Plasticity: Shaping The Brain

The great discovery of neuroscience is that the brain is fundamentally characterized by “plasticity”—a radically open-ended potential for both creative and destructive difference. But now that plasticity has been discovered, why do we so often continue to ignore or diminish our fundamental capacity for radicle change and fail to embrace natural and cultural differences? And now that we know about the plastic nature of our brains, what can we non-neuroscientists do with it? In this class we’ll study the problem of plasticity from diverse social and historical perspectives. We’ll discover a historical tradition of creative plasticity across different mediums—including mythology, scholarship, film, and the “plastic” arts. And we’ll enact our own plastic potential in creative works. Additionally, by reading of scholarly works and first-hand narratives from diverse perspectives, we’ll consider the real-world consequences of plasticity’s contemporary “destructive” forms, including PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and addiction. Finally, we’ll connect our inquiries to our own experiences in digital culture, where the tech industries have increasingly begun to target our plasticity, aiming to shape us for their own purposes.

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