking/reaching/holding, then speaking single words, then recognizing words in writing, slowly learning to remember the date and what day of the week is, recovering his reading, writing and counting skills -until he was able to function independently and went back home. In this long recovery, his brain was wiring in new ways, linking what was available. His brain was working like a smart tailor, joining parts of the fabric being teared apart.
Or another profound phenomenon discovered not so long ago (in early 1990s) – so called mirror neurons, invaluable tools for us, social creatures, to develop connections and close bonds in relationships. Mirror neurons respond equally to what we experience when we perform an action, and when we witness someone else perform the same type of action. In recent studies neuroscientists got more evidence, that these mirror neurons play a role in empathy and in simple moments of “knowing” other people intentions while observing their gestures. In one study researchers looked at “tactile empathy,” or how we experience the sight of others being touched. He found that the same area of the brain was active both when the 14 participants– both men and women–were lightly touched on the leg with a feather-duster-like contraption, and when they viewed pictures of someone else being touched in the same spot.
There are so many discoveries about our brain functioning, especially fascinating if they tell us more about practical ways of improving our functioning or if they can help us to prevent degenerative diseases of the brain. One of my favorite neuroscience applications in working with clients is Mindfulness Practice, researched well in last decades. I’m going to write a special post (or few) about wonders of Mindfulness.