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Biotech Science

Adult Brains More Flexible Than Previously Thought 123

stemceller passed us a link to the official site for Johns Hopkins, which is reporting on some research into cognition. Generally, doctors have understood our best learning to be done at a young age, when the brain has a 'robust flexibility'. As we get older, our brain cells become 'hard-wired' along certain paths and don't move much - if at all. Or, at least, that was the understanding. Research headed by the hospital's Dr. Linden has taken advantage of 'two-photon microscopy', a new technique, to get a new picture inside a mouse's head. "They examined neurons that extend fibers (called axons) to send signals to a brain region called the cerebellum, which helps coordinate movements and sensory information. Like a growing tree, these axons have a primary trunk that runs upward and several smaller branches that sprout out to the sides. But while the main trunk was firmly connected to other target neurons in the cerebellum, stationary as adult axons are generally thought to be, 'the side branches swayed like kite tails in the wind,' says Linden. Over the course of a few hours, individual side branches would elongate, retract and morph in a highly dynamic fashion. These side branches also failed to make conventional connections, or synapses, with adjacent neurons. Furthermore, when a drug was given that produced strong electrical currents in the axons, the motion of the side branches stalled.'"
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Adult Brains More Flexible Than Previous Thought

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  • Not true (Score:2, Funny)

    by SEWilco ( 27983 )
    No, the science is settled. Adult nerve cells don't wriggle around, everyone knows that. There's no need to look. Nothing to see here, move along.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Damn kids! Get off my lawn!
    • by vbraga ( 228124 )
      Yes, because our understanding never changes...

      Those damn kids never learn. Adult brains more flexible. Earth is a sphere. What a joke.
    • Re:Not true (Score:5, Funny)

      by nospam007 ( 722110 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @12:40AM (#21304399)
      I's true. After reading the article I had my old dog learn new tricks.
      • Interesting, my old dog just decided to turn tricks.
      • In french we have the expression "Chemain Cheveaux". What does it mean? The story stems from before the era of the car.

        In those days, on Sunday morning, the farmer would get out the caleche and attach the horse, to head to church. Often the farmer would fall asleep in the caleche, and they would arrive nevertheless. The horse followed the ruts in the path, and knew how to arrive.

        I think our brain is the same. The more we repeat actions, the deeper the ruts, and the more difficult it is to jump out fro

    • Re:Not true (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @03:45AM (#21305001) Homepage
      Actual truth is that as an adult you become more habit-bound than as a kid, but that doesn't stop you from learning new things. As a kid you are all over testing boundaries but as an adult you skip that part and strive forward in the direction you found were the most ideal when you were a kid. What's ideal for one person may not be for another and depending on the environment and the stimulus received as a kid you get preferences.

      And this is also one reason why it may be good for a person to change job now and then to not grow stale in one environment. It may be good to not change too often but if the job stops to develop a person it will result in that the person having the job will get bound to the job and unable to accept changes or the person will change job.

      It's important for people to take on challenges now and then - even if failing it's a learning experience. If failing all the time - it's just meaning that this person is attempting things that always are too hard or that that particular person hasn't the ability to know his/her own limits.

      • "It's important for people to take on challenges now and then - even if failing it's a learning experience. If failing all the time - it's just meaning that this person is attempting things that always are too hard or that that particular person hasn't the ability to know his/her own limits."

        Any chance you'd do motivational speaking? Say 5 maybe 10 minutes with my kids on the phone?

    • Welcome to Slashdot, Gee Dubya!
    • Obviously, my mother in law was not a part of this study. I weekly remind her what a "browser" is, and how to start a "browser". :/ I think the problem is that for most adults, a major hurdle is sparking the desire to learn something new. For obvious reasons, why bother?
    • No, the science is settled. Adult nerve cells don't wriggle around, everyone knows that. There's no need to look. Nothing to see here, move along.
      Seems like vandalism
  • Adults can learn... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by megabarf ( 1092261 ) on Friday November 09, 2007 @11:47PM (#21304163)
    They just normally prefer not to do so.

