Post No.: 0091
A child born naturally left-handed can be made to become right-handed, and over time it’ll become extremely difficult for this person to try to become left-handed – just as difficult as for any right-handed adult to start becoming as proficient with their left hand at a task as they are with their right hand. This shows how virtually permanent the effects of upbringing can be, and how extremely difficult it can be to change something developed or ingrained when young and to not constantly rebound back to one’s most reinforced habits when one tries to subsequently change. This also indicates though how neuroplastic and adaptable we are when young that even natural tendencies can be overridden if alternative habits are instilled when young enough.
To expect an adult with traits developed from young to easily change can be exactly like asking a right-hand dominant person to learn to become left-hand dominant, or vice-versa – it’s not impossible in most cases but typically progressively very difficult, depending on the severity of one’s traits or upbringing, one’s motivation to change (but note that one’s motivation to change could be a function of one’s upbringing too!) and whether the current environment is conducive for supporting and maintaining change. Meow.
Matters of the brain are ultimately matters of the physical body because our brains and how they work are entirely physical (we know this whenever things go physically wrong with the brain, such as a physical trauma to the brain, or even when using electromagnetic induction to temporarily disrupt a region of the brain – our brains (and rest of our bodies) work by using electricity).
As my own extension on Post No.: 0040, brains generally become less and less ‘plastic’ as they age (neuroplasticity) hence it generally and gradually becomes more difficult and slower for people to change their ways as adults, especially if something has been so ingrained when young and then constantly reinforced throughout one’s life. It’s indeed not impossible, but deep foundations are hard to shift or overcome, especially without everyone’s understanding, support and patience. So rather than moaning about people – try empathising with them, learn to understand their background or history and how it was different to yours, and then help them. (And note that even the slightest differences can matter down the line e.g. it is currently theorised that genetically identical twins that receive slightly different amounts of certain prenatal hormones in the womb can potentially exhibit different outcomes later in life. I’m not saying that one should agonise about those levels of details – the point is that even if you have shared the same school, home or even womb as someone else, you won’t have had the exact same environmental conditions and experiences as someone else to say, “Well I was there too but I turned out fine”.)
Like trying to deflect an asteroid heading towards Earth, it’s far easier to change its path away from a critical impact point the earlier it’s done – in fact, when it’s close to the critical impact point, it can be too late and practically impossible to change its path meaningfully, and all we’d be able to realistically do is brace for impact. Yet a small one-degree nudge early on, when it’s very far away, can make all the difference down the line, one way or the other.
Or developing a brain is metaphorically like building a house brick-by-brick, where the strength and position of the next brick depends on the underlying strength and position of the brick laid down earlier beneath it. So as we age, how we develop depends on what we’ve been exposed to earlier in path dependence (tomorrow will depend on today, today depended on yesterday, yesterday depended on the day before, etc. – even if you think those past circumstances are no longer relevant today). So logically, generally the younger a person is, the earlier their years, the more critical the time for their development and for path-setting. (This includes the gestational period inside the womb too for some things, hence e.g. pregnant mothers shouldn’t smoke.) Today depends highly on the conditions, opportunities and experiences of yesterday, and yesterday depended highly on the conditions, opportunities and experiences of the day before that, and so forth, in one unbroken chain of causality.
The main lesson is that the effects of upbringing are vitally important for potentially the rest of one’s life (life follows path dependence, or simply cause causes effect). But an advantage of this is that good traits can stick for life, and undesirable natural tendencies can be overcome via sufficiently early nurture experiences, hence in, maybe not all but many, useful cases regarding the important traits or outcomes of a person’s life (such as regarding their physical health, mental health, morality, ethics) – it matters less what someone is ‘potentially born to become’ via their genes compared to what ‘someone is raised to become’ via their upbringing.
This understanding about cognitive, moral and physical development is not about fretting about our own fluffy upbringings and ‘what could’ve beens’ – we cannot turn back time, and I’ll say again that it’s generally not impossible to adapt at any age. These understandings and lessons are most of all to make sure we get things right or better for our children and the next generations.