Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Internet Mind.

A long time ago a wise man said, "your mind will be like its habitual thoughts, for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts." (Marcus Aurelius.) With our scientific way of thinking we would state it differently today. No more poetic references to the soul and the color of thoughts. Nicholas Carr, writing in The Atlantic, puts it this way:
"The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind 'is very plastic.' Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. 'The brain,' according to Olds, 'has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.'" (Here.)

The human brain's plasticity causes some to worry, Carr included, that increased use of the internet is changing how people read, think, and how their brains are wired. I suspect he's right. Like him, I can feel the change in my own mind. And it's not just the internet: TV and videogames have as much of an impact on people's behavior and thought processes as the internet does. But there's no stopping it in a free society because the internet's immediate value is so evident that whatever long-term consequences it might impose pale in comparison. The most we can hope to do is mitigate those consequences. The genie is out of the bottle.


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