The New Frontiers of Neuroplasticity

Children become adults, eloquent professors turn into care-dependent dementia patients, liberal democrats develop into dogmatic ultraconservatives, dutiful wives mutate into man-eating seductresses, loving husbands become violent rapists, highschool dropouts transform into dotcom billionaires, and wallflowers grow into show-stopping stars, only to end up later as alcoholics. When it comes to the life trajectory of any given individual, anything is possible. It’s sometimes fascinating, sometimes horrifying, but always very interesting.

Nonetheless, we have a tendency to ‘freeze-frame’ our fellow human beings in certain situations. We speak of born orators, artists, or thinkers, but we also identify born losers and born criminals. We are unable to believe hardnosed psychopaths can ever become valuable members of society, and demand they be locked up forever. We call for a ‘humane’ end for bedridden patients with locked-in syndrome or those in a persistent vegetative state; we’d like to put an end to their ‘suffering’ by switching off the machines their lives depend on. We even doubt that people with attention-deficit disorders, chronic depression, or anxiety will ever be able to ‘get their act together’ again. The argument we hear repeatedly, even from medical professionals and therapists, is that it is better to put them on medication for the rest of their lives than risk them throwing themselves off a cliff or, even worse, dragging other people into the maelstrom of their dark destiny.