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No. 36: Nov-Dec 1984

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Brains Not Hardwired

The prevalent conception of the brain compares it to a hardwired computer in which all the wires and components are all permanently soldered together. An equivalent situation would prevail in the brain if all sensory pathways and cells had fixed duties and memories to handle. If the portion of the brain dedicated to speech were damaged, as in a stroke, it could never repair itself. This dogma is now being challenged.

A pertinent line of brain research is now underway at the Coleman Laboratory of the University of California in San Francisco, where Michael Merzenich and his associates are studying the brains of monkeys.

"Merzenich's findings challenge a prevailing notion that most sensory pathways in the nervous system are 'fixed' or 'hardwired' by the maturation of anatomic connections, either just before or soon after birth. They also address the puzzling question of what forces may be at work when stroke victims partly recover. Do 'redundant copies' of skills exist outside the damaged regions, or is physical damage within the brain repaired over time? Or can old skills be newly established in different, undamaged brain regions."

Apparently the brain should really be compared with a reprogrammable computer. Perhaps the brain even stores duplicates of critical "programs"; i.e., skills. Merzenich's findings go even farther. He finds that the parts of the brain associated with certain skills or data processing move and change shape spontaneously. The brain, it seems, continually reorganizes itself. Fading fast is the idea that each data point is recorded in a specific cell or neuron interconnection.

(Fox, Jeffrey L.; "The Brain's Dynamic Way of Keeping in Touch,: Science, 225:820; 1984.)

From Science Frontiers #36, NOV-DEC 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987