Underestimating the plasticity of the adult brain

Stereo Sue — a website and book by neuroscientist Susan Barry about having no stereo vision since infancy, and developing it in her 40s as an adult, thanks to a series of eye exercises

As a society, we really don’t like the idea of a plastic adult brain, an adult brain that can learn new things. We are really wedded to the idea that there are certain things that people can learn as kids, and the window closes, and that’s that. Languages and music are among those things as well, of course.

There are neurological reasons why I can pick things up better than most people, at an older age. I admit that. Nevertheless, I think a large part of why I can suck up things fairly quickly is because when someone tells me something isn’t possible, and their reasoning is flimsy and poorly supported, I want to prove them wrong just out of general crankiness.

But we really should just stop with this “adults can’t” nonsense in general. We’re crippling adult minds. Revelations like Barry’s — or like mine, where I’ve started writing what I think is damned good music at the age of 44 after a life of thinking it was not in the cards for me — shouldn’t be reserved only for the contrary or the obnoxious. Nice people should have that feeling, too.

(I’ve sometimes felt that, if only I had fallen down the stairs or gotten hit by lightning that Oliver Sacks would love me.)

Okay, so maybe I’m just obnoxious and Barry isn’t. I don’t know. But I do think there is an ingredient of bad-tempered cussedness that factors into this.

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