    I had to fight them for a long time to use it, but now even my parents (in their 60s) suffer from internet withdrawal if they go without for a few days.
    • by CrazedWalrus ( 901897 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @01:54AM (#21304653) Journal
      I think you're right. I think adults tend to be reluctant to learn new things for a few reasons:

      • Fatigue. Most adults are overworked, and many tend to avoid taking on any extra effort beyond what's required to get to the next day. Gratuitous learning of a foreign subject matter tends to be difficult, so is about the last thing they want to do when they get home from a hard day at work.
      • Divided attention, or excessive multitasking. Again, a matter of not enough cycles to go around. I find that it's a sheer joy to me if I can spend an hour or two and really concentrate on something. Usually I can't do so without interruption or another obligation getting in the way.
      • Information layering. By the time people are adults, they've built a stack of information that suits them well. The last thing they want to do is start over from the bottom. To use an analogy: Each successive level of math builds on the principles established in previous levels. By the time you're a Physicist using Calculus, why in the hell would you want to go back and learn a new way to add numbers when the one you know works just fine?

      • Granted, most of this comes back to lack of effort, but in most cases, the decision to not put forth the effort is very understandable. It doesn't mean that adults can't learn. It just means they're too busy, have too many distractions and demands on their time, are happy with their current methods, or are simply too damn tired.
      • Woops. Speaking of "too damn tired", I meant to hit the preview button, not the submit button.

        So... when are we getting the ability to edit posts?
        • by SEWilco ( 27983 )

          So... when are we getting the ability to edit posts?
          You haven't learned how to edit posts?
      • by LionKimbro ( 200000 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @05:07AM (#21305223) Homepage
        Let me add: "reward systems."

        If an adult speaks a second language poorly, people go, "Oh, what an idiot... Will you please just speak in your native tongue?!"

        But if a child learning a language speak it poorly, people go, "Wow! You're learning so quickly! You're really doing a great job!" They'll smother the child with attention.

        Kids also find other kids who are basically forced to learn to speak a language, and are learning at the same skill level, and so on.
        • by CrazedWalrus ( 901897 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:25AM (#21306523) Journal
          Very true. I'll even add one more: coercion.

          When my son comes home from a full day dedicated to the learning of new things and shows me a test result that isn't up to par, two things happen.

          First, I make it very clear that I am not happy with the test result, and that I expect better of him. (He tends to be the fool-around-in-class type, but is very bright. Usually he doesn't learn because he wasn't paying attention. As for the fooling around, well, we're working on that.)

          Second, we sit down at the dinner table and go over the subject matter until he knows and understands it. He knows at this point that he must learn the material, and that I won't be satisfied until I can randomly quiz him on it a day or two later and get a good result. In other words, he knows he has little choice but to learn. Even if it wasn't for me, his teacher would push him into it to some degree, there's peer pressure, there's the pride of seeing good test results...

          Along those lines, adults are constantly learning new things as well. As I mentioned in my original post, though, it doesn't tend to be random, gratuitous learning; it's stuff that they need to do their jobs and excel in their careers. The most common field around the /. is IT. I think most of us would attest to the fact that if you stop learning, you starve. That sounds to me like coercion of the most dire sort. :-)
      • by raddan ( 519638 )
        I've always wondered if these factors are the same that make learning a new language difficult for an adult. People always talk about how children's brains are more receptive to new language-- and perhaps they are-- but it seems to me that one cannot discount the factors you mention. I don't know what adult groups researchers studied when they came to that conclusion. Working adults in a stable environment? Immigrant workers? Children are unique in that they are free from many pressures that adults are
        • by CrazedWalrus ( 901897 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @11:45AM (#21306669) Journal
          It's funny you say that. I'm married to a Spanish-speaking girl from South America, who has learned English in the past 7 years and speaks it very well. She's taken a few classes, but mostly she learns just by living in an English-speaking environment.

          On the other hand, you've got me trying to learn Spanish. I've never taken a class, but have had my family trying to teach me for four years. I was apologizing one day for my bad Spanish, and remarked on how much better the kids seem to understand it. We got into a discussion about why that would be, and she brought up the subject of how kids can learn faster than adults. My explanation was exactly what I wrote in the GP, plus the immersion aspect.

          Learning a language is the same as learning any other complex topic. There are jargon to learn and rules to be followed, as well as obtaining that finesse that only comes through practice. If the world was such that adults could dedicate the same time and attention as kids can, I don't think this myth would ever have existed to begin with.

          • [...]for my bad Spanish[...]

            Try emulating with your mouth and tongue the sounds--vowel lengths, etc.--that native speakers of Spanish use and you are likely to improve! Copy the way the native speakers talk...

