Alvaro Fernandez and Brain Plasticity

It’s not the best quality video ever, but it’s great to see Alvaro Fernandez – of SharpBrains fame – in action in this clip Amazing Findings in Neuroplasticity. Quite a good overview in five minutes.

Greg has covered neuroplasticity before, as well as the research on cab drivers.

Over at SharpBrains you can check out Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes the Brain and The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains.

SharpBrains has its own YouTube Sharpbrains channel, with nine other videos for your viewing pleasure.

3 thoughts on “Alvaro Fernandez and Brain Plasticity

  1. Great vid. I have one minor theoretical sticking point from the very beginning of the video: I have no doubt that Einstein’s brain morphology changed based on his work based on research in neuroplasticity. But I’m not sure the San Diego research proves that Einstein’s agentive choices and environment are determining here, that is, I’m not sure the prove that there wasn’t a genetic predisposition to the kind of reasoning and mathematical work Einstein did. The research seems to show that most normal brains can learn to do anything humans do, but that individual brains have predispositions (strengths and weaknesses) like any other organ in the human body. I’m sure if I sat down and talked with Dr. Fernandez, he’d agree; but there’s something in the discourse surrounding these issues that seems to push us to take a side, and Fernandez seems to be implying something that is not supported by his evidence in his brief discussion of Einstein’s brain.

    Environments work in transaction with genes to produce phenotypes. The problem with our discourse on plasticity is that we swing from one determinism to the other depending in our own preferences. It seems that our data/evidence should have moved us far beyond this (sometimes unconscious) nature/nurture dialectic years ago. There are no phenotypes (e.g., Einstein’s brain) without the interaction of genes/heritable traits and the environment. The evidence does show that Einstein’s brain grew because of his choices in an environment; but it does not show that anyone’s brain would look the same in a similar environment making similar choices. For brain plasticity, it would seem that our discussions should be about how X predisposition interacts with a set of environmental (including social) conditions to produce a range of possible phenotypes/morphologies.

    Because Western languages developed in a cognitive world where “Nature” was an exterior phenomenon, often antithetical to human life, it might require new words to even have this discussion. Genes are meaningless chemicals without an environment in which to express; environment has no ability to produce any kind of morphology or behavior without the genetic framework. Genes aren’t “nature” because they are shaped by environment; environment isn’t “nurture” because it is shaped by genetic interactions with it.

  2. Todd, I do agree with your comment, and I will revise my language as appropriate to reflect your point and also that “Genes aren’t “nature” because they are shaped by environment; environment isn’t “nurture” because it is shaped by genetic interactions with it.”

    Daniel and Todd: let me explain the context for the video above – it is part of a lecture I gave 2 years ago via San Francisco University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to a group of perhaps 30 enthusiastic students in their 60s and 70s, with no training at all in brain science, who simply wanted to learn more about how to put their brains to good use. I needed to zero in key messages/ take-aways, at the expense of the perfect scientific nuance. But I can certainly improve.

    Daniel- glad you liked it!

  3. Hi, thanks for the video, and I’m interested about the Einstein part.
    I’m not very sure too about whether genes did play a necessary part in his achievements, but I think his experiences of his early life can give us a clue on whether this is true.
    For example, we know that he was not a genius when he was young, and he graduated with second last place in the university (moreover, there were only six or seven people in his class, and the last place was his first wife, Mileva).
    So, if it was the genes that largely dictates the predisposition to his extraordinary abilitiy in reasoning, one needs to explain why his early records are not that exceptional.
    Or maybe his genes didn’t directly control his ability in reasoning, but the ability to concentrate? or the ability to have a more than normal curiosity?

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