Our Constant Rewiring

There is a certain example that Carr illustrates in his book that has sincerely grabbed my attention concerning the experiments done by Michael Merzenich on a group of monkeys. The discovery of the brains plasticity not even one hundred years ago has awakened an idea that Carr presents in his book that the brain is malleable and subject to change based on a constant feed of certain information. I find this incredibly fascinating when thinking about how much we have adapted and changed over time. With the aid of technology advancing rapidly within our lifetimes we have reached a point where we, as a generation, behave entirely different in many ways from the previous one, where that wasn’t nearly the case a century ago.

There is a passage on page 29 I find particularly interesting where, following his example of Merzenich and the monkey’s, Carr states: “The brain is not the machine we once thought it to be. Though different regions are associated with different mental functions, the cellular components do not form permanent structures or play rigid roles. They’re flexible. They change with experience, circumstance, and need”. As Carr continues forward on this thought, how certain areas of the brain can increase or decrease in size depending on specific constant uses of things such as instruments, I can’t help but think to the future. Though throughout this book we see comparisons between how the author used to behave as a reader/writer compared to now with the modern day technologies, there is a constant comparison between the present and the past but less of a look towards the future. As our dependency on these advancements of today continue to separate us from the archaic techniques of yesterday, what lies ahead as these technologies continue to advance?

This plasticity of the mind that allows us to adapt our brains can also be a potential hindrance in the way of forming bad habits. With debates already raging over the usefulness vs. harmfulness of computers, phones, etc. pertaining to our lifestyle changes and their effects over us, how will our habits continue to either deteriorate or evolve as these technologies become more and more advanced? Even 50 years ago, few people would have believed that within their lifetimes such a  thing as “Virtual Reality” could be a possibility, this Time article discusses the rise and continual surge of VR technology, how it is opening up new possibilities in our technological world. In another 50 years, there’s no telling what kind of advancements we’ll see and how these things will change our habits from what they are now and what they used to be 50 years ago.

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Author: elyssa i

I'm excited to use social media for a course!

6 thoughts on “Our Constant Rewiring”

  1. I am interested to know the way in which you approach writing: what is your mental process while you are writing/is there a certain mental template you try to follow or is it more writing around a single concept? Your writing reminds me of my own in that it is dramatic, but I also see some problems that I have as well, mainly I feel a lack of focus in that you touch on many different ideas but do not focus on points with examples/further explanation (even though it’s a short piece). When I am writing, ideas will hit me and Ill think, ‘Oh, that’s relevant, I’ll include that’, but then I fail to logically/coherently slip that idea in, in a way that makes sense within the overall piece. An example of this lack of focus, would be your final paragraph: you have maybe 4 or 5 concepts there: plasticity, VR, debate of lifestyle choices, advancement of technology. What are your thoughts on that paragraph? I really like your level of detail: “the cellular components do not form permanent structures or play rigid roles.” Your descriptions/use of adjectives are excellent, I just feel there are some issues with structure/flow.

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  2. I found what you wrote very interesting and was something that I that I thought about a lot while reading the first six chapters of this book. It’s almost hard for me to believe that the brain is actually currently being changed by technology, but I do think that the way we think is being changed. I also thought a lot about whether newer technology is having a good or bad effect on people, and I like how you included that in your response.

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  3. I was also intrigued — and, to be honest, a little concerned– by this particular thought that Carr proposed. While it’s somewhat fascinating and exciting to know that our brains have the ability to constantly rewire themselves and adjust to whatever we may be experiencing, it’s also rather unsettling in this day and age of perpetual exposure to technology. Are we harming our cognitive processes by staring at a screen for however many hours a day? Although technology affords us the opportunity to potentially broaden our minds by having access to more information than ever before, it’s difficult to imagine that there aren’t equally negative effects that come along with that.

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  4. This particular passage also stood out to me. Growing up I always heard about how your brain only really changes when you’re younger and once you reach a certain age it stops evolving, or only incrementally. This seems to be a positive note, but it does make you wonder what that could entail in the future- will it be beneficial or negative? The virtual reality topic was really interesting and a good example to tie your thoughts together.

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  5. After reading your responses, I’m even more curious about what is happening inside our minds the more we use our technologies and the more they progress. As in the case of the violinists Carr talks about, its possible that by using these screens consistently throughout our lives is expanding certain areas of our brains, but then what are those areas that may be decreasing in response to that?

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    1. Ellysa, I was struck by your observation that Carr has a lot to say about the contrast between the past and the present, but not much about the future. It’s almost as though he feels we’ve reached a kind of cognitive end point—although the thrust of his argument is, of course, that we never will, that are brains are constantly reshaping themselves. So are there ways in which we might not go back to the past but learn how to better use our intellectual technologies? What do you think? ~Joe

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