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stress & brain development, the open movement

From Seed: Reinvention of the Self:

To understand how neurogenesis “the process of creating new brain cells” works, Gould’s lab studies the effect of two separate variables: stress and enriched environments. Chronic stress, predictably enough, decreases neurogenesis. As Christian Mirescu, one of Gould’s post-docs, put it, “When a brain is worried, it’s just thinking about survival. It isn’t interested in investing in new cells for the future.”

On the other hand, enriched animal environments “enclosures that simulate the complexity of a natural habitat” lead to dramatic increases in both neurogenesis and the density of neuronal dendrites, the branches that connect one neuron to another. Complex surroundings create a complex brain.

This applies to my post about open data too, I think. A brain becomes more sophisticated in a situation when faced with “enriched environments” … chronic stress stops things. Note there’s a big difference between chronic stress – which puts you in constant survival mode; and discrete stress, which forces you to find a solution to a specific problem. I would argue that having a complex brain, stimulated by “enriched environments,” allows you to overcome discrete stress (call that environmental challenges) in more creative and effective ways.

As this applies to society: we will be best able to meet complex challenges if we expose society to “enriched environments.” Enriched environments mean, I think, access to maximum amounts of data; and public domain, open data movements mean just that. A vibrant public domain (free software, art, civic data, scientific information, agriculture) will mean a more vibrant and innovative society, better able to meet major challenges (say: climate change, peak oil, avian flu). The connections between art & software & science & civic acess are not yet clear to the world at large. But some are working hard to forge these links, across a spectrum of areas, seeking to increase data exchange, and give the tools of data production to new people. Others don’t quite get it yet. Still others seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot, by fighting the obvious. That’s OK. You can’t expect everyone to get it. But you can keep pushing.

(tip to: Tech Monk & mtl3p)