Neuroplasticity: A new perspective in neuroscience
I recently had the opportunity to attend a special neuroscience lecture at UCLA. The focus of this lecture involved an exciting and developing mind-brain science called Neuroplasticity. This new science offers a look at the potential we as individuals have to influence the functioning of our physical brain through awareness and mindful choices.
According to the old scientific paradigm in neuroscience, the human brain is much like the hardware of a computer. It is viewed as a material system hardwired with biologically predetermined neural circuitry or pathways that produce our behavior. This old thinking in neuroscience also asserts that whatever one might call the immaterial consciousness or “mind”—and all its manifestations, such as awareness and choice—is produced by, and ultimately reduced to the physical brain. The critics of this kind of older neuroscience have labeled such a conception as “monism”, “reductionism” and “materialism.”
Neuroplasticity as a new kind of neuroscience does not suggest that the mind and the brain are completely separate entities, and it is true that certain behaviors and experiences can be explained in large measure by the physical brain. For example, individuals may have genetic, biologically predisposed brain chemistry which can increase the likelihood of mental disorders or addiction. Rather, what this new science suggests is that there is a kind interactional dualism between the mind and the brain. The brain and its functioning can certainly affect the mind and what we experience. However, pioneering research done at UCLA using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans has shown that when we focus our attention on positive, constructive ideas and behaviors, a “re-wiring” effect happens in the physical brain. During this re-wiring effect, brain tissue that was previously dedicated to other maladaptive tasks is incorporated in new wholesome endeavors
The UCLA research shows that re-focusing our attention onto constructive tasks and healthy behaviors can have dramatic effects. Neuroplasticity has important implications for those suffering from addiction and substance abuse as it suggests that an individual’s commitment to recovery and the 12-Steps can have a profound impact on the physical brain. In working a 12-step program for adolescents or aadults and attending meetings, recovering individuals are in a very real sense shaping their brains in the direction of recovery.