Brain “Plasticity” Is Mainly a Pop Platitude

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My reading of the bench science is that the emphasis on brain “plasticity” is mainly an ideological reaction to the increasing evidence for genetic/developmental determinism from birth of most brain functions.  So naturally, an active denialism has become popular.

“Plasticity is just learning at the neural level, and learning is not an alternative to innate motives and learning mechanisms. Plasticity became an all-purpose fudge factor in the 1990s (just like “epigenetics” is today). But the idea that the brain is a piece of plastic molded by the environment is bad neuroscience. I reviewed neural plasticity in the chapter “The Slate’s Last Stand” in The Blank Slate, with the help of many colleagues in neuroscience, and noted that the plasticity that allows feedback during development and learning during ontogeny is superimposed on an innate matrix of neural organization. For example if you silence *all* synaptic activity in the brain of a developing mouse with knock-outs, the brain is pretty much normal.”

Steven Pinker

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