A teacher came up to me at a recent conference. She was glowing about how much she’s been learning about the brain. Naturally, I was happy for her. I asked her what she was most excited about. She said, “Well…just that the brain can change and grow… and it’s got all those dendrites, axons and synapses!”
I smiled because I remember the same excitement when I first got excited about the brain. I wanted so badly (as did the teacher) to be able to label the new learning. Labeling things (e.g. new vocabulary) gives us a way to store the terms in our brain by category, function or word part. Labels are important to our learning.
Unfortunately, the excited teacher didn’t seem to get exposure to the most important part of the new learning experience: the relevant properties of the label. The properties are such a critical feature of learning, that the labels are nearly irrelevant without them.
What does this have to do with one of the 5 greatest discoveries in neuroscience?
Without any doubt, one of the top five discoveries, in the history of mind/brain science is neurogenesis. This discovery (Eriksson, et al.,1998) showed that humans can and do produce brand new brain cells, even as we are elderly and dying of cancer. As of this writing, we know that they are being produced in at least three areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. This discovery overturned over 100 years of scientific dogma. It also forced us to modify our outdated paradigm of how our brain works. It is, in fact, far more malleable than we earlier thought.
But that’s not the main point…