The Plastic Brain

The Plastic Brain


On March 2, 2010, Dr. Leslie Tolbert presented "The Plastic Brain" as part of the University of Arizona College of Science Mind and Brain Lecture Series. Dr. Tolbert is Vice President for Research, Graduate Studies, and Economic Development; Regents Professor and Professor of Neuroscience, and Cell Biology & Anatomy. The human brain is the most complex object known to us. It contains roughly a trillion nerve cells, each of which may make thousands of connections, in immense networks of circuitry that control our sense of self and our appreciation of and interaction with the world around us. In the last half century we learned that we are born with raw circuitry that quickly tunes itself to the environment we encounter. Now we are learning that the properties that allow nerve cells to achieve this plasticity in response to the early environment are controlled by the very same genes that drive learning and memory in adults. The human brain, and the mind it creates, is enormously complex. Everything we do, feel and think emerges from billions of nerve cells and their interconnections. Brain development is shaped by evolution and genetics, but is also greatly affected by experience. The mind takes shape through exposure to individuals and cultures, and becomes a constructive and predictive device. It creates inner worlds past, present and future that allow us to behave in highly adaptive ways, if we so choose. It also allows us to engage in risky behavior and make bad decisions.

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