            I've had speakers of other languages (specifically, German and Spanish) tell me that my pronunciation is very good. I use a completely different mouth shape and tongue position for German than for Spanish. I can speak better German with my mouth open wide (for correct enunciation) and my tongue "back" (so that I can correctly

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Very sound advice, and I usually do try that approach. I've gotten several comments about my distinctive lack of a gringo accent, and have even been told that I sometimes have the accent from my wife's town.

              What tends to kill me are the vocabulary and idioms. I'll be going along and suddenly have no idea how to say what I want to say. Then I wind up sort-of talking around it, explaining what I'm trying to say. Other than that, I don't use enough articles, but I think that's forgivable. I took 5-1/2 years of
      • by ardle ( 523599 )
        While I find all the above to be true in my own life, I think there's a biological component as well: for the last few years (I'm pushing 40), I have had to fight an urge to prematurely categorise people and things. It's quite annoying, actually! My mind goes into "yeah, seen it all" mode when rationally I know that this is not the case :-)
    • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Saturday November 10, 2007 @06:36AM (#21305473) Journal
      I've always thought this - of course, I didn't have any scientific evidence, but my personal experience is I find learning easier now as an adult than I did as a child - the easier learning now because I have a more disciplined approach to learning and I'm much better able to stay the course. But the actual mechanism of learning something new, at least for me, doesn't appear to have faded at all. (In fact I enjoy it - my best days at work are when I'm doing something completely new and having to discover new things, and my hobbies all include learning new things).

      That and the anecdotes of retired people learning new things with all the time they now have - such as a friend's father, who's a retired air force officer - doing a computer science degree in his 60s, and doing it as well as any college kid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 09, 2007 @11:51PM (#21304193)
    There's a branch of neural net studies that focuses on a technique called entropic topography. Essentially, it involves random evolution of just the fringes of a digital neural net. That is, much as this John-Hopkins study has found, a rigid core is kept. It is only the neural subnets branching off that undergo synthesis and morphing.

    While there are various deterministic algorithms that are used to evolve neural nets, it's only recently that we've begun seeing randomness used. This has an added benefit of bringing in unexpected mutations, which really don't happen with the deterministic algorithms.

    Some advances from the study of Lei topographies have also lead to breakthroughs recently, where some of the more complex, yet deterministic, algorithms have had entropic terms introduced in order to bring in an element of randomness. These neural nets are probably the closest to the human brain, as they introduce the random mutation that is so prevalent within the human species, while also following the constraints of this new-found core neural path.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by eclectro ( 227083 )

      Some advances from the study of Lei topographies have also lead to breakthroughs recently, where some of the more complex, yet deterministic, algorithms have had entropic terms introduced in order to bring in an element of randomness.
      I take it that you slept at a Holiday Inn last night?
    • by pwolk ( 912457 )
      Although the parent post combines a series interesting sounding concepts, it fails to be clear enough to be as interesting as its moderation suggests.
      An artificial neural network (digital or not is irrelevant) has an architecture (lay-out; topography?), which defines a blue-print of its connections and its parameters. Usually, these parameters are optimised with a process called learning for neural networks, and fitting in statistics. Randomness is used to assist this process since the 1950s. One learning
  • Humans (Score:1, Redundant)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

    This whole thing is about mice brains actually, how do we know how that applies to adult human brains? The RTFA doesn't seem to say much about that..

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

      The RTFA...

      Err crap, I mean "TFA" of course..

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      This whole thing is about mice brains actually, how do we know how that applies to adult human brains? The RTFA doesn't seem to say much about that..

      That is actually an important observation that often goes unexplained. The fact is, mice are genetically very close to humans, but they reproduce quickly, are cheap, and their genetics and physiology are very well understood. That makes them a great animal to experiment on.
      At the cellular level, most mammals are very, very similar to each other. In fact, we

      • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

        I know all of that, but thanks anyways. But do we know if in these very news we're talking about it applies to humans? Because both the summary and the article make it sound like it does apply to us, but it sounds more like misleading us in order to make it sound more interesting than anything else.

        • But do we know if in these very news we're talking about it applies to humans?

