Photo courtesy: Ken Glaser/Corbis

Photo courtesy: Ken Glaser/Corbis

When I was 8, my mother drove me to a parking lot to teach me how to ride a bike for one final time. I fell into a bush. I scraped my knee on concrete. I complained that the seat hurt my crotch, before ramming into a car. Finally, I threw such a tantrum that we packed the bike back into our Toyota and left.

I had failed before my feet touched pedals because of a false belief. I knew of only the old theory about brains: Until recent years, it was taken as a given that the brain was like a cinderblock, like concrete that becomes fixed soon after its molding. This theory is intuitive. Most of us can peg someone who showed talent from the time of their youth. History celebrates the legends of these savants: they have names like Mozart and Newton. And at age 8, I was about as far from being the Mozart of bike-riding as one can get.

What I didn't know was that — at that very moment, while I was busy overturning my bicycle — scientists were busy overturning the old theory about brains for a new one. Under this new theory of neuroplasticity, the brain looks much more like a muscle. Muscles start feeble. But no matter your age, ethnicity, or gender, your muscles can always grow. When I learned of this theory as a college junior, I took it to heart.

I used to believe that I was born an introvert, that I was doomed to fail in science and math, and that I was destined to never ride a bike. Yet recently, I found myself at Droplet teaching a Think Tank class in front 30 high schoolers as a member of Dr. Daniel Casasanto’s cognitive science lab. And that morning--having just taught himself to ride a bike at age 23--I’d ridden my bike to the lab.

If the brain stay fixed throughout the lifetime, you might imagine that intelligence and talent are fixed attributes. However, if the brain is plastic, you might imagine that your abilities can grow throughout the lifetime. This was the topic of The Think Tank’s lesson that day. Tune in next week to hear more about what we taught!

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