Good morning everyone,
We soon will be discussing the brain and nervous system, and our discussions will include the concept of 'body maps' in the brain. These represent areas of the brain that contain neurons that are spatially arranged to correspond to particular areas of our bodies (like our fingers and faces). We all have them, and they make some of the computations required by our brain a bit easier. Specialized training (such as the playing of a musical instrument) can modify these maps, making them (in some case) larger and more sensitive.
In the science news this week is a report about these brain maps, but in an unusual way. This news describes brain maps that represent the fine motor skills one develops as a painter, but with a catch: these are painters who use their feet, rather than their hands. In these subjects, the 'brain maps' for their feet have been come elaborated, much like what happens to the brain maps for fingers when highly trained to perform a skill like a painting.
This story reminds us of a number of important features about the brain: even in adults, much of the brain is 'plastic', or modifiable - that is the secret to our ability to learn new things. This story also demonstrates the old saying the 'nature abhors a vacuum' - if part of the brain is not being used a its normal task, in some cases that task can be shifted elsewhere, and parts of the the brain 'reassigned' (to some degree) to new responsibilities. This flexibility is also a hallmark of our brains, and is an important one, for it contributes to recovery from brain injuries, like stroke. When areas of brain tissue are damaged, in some cases nearby areas can be trained to take over those functions that are no longer being served.
So, even if you find that painting is not something you are good at (as I have), don't despair! You have plenty of brain tissue ready and waiting for your hidden talents to emerge...
Have a great weekend -