          I didn't look up the actual peer-reviewed article, and I don't generally trust reporters to accurately summarize scientific results. However, as a rule of thumb, in biology one study doesn't really mean much at all, unless it is demonstrating a new experimental method. The results must be duplicated in several experiments. In this case, I wouldn't be confident that the 'news' applies even to mice (the experimental subjects), let

      • by ardle ( 523599 )

        The best we can do is use animals and hope that they are close enough
        In case anyone is in any doubt, the reason why animals are relevant is that humans are animals ;-)
        Or is that just a theory? I forget - must be getting old...
  • how Apple computer started using Intel chips. Neuronal flexibility!!
    • by jagdish ( 981925 )
      Actually it is attributed to Intelligent Design by the creator of the Jesus phone, Steve 'JHC' Jobs.
  • Scary combination (Score:5, Informative)

    by MisterLawyer ( 770687 ) <> on Friday November 09, 2007 @11:55PM (#21304223)
    The bigger problem is that certain aspects of our modern technology allow young people these days do less to develop their minds than in past generations. It's like the Perfect Storm of humanity's brain evolution conflicting with our technology.

    ...neuroscientist Ian Robertson polled 3,000 people and found that the younger ones were less able than their elders to recall standard personal info. When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so. And when he asked them their own phone number, fully one-third of the youngsters drew a blank. They had to whip out their handsets to look it up.

    Here's another article [] on the same topic.

    • When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so.

      To be honest, that doesn't say much to me. I didn't memorize most of my realtives' birthdays until I was older simply because I didn't care. The often-selfish mind of a child doesn't really care about birthdays that aren't his/hers because they don't get anything out of it. But their own birthday? Oh my god, presents! APRIL THIRD, APRIL THIRD! GIVE ME MY CAKE AND TOY CAR!@

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      About the only relative whose birthday I actually know is my twin brother's.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 )
      It could be that there is exponentially more to remember. Back a generation ago, you had to know your name, address, a single phone number, social security number, and perhaps a few odds and ends like bank account number and/or atm number -- and you're good to go.

      A generation before that list gets reduced further.

      Today, how many phone numbers, email addresses, irc addresses, computer and site logins and their accompanying passwords does one have to remember? For personal, work and/or school?

      Personally I w
      • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @01:31AM (#21304589)
        I agree. The other thing that people forget is that children often have access to vastly superior resources. Take for example the classic example of children learning languages easier than adults. When people point that out, they generally fail to notice that children tend to learn their language via total immersion and virtually everyone around them is happy to be a 24/7 personal tutor on the language. While most children can get by in their first language by 2 or 3 years only, they tend not to be what we would call fluent until 5 or 6. Give me a couple of full time language tutors and 5 years of total immersion with no need to remember my native tongue, and I will learn the new language too.
    • The bigger problem is that certain aspects of our modern technology allow young people these days do less to develop their minds than in past generations.

      no, the bigger problem is that a survey question like that one ignores generational differences in what people keep track of. the fact that i can't name as many relatives' birthdates as, say, my grandmother--or even my mother--says more about how i've been developing my brain, and more importantly, what types of information i keep track of. i can quote more random freaking tv shows, movies, and comics than my parents know existed, but that doesn't indicate any kind of developmental lethargy on their part

    • by foreverdisillusioned ( 763799 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @12:52AM (#21304449) Journal
      Or maybe young people are smart enough not to clog up their brains with information that can be more easily and accurately recorded elsewhere. If all our fancy devices somehow stopped working, there would definitely be a period of confusion, but people would adapt. They'd go back to using their memories (or pen and paper.)

      Technology isn't conflicting with our brain's evolution; it's extending and enhancing it. One less phone number to remember is who knows how many neurons that don't have to waste time storing and retrieving it. You might question whether young people are using this freed memory space to good use (for the love of all that's holy, I do NOT care about who won the latest reality show or what celebrities do in their spare time), but I think that it's a mistake to view this phenomenon as a fault.
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        You know what? If our fancy devices stopped working tomorrow, I still wouldn't need to know my phone number. There's some information that doesn't need to be memorized. It's stored where it is used.
        • That's only true if _everyone's_ devices stopped working. If you accidentally lose your cell phone, it puts you at a quite a bit of a disadvantage.
          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            Yea, my post sounds silly in retrospect. After all, the only reason I remember it in the first place is because so many people and businesses ask for it on forms and things.
      • From what I've read, the whole "clogging up the brain with useless crap" thing may not hold much weight. I don't think anyone has been able to provide any good evidence that there is a clear limit to the information a human brain can hold. This makes sense to me, because all information is related to something else in some way, so the more you know, the more you can see how different things have systems that share common principles. Or something like that... Of course, this says nothing about the metal func
    • How often do you call your own phone number?
    • I agree, there's information overload by the n'th degree compared to even a couple of decades ago. Then again over 50's tend to be more "stuck in their ways" than younger people, due to neural pathways being reinforced over the longer time, that we just remember it after awhile.
      • by grumling ( 94709 )
        No, the older I get, the more I realize that the world is full of BS.

