Bill

Strengthening Memory (Part 3) : Thoughts, Actions and Habits

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Ghandi

Plasticity means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once. Each relatively stable phase of equilibrium in such a structure is marked by what we may call a new set of habits. Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort; so that we may without hesitation lay down as our first proposition the following, that the phenomena of habit in living beings are due to the plasticity of the organic materials of which their bodies are composed.
But the philosophy of habit is thus, in the first instance, a chapter in physics rather than in physiology or psychology.
Water, in flowing, hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before. Just so, the impressions of outer objects fashion for themselves in the nervous system
The only impressions that can be made upon them are through the blood, on the one hand, and through the sensory nerve-roots, on the other; and it is to the infinitely attenuated currents that pour in through these latter channels that the hemispherical cortex shows itself to be so peculiarly susceptible. The currents, once in, must find a way out. In getting out they leave their traces in the paths which they take. The only thing they can do, in short, is to deepen old paths or to make new ones; and the whole plasticity of the brain sums itself up in two words when we call it an organ in which currents pouring in from the sense-organs make with extreme facility paths which do not easily disappear.
If only a part of the matter of the path were to ‘rearrange’ itself, the neighboring parts remaining inert, it is easy to see how their inertness might oppose a friction which it would take many waves of rearrangement to break down and overcome. If we call the path itself the ‘organ,’ and the wave of rearrangement the ‘function,’ then it is obviously a case for repeating the celebrated French formula of ‘La fonction fait l’organe.’
Being physical pathways, the brain needs rest also to form lasting in roads, that is why it is said “we learn to swim in the winter and skate in the summer” There is no part of the organism of ma in which the reconstructive activity is so great, during the whole period of life, as it is in the ganglionic substance of the brain. This is indicated by the enormous supply of blood which it receives. It is moreover, a fact of great significance that the nerve-substance is specially distinguished by its reparative power.
The psychical principles of association, indeed, and the physiological principles of nutrition, simply express – the former in terms of mind,
the latter in terms of brain – the universally admitted fact that any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results. For, when the organic modification has been once fixed in the growing brain, it becomes a part of the normal fabric, and is regularly maintained by nutritive substitution; so that it may endure to the end of life, like the scar of a wound.

William James’ book “Habit”

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