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Biology gives new scope for lifelong learning


News from the US-based training and development listserv, TRDEV-L:

Date: Sat, 16 Oct 1999 12:57:44 -0400
From: Dave Himmelstein
Subject: Biology empowers lifelong learning

The concept of lifelong learning picked up a new layer of muscle this past week, and a well established belief about a supposed "structural limitation" within the species seemed headed for the scrap heap.

As reported on the front page of the New York Times:

"In a new challenge to the longstanding belief that adults never generate new brain cells, biologists at Princeton University have found that thousands of freshly born neurons arrive each day in the cerebral cortex, the outer rind of the brain where the higher intellectual functions and personality are centered.

"Though based on research in monkeys, the finding is likely to prove true of people, too. [...] If the new brain cells, or neurons are involved with memory and learning -- perhaps with each day's batch of new cells recording that day's experiences -- scientists will have to make major revisions in the longtime view that the adult brain's neurons are static in number and that memory is stored only in the way they interconnect.

"The discovery, by Elizabeth Gould and Charles G. Gross, is reported in the journal Science.

"The belief that the adult brain does not make new cells rested on careful, well-known studies by Pasko Rakic of Yale University, who looked for the formation of new neurons in the monkey brain and found none.
But the Princeton work is likely to be convincing, because it builds on previous reports of brain cell turnover, notably by Fernando Nottebohm of Rockefeller University, who showed that canaries grow new neurons to learn new songs, and recent studies showing that new cells are formed in the hippocampus, a brain region where initial memories of faces and places are formed."

[End NYT clipping]

I think a powerful (if often unacknowledged) conditioning influence has been exercised by the underlying image of a shrinking neurological mass -- limiting (if often unconsciously) expectations about human possibility. If this image turns out to be illusory, what streams of possibility will be released?

And what will be the next pillar of conventional wisdom to be toppled?

Dave Himmelstein
Lexicom Associates
W O R D S ~ M A K E ~ W A V E S
Communications / Empowered Learning

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