        When you hear that the sky is falling over and over, but it still hasn't, it tends to make you a little less likely to change your ways. It really doesn't have much to do with neural pathways.
    • "When Robertson asked his subjects to tell them a relative's birth date, 87 percent of respondents over age 50 could recite it, while less than 40 percent of those under 30 could do so."
      Or maybe it's the fact that the 50 year old had 20 extra years to remember when a persons birthday was!
    • by maxume ( 22995 )
      How come you are so sure that anything the older folks did 'developed' their minds?

      I wonder if he compensated for how long people had their phone took me a couple of months to really be sure what my new phone number was, but at this point, I doubt I ever forget it.
    • by rhakka ( 224319 )
      that's a horrible example. Why would a young person need to know their phone number?

      In the old days, you learned it by giving it to people all the time.

      These days, all of your friends have caller id. Call them once and they have your number. you never have to give it to anyone.

      Personally I really hope I am more family-focused when I'm older than I am now, when I'm fairly young and still self-absorbed as I build for my future.

      if they really wanted to study this, they would have to test for random informat
    • There are horrible blends of statistical fallacies here. It's like taking a simple average of peaks & valleys.

      Group 1: Young People able to remember phone numbers:
      These are the "Connected youngsters" talked about in conjunction with the rise of Web 2.0 and later, business networking. Someone constantly telling people to "call me on my cell" ... will remember their cell number.

      Group 2: Older People unable to remember phone numbers:
      Watch what happens when such a person is either not used to their cell, or
    • by Wheat ( 20250 )
      Reporter, "Mr Einstein, would it be possible to take your phone number in case I have any further questions?"

      "Certainly" replied Einstein. He picked up the phone directory and looked up his phone number, then wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to the reporter.

      Dumbfounded, the reporter said, "You are considered to be the smartest man in the world and you can't remember your own phone number?"

      Einstein replied, "Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?"
  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday November 09, 2007 @11:59PM (#21304231)
    This is kind of what I'd expect, actually. Even if an adult mind was completely plastic, as people learn of the type of experiences that will come to them, they're going to quickly learn to categorize them, and which kinds of categories tend to work with more and more experiences.

    It's like as a programmer learns of which coding constructs work for which situations... they learn it becomes more important to worry about understandability rather than speed, and to code with clear structures they can pick up later if and when they need to clean up misunderstandings later. The default practice becomes a sort of robust defensive form, that requires the fewest changes over the widest plausible set of needs - while still doing the job of completely enumerating the problem set needed.

    I'd expect that even with minds unhindered by age, the same sort of defensive practices programmers pick up would have analogues in most other realms of experience that mankind goes through. That would then, be easily confused with a mind unable to rapidly change, because such wide change is then rarely observed.

    That said - there are more concrete bits of evidence that complicate things - such as rates of new language adoption between adults and children... but again, there's also evidence that some adults can still pick up new languages rapidly. Perhaps those same defensive practices act as a 'language censor' to 'wasting time with confusing sentence structure' - or perhaps there really is some factor of truth to the hardware limitations of an aging brain. Hard to know for sure until we get the computational nuerobiology tools in place to be able to strictly test such things... I'm really happy to see the progress so far though.

    Ryan Fenton
    • Not to mention that there is almost no way adults can devote the kind of time that kids can to learning something new.
    • by ardle ( 523599 )
      I saw a simple experiment on television that threw some light on how plastic human brains are to start with:
      Children of ages 6 months and 9 months were shown a variety of ape faces in photographs
      • the six-month-old children enjoyed all the pictures
      • the nine-month-old kids got bored

      This is because children lose the ability to differentiate between ape faces - simply because they don't interact with other species of apes and therefore don't need to know the difference.

      I wish they had done the experime

  • by Anonymous Coward
    i'm getting older, everyone does, but media and "science" try to put in your mind that you are not capable of learning new things or think like a young man, is a trap, the truth is, you can *always* learn... pick a book, a class, and try yourself.
  • My brain can stretch like silly putty.
  • So (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Let me get this straight. An adult may be just as capable of learning something new as someone younger. But they aren't as capable of re-considering things they already know. I.E. they have a harder time changing their already established brain structure but forming new structures isn't a problem. Anyone?
  • "These side branches also failed to make conventional connections, or synapses" and "Linden thinks they may present a second mechanism for conveying information beyond traditional synapses or assist in nerve regeneration, quickly forming synapses should nearby nerves get damaged."

