Plasticity of brain and thought

In some of us, the track in our brain that says, “This is a dangerous world,” gets balanced with the track that says, “You can cope with it.” We are aware of the danger, but the danger guides our actions rather than determines them.

This balance is evidenced in the plasticity of both the brain and thought.

As an organ, the brain learns to get control of its tracks. It does that in relationship with the people in closest proximity. During the first eight or nine years, the child and the child’s brain are totally dependent on care from others. The child can’t feed itself except in the sense that the child can pick up food and put it in their mouth, but they are unable to source their own food.

Similarly the child can’t house him or herself. It can’t keep itself warm, or provide any basic needs. Everything is dependent on external care and parenting.

Building an internal world in the organic brain occurs during this period. These tracks are laid down in a way that promotes automaticity of thought and of action. That is, they are below the level of consciousness or consideration, for the most part. If we had to think about every action we are about to perform we would be paralyzed and unable to live in the world as we need to.

Parenting then becomes a reactive and proactive process that continues until the child’s brain reaches a stage of maturity where it develops a capacity to examine its own automaticity. The interaction between the thinking brain and the organic brain is an interface that allows for plasticity but is rate-limited. In other words, we can’t change our automaticity just by thought alone – it requires consideration and insight, which underlies critical thinking. Others may call this mindfulness. Thus most of our therapeutic endeavours are based on examination of this interface and rebalancing it towards a more fruitful expression of our needs.

In this way a child learns to balance as they go forward by relationships in their external world, and consideration of his or her past experience.