Lately I’ve been going further down the rabbit hole of neuroplasticity. It is a fascinating topic. As you may know, my dad suffered a stroke and for the past few years I have been struggling to understand how it has impacted him and to understand if it ever will be possible for him to improve his mental function. He had a stroke that affected his right hemisphere near the brain stem. In some ways it is amazing that he lived and has recovered as much as he has. Unfortunately, he hasn’t recovered to the extent that he would like. It has been a few very hard years.
In order to better understand stroke and how it impacts an individual I thought that reading the book “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor would help. Jill is a PhD scientist who has extensively studied the brain, mainly with respect to mental illness. When she was 37 she suffered a major left hemisphere stroke. This book is her tale. It is an amazing story of recovery from a traumatic brain injury.
This book walks through her experience, from the morning she had her stroke through her recovery 8 years later. Since her stroke impacted the opposite hemisphere than my dad’s it gave me some perspective in terms of what voices were silenced in my father’s head. Strangely, a right hemisphere stroke probably is harder to recover from. The left hemisphere provides the daily “brain chatter” that causes many of us to not consider compassion and one-ness with the universe. The left helps define your sense of self and individuality. It also is the seat of negative thought processes that cause us all a lot of grief.
If you’re interested to hear her tell her tale – check out
Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk
I finally finished the book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. Do you feel like the internet has made it harder for you to concentrate? Do you multitask *all* the time? When was the last time you sat down and read a book? Do you just skim reading material? How is your reading comprehension?
I admit it, I am not the reader I once was. Oh, I read online all the time, but it takes a lot more effort for me to read a book these days. If you look at my reading list on linkedin, you’ll see multiple books that I am reading all at the same time. I get bored, or I have a library deadline to meet and I put down the book I own and pick up one that has to go back. I definitely get distracted more easily and I find it harder to really get lost in the pages like I used to. I always assumed it was just my middle-aged brain getting older. Now, I can blame something else. The internet! SWEET!! My brain’s neuroplasticity coupled with the internet’s addictive qualities means that I am rewiring my brain to multitask rather than think deeply. Really?
When books first became commonplace, similar arguments were made. There was too much information available, it was stressing people out. Books definitely changed the oral history that humans used to amass. Memorization became less necessary. There was a fear that because of books people would no longer have to remember anything.
This reminds me of a saying I’ve heard recently – “I don’t bother remembering anything that I can look up”. Heck, the cell phone has had as much of an impact on me here as the internet. When was the last time you actually entered a phone number from memory? Seriously. If I didn’t have my contacts list on my cell phone I could only call 2 people, my husband and my dad. Is this bad? I’m not sure. It’s kind of nice to free up that memory space.
The one thing that really hit me is that using the internet tends to mostly use your short-term working memory. If you over tax that, it is much harder to make long-term memories. Is it a problem that I don’t remember all the stuff I read? Tweets? Blogs? Facebook statuses? The breadcrumb trail of hyperlinks? Junk e-mails? Probably not. How do you make long-term memories? Repetition. Reliving the memory over and over again. That’s why people remember the most important good and bad things that happen in their lives. They replay them. I know I do.
I think the author is a bit of a fatalist when it comes to this topic. Yes, the internet will change (I think it already has) our society and our brains dramatically. So did the book. So did the map. So did the clock. Are things better or worse today because of these items? I would venture to say better. Read this book and make up your own mind.