Neuroscientists have documented the fact that the brain can design new patterns, new combinations of nerve cells and neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit messages between nerve cells) in response to new input. In fact, our brains are malleable, ever changing, reconfiguring their wiring according to new thoughts and experiences. And as a result of learning, the function of individual neurons themselves change, allowing electrical signals to travel along them more readily. Scientists call the brain’s inherent capacity to change “plasticity.”
This ability to change the brain’s wiring, to grow new neural connections, has been demonstrated in experiments such as one conducted by Doctors Avi Karni and Leslie Underleider at the National Institutes of Mental Health. In that experiment, the researchers had subjects perform a simple motor task, a finger-tapping exercise, and identified the parts of the brain involved in the task by taking a MRI brain scan. The subjects then practiced the finger exercise daily for four weeks, gradually becoming more efficient and quicker at it. At the end of the four-week period, the brain scan was repeated and showed that the area of the brain involved in the task had expanded; this indicated that the regular practice “and repetition of the task had recruited new nerve cells and changed the neural connections that had originally been involved in the task.
This remarkable feature of the brain appears to be the physiological basis for the possibility of transforming our minds. By mobilizing our thoughts and practicing new ways of thinking, we can reshape our nerve cells and change the way our brains work. It is also the basis for the idea that inner transformation begins with learning (new input) and involves the discipline of gradually replacing our “negative conditioning” (corresponding with our present characteristic nerve cell activation patterns) with “positive conditioning” (forming new neural circuits). Thus, the idea of training the mind for happiness becomes a very real possibility.” —Excerpt From: Lama, Dalai. “The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition.”
“Identifying an asteroid doesn’t make it safe. Even if every asteroid in the solar system had a name and known orbit, no one could say what perturbations might send any of them hurtling toward us. We can’t forecast rock disturbances on our own surface. Put them adrift in space and what they might do is beyond guessing. Any asteroid out there that has our name on it is very likely to have no other…
…The first one wasn’t spotted until 1991, and that was after it had already gone by. Named 1991 BA, it was noticed as it sailed past us at a distance of 106,000 miles—in cosmic terms the equivalent of a bullet passing through one’s sleeve without touching the arm. Two years later, another, somewhat larger asteroid missed us by just 90,000 miles—the closest pass yet recorded. It, too, was not seen until it had passed and would have arrived without warning. According to Timothy Ferris, writing in the New Yorker, such near misses probably happen two or three times a week and go unnoticed.
An object a hundred yards across couldn’t be picked up by any Earth-based telescope until it was within just a few days of us, and that is only if a telescope happened to be trained on it, which is unlikely because even now the number of people searching for such objects is modest. The arresting analogy that is always made is that the number of people in the world who are actively searching for asteroids is fewer than the staff of a typical McDonald’s restaurant. (It is actually somewhat higher now. But not much.)”
Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”