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What is neuroplasticity? Neuroplasticity suggests that we have the ability to change the way our brain thinks and this can help our brain grow even throughout adulthood. It was once believed that the brain was hardwired since infancy and once human beings reached adulthood, the brain could no longer change. But neuroscientific research has proved otherwise. Just like plastic, the brain is malleable and adaptable hence what neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. Jewish thought and teachings also believe we have the ability to change our thoughts and behaviours despite possessing innate and inborn traits.
Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the synapses, neurons, and whole brain areas to change depending on our activities (Doidge, 2007). We can weaken negative pathways in the brain and strengthen positive ones by changing the way we think. When we think, act, or feel differently than usual on a frequent basis, we open up new pathways in the brain, strengthening the thoughts and behaviours until they become second nature.
The debate of nature vs. nurture dates back to the Enlightenment period. Early philosophers debated whether or not the genetic coding of human beings predetermined the way they would think, act, and feel. John Locke believed the human mind was a “white paper void of all characters”. He believed that there are no innate qualities and that a human being is nurtured and shaped solely based on his environmental influences. Philosophers who believed in nature were generally more conservative. They sought to maintain their political positions and the status quo.
Jewish thought teaches us that characteristics, such as aspects of our physical appearance and the extent of our inclinations towards good and evil, are predetermined before birth. However, whether we travel the path of good or evil, that is our choice. We all have potential to travel both paths. But the one we ultimately travel is up to us. The Jewish scholarly work entitled The Ways of the Righteous quotes in its introduction, “The soul of one man has ascended to the spiritual heights for he caused his wisdom to rule over his desire, while the other man caused his desire to rule over his wisdom.”
The Ways of the Righteous states another thought related to neuroplasticity and the nature vs. nurture debate, “You should know and you should understand that if he whose nature inclines him towards an evil quality does not take it to heart to repent it but always permits it to grow stronger, that this will bring him to a state where he will reject and loath good qualities.” Jewish thought states that there are those who are predisposed towards an evil trait. However, if they allow this trait to rule over their hearts, they will eventually come to despise good traits.
Positive thinking has the ability to shape our thoughts, feelings, and actions and steers us away from negative thinking. The concept of rewiring our brains is neuroplasticity. Our brain development at birth no longer determines who we will be. We have the ability to change our neural pathways and develop positive habits. By becoming aware of our negative traits, we can work on changing them and thereby, become one step closer to becoming the person we would like to be.
Rikrik's Red Balloon is an interactive book used by parents and children to help children to explore self-esteem based on the latest neuroscience research.
Written and Illustrated by H.C. Merlin, author of 42 novels and a prolific writer and weekly Hamodia columnist contributing to countless magazines and publications.What is Neuroplasticity to Jewish Positive Psychology