Saturday, August 02, 2008

Plastic of the mind ऐक रे मना ....

I have always thought of plastic as something that typifies the age in which my generation grew up. Till the early nineties, when drinking water started appearing in bottles, it had never occurred to me that water in homes, could come from anywhere but a tap, from where it was collected in vessels and then , sometimes boiled by overzealous, health-oriented parents, put in glass bottles and cooled . People who adapted too readily to "ready-made" drinking water in plastic bottles were often looked down upon by folks who thought it was a fad, (which it probably was anyway)......

There came a time when taking water to your workplace/school etc in a , say, Bisleri bottle was very impressive, regardless of the fact that you were reusing the plastic, and had just filled it from your kitchen tap. Bisleri , like Xerox entered the vocabulary as a common noun.

No more.

Today , we have a surplus of everything plastic, some of which we need to moderate and some, which we need to actually throw away.

Early human anatomy researchers were fond of documenting how various lobes/parts of our brain controlled our various senses, and how a disturbance or injury to that part could throw us into a particular 'sense'less abyss, that would deny us the use of say eyes or ears or movement. Turns out that this is not strictly true. There is something called 'neuroplasticity' of the brain , which says, that there is no such rigid demarcation in which anatomic part of the brain controls what, say, in an absolute way. Experiments have shown that you can train the brain to use parts of the brain meant to aid a particular sense, to also handle another sense. And its not a switch-on, switch off situation. The brain learns, and remembers.
Maybe some of this "plastic-ness" could apply to minds.

While this spells good news for those afflicted with strokes,deafness,learning disabilities and so on, what is worrisome, is actually the mind. I have not been able to figure out if the brain is part of the mind, or vice-versa; all I know , is, there is a connection, tenuous, strong, or whatever, but it exists.

In the last few decades, one has observed that minds, per se, have become more plastic; easy to mould.

In my childhood, I am sure religious bigots existed. There were religious social problems, but one did not hear about communal incidents on the scale that we hear it today. The sheer scale of the variety of information available to me as a teenager, about 42 years ago was not anything close to what my children experience today. Then, there was a limit, unconsciously defined, on, what you could pass an opinion about. There was a set of virtual disciplinary rules you followed and kept to, by instinct and tradition, say, at a given age. While some may define this as a straitjacketing of the mind, it actually helped us focus on the respective life stages, in an optimum way. Minds were moulded, but over a long period of time, which allowed contemplation and observation of the world in its nitty-gritty form and lessons were learned.

Over the last few decades, the "plasticity" of the mind, has been abused.

It has been "used" to indoctrinate children, misguide youth. The information revolution has not helped. The world over, we have created religious bigots, who glorify cheating (for a supposedly great cause),dying,killing,destroying , and completely obliterating the fabric of a decent peaceful society.

And just like "plastic wastes" have become an environmental problem, so have these "moulded" members of society. And so we see training camps for misguiding youth in the name of religion. Improving the lot of the less fortunate of your country is never on the list as a possible objective. And while the young of today are having their minds messed up, at some level the cult of the individual is gaining ground .

It will take more than a Kyoto Protocol, or United Nations Sanctions to change this.

We are today realizing that "plastic" is unbreakable in more ways than one. Mumbai always had the sea, always had tides, and storms and heavy rains. What it did not have earlier, was the plastic waste that clogs the drains that wash away the rain water and waste of the city into the sea. Half hearted attempts to decide on guilt free micron levels of plastic shopping bags bags does not help.
(And the fact that the magnitude of shopping as an activity, per se, has gone up by immeasurable leaps and bounds is another thing altogether...)

And so, the plasticity of the mind, needs to be controlled in constructive ways and directions. We need to worry about the waste and misuse of this plasticity , and how it is dirtying the fabric of society. Minds need to be taught to think and not just follow. No amount of government protocols, fatwas, threats etc may work. It must happen at the level of family and community. Excessive uncontrolled plasticity of a mind is the worst side effect that our neuroplastic brains can have.

I wonder if we are plastic enough to try ?


  1. Suranga,
    Your way of looking at issues is certainly thought provoking.

  2. This is totally ingenious take on the term plastic. I found it extremely interesting and relevant. Just as we need to ban overuse of plastic for eclogical purposes, we need to ban overexposure to plastic-minds for logical purposes.

    And I totally sympathise with you in your awful-lawful adventures.

  3. oh this was wonderful reading. it took me to certain areas where my hadnt been. lovely.