Monday, December 25, 2006

Unsatisfied with that gift? Change the present!

My friend Robert Tolmach has been on fire with the launch of his startup, ImportantGifts, and its spanking-new site, Changing the Present.

Have you ever tried to quantify how much money is spent on gifts people don't really want or need? Robert has. Those bucks could be re-routed.

Since launch day, Robert's been running really clever campaigns to provoke interest, including this letter from Santa, reporting on how warm it is now at the North Pole. Check out the many different ways the site offers to spread the word.

I'm thrilled social entrepreneurship and conscious giving are in the air. Other friends have recently launched xigi (Kevin Jones, Sara Olsen, Mark Beam, Nicole Lazzaro, Tim Freundlich) with its xigiMaps, as well as Change.org (Ben Rattray). Join in!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Our ever-so-plastic brains

Researchers are discovering -- finally -- that brains reconfigure themselves all the time.

ScienceDaily recently reported that scientists in Lausanne detected neural reconnections on an hour-by-hour basis. In an interesting twist, my favorite passage in the article draws a parallel between brain function and social networks:
"The circuitry of the brain is like a social network where neurons are like people, directly linked to only a few other people," explains [researcher] Markram. "This finding indicates that the brain is constantly switching alliances and linking with new circles of "friends" to better process information."

Which resonates immediately with danah boyd's nifty new paper on "friending" in First Monday. We are indeed wiring the global brain these days.

Neuroplasticity is the central topic of The Mind and the Brain, by UCLA OCD expert Jeffrey Schwartz and the immensely talented Wall Street Journal science reporter Sharon Begley,which I've just begun reading. More on that as I digest it.

We tend to think of the adult brain as pretty much finished. All the wiring is done, with extensive retraining needed after traumatic brain injuries, for example. You can't, after all, teach an old dog new tricks, right?

This all echoes my favorite line from the controversial film What the Bleep Do We Know?: "Neurons that fire together, wire together."

Engage in the same thought often enough, and it etches its own neat neural pathway. That's as true for "I'm worthless and incompetent" as it is for "I'm skilled and happy." Yow. Makes those crystal-gazing affirmations sound pretty interesting, doesn't it?

I suspect our socialization processes, fear-based culture and unchallenged assumptions (that old dog and them new tricks) all contribute to making our brains far less plastic than they otherwise would be. Change is fun!


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