The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. – The Culturally Modified Brain –Not Only Does the Brain Shape the Culture, Culture Shapes the Brain (Appendix 1)

Since all kinds of activities change the brain, as seen by brain mapping, cultured activities are no exception. “…the brain and genetics produce culture, but culture also shapes the brain. Sometimes these changes can be dramatic.” P. 288

Doidge uses the Sea Gypsies, nomadic people who live in the tropical islands in Burma, to demonstrate the culturally modified brain. These individuals learn to swim before they learn to walk and can see underwater. They are underwater hunter-gathers. Their lifestyle causes them to develop skills differently than ours do.

Scientists have tried to discover and explain why human beings, essentially alone, have developed culture. While primates have developed a very rudimentary culture, consider man. “If we considered the number of possible neural connections, we would be dealing with hyperastronomical numbers…” (Edelman, p294) concludes, “These staggering numbers explain why the human brain can be described as the most complex known object in the universe, and why it is capable of ongoing, massive microstructural change, and capable of performing so many different mental functions and behaviors, including our cultural activities.” P.294

In 2005, Michael Merzenich commented on the vulnerable brain – how the media reorganizes it:  “the Internet is just one of those things that contemporary humans can spend millions of “practice” events at, that the average human a thousand years ago had absolutely no exposure to. Our brains are massively remodeled by this exposure – but so, too, by reading, by television
, by video games, by modern electronics, by contemporary music, by contemporary tools, etc.” (p. 306)

Media has negative and positive effects on our brains. (Refer to our past blogs on Endangered Minds by Janet M Healy, PhD located on our website:

Appendix 2 – Plasticity and the Idea of Progress

Swiss philosopher, Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote the book Emile (On Education). In this detailed book on child development “proposed that the ‘organization of the brain’ was affected by our experience, and that we needed to ‘exercise’ our senses and mental abilities the way we exercise our muscles.” ( p 313-314) He called this progress or development our “perfectability.” Later studies validated his proposals. Going too far, some called it “indefinite perfectibility of men.” (p. 316)

Yes, man is God’s special creation and has the capacity to grow and learn. With this we will say goodbye to The Brain That Changes Itself.


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