    That pretty much says it: they just sit there and do nothing but replace good ones.

    Or they really think it provides a "second mechanism for conveying information beyond traditional synapses" -- but how can it convey information if
  • Just hand waiving (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Saturday November 10, 2007 @03:21AM (#21304949) Journal
    That kind of conclusion is totally unwarranted. To begin with, the mice were not 70 years old. No, don't laugh! Either mouse neurons age as fast as the mice themselves do, which implies that (the processes in) their neurons differ fundamentally from ours, or these neurons age the way we do, but then they were studying two year old neurons, which I thought used to be considered pretty young.

    Second, the observation that learning and memorizing becomes more difficult with age is pretty solid. If our neurons maintain their plasticity, these people should explain how a plastic brain stops learning.

    Concluding: the observations are probably true, the conclusions were just made to draw attention and get more funding (aging is a big topic for funds these days). Such is the sad state of science.

    PS I hold a post-doc in neurocognition.
    • Your holding a post-doc in neurocognition is not at all impressive.

      1.) You can't spell (hand "waving")

      2.) There's a vast body of evidence growing that neuroplasticity is greatest in childhood, but continues throughout life, even in heavily damaged brains, as of stroke victims; []

      3.) As an anthropologist, I can tell you that our culture is the only one that warehouses and infantilizes the elderly on an industrial scale. What you think you're seeing is an artifact of a cultural phenom
      • by tgv ( 254536 )
        For someone who criticizes spelling, the first word in your post contains a remarkable oversight. I guess it's the spelling nazi's doom.

        Anyway, plasticity is there, but there is a "vaster" body of evidence that the older you get, the harder it is to learn. Of course, you still can remember things, but e.g. these memories have to compete with existing ones. Consequently, perhaps our brain's plasticity is not enough to accomodate a huge amount of memories. Then again, plasticity does not seem to apply equally
  • When have mice become people? I know we are very similar to rodents some more than others(like in congress), but since when are humans the same as rats, some things are bound to be different this could be one of them.
  • It has always been known that the brain continuously adapts (but for this it needs to be stimulated all the time, "use it or lose it" as they say). But my understanding at least has been that for this the brain signals travel along new paths of existing neurons to do brain functions. This is the first time I hear of proof that the brain also physically adapts. And at quite a high rate as well. This research could be especially important for understanding Parkinson's disease.
  • ...with what the intelligent of us have known for a long time - if you have neurogenesis obviously this is how it works - the brain is like a muscle, and most people can't really be bothered to train it after they escape from school and so it starts to "fail" - if you keep exercising it, it will not only be easy to learn at a old age but also change your mind - of course set in ones ways also owes a lot to psychology and unfulfillment in life.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As there seems to be some neuroscientists and neurologists on /., I'd like to ask the following question as its a somewhat related topic.

    There is a man in his early 20's who recently recited pi to some 200,000 digits perfectly at Oxford university. He says he can visualize numbers in his head and is able to (as Oxford researchers found) do division to a precision of 20 or more decimal places in his head (there are some techniques to do this too I'm sure).

    The point is he's said that his ability to visualize
  • This isn't progress. It is simply quantification. If you have ever worked with the disabled and physically/psychically traumatized you might wonder why exactly scientists wouldn't believe the brain to be more flexible "than they previously thought". The brain is so poorly understood in terms of how it works expect a long and tedious continuation of these pronouncements in the coming decades.
  • If so, congrats! Your brain is not rigid yet.

    Will you play?

    That is essentially how you know if the state of your brain matters or not.
  • Just ask the zombies.
  • Brains aren't flexible; they're squishy! You people should have learned this in high school biology lab... or was I the only one who dissected the pig's head for extra credit?
  • "Old age and treachery will win over youth and vigor every time."
  • I'll believe them when they get me to speak Mandarin.
  • The not-so-developed ones are tastier though. Lots of fat between the neurons makes for good eatin'!
  • Anyone interested in it should read The Brain the Changes Itself by Norman Doige; utterly fascinating and worth reading.

Trap full -- please empty.