In order to understand the basis of our true individuality, how we perceive the world in our own unique fashion, how we are physically sculpted by our past, formed by the life we lead and have led, it is vital to understand the phenomenon called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity, put simply, is the ability of our nervous systems to adapt and grow. To learn and memorize; to develop from a baby into an adult; to remember the solemn moments and the inspiring ones, and even to experience pain in limbs that are no longer there. So how does this work?
Over the next few weeks, we will take you through the usual functioning of the neurological system, and then describe why and how this can change, and how this benefits us.
First you need to understand that each of us has a nervous system. This nervous system covers the whole of you, inside and out. There is not one part of your whole being that is not permeated by nerve cells. If I were to strip away all your flesh, leaving only your nervous system, I would still be able to see you standing there, complete as if I had not removed a thing, a beautiful web of biological wires connecting everything to everything else. This is a web with a strict order; organized like a vertically floating octopus with a trillion tentacles.
The head of the octopus sits inside your skull. The tentacles of this complex octopus reach down the tube formed by your spine, out to the limbs, the skin, or wherever else that little tentacle is destined to touch.
At the ends of each tentacle are suckers; receptors. These are responsible for detecting information both from inside and outside the body. Via the nerves, these receptors communicate to the brain all the things we can feel, whether that’s warm sand under bare feet or the vibration of an electric toothbrush; the shock of snow down your jumper or the intense heat from a boiling cup of tea sipped too quickly.
Some of the most sophisticated of these receptors are housed within their own unique organs, our eyes, ears, noses and tongues. These organs have been developed and refined over millennia to be experts at gathering information crucial for survival. It is this need to gather information that has sculpted these organs into the shapes we know well.