Neuroplasticity is a term that’s been getting a lot of play lately, it refers to the brain’s ability to heal and reformat itself. Though the idea has been around for a long time, scientists, using MRI brain scans, can now confirm the brain’s power to heal itself — the scans show the changes in the brain’s chemistry and physical structure.
Not to say it doesn’t take a lot of conscious work to heal the brain, but the soft, sensitive organ, easily harmed and scarred by abuse, is remarkably malleable, it turns out. ‘Neuroplasticity’, if the term had been coined, wasn’t in wide use back when I was arguing with my father about the ability of a human to change painful aspects of his life.
“Well, like a lot of science, Elie, all I can say is ‘dassum shit’,'” the skeleton said. “You know, it’s an attractive idea, that we can heal ourselves, change the emotional functioning of our brains. Have you known anyone who has ever done that? I mean, seriously, to any great extent?
“Have you seen dramatic transformations of that kind in anyone you’ve known, in yourself? The MRI might see it, but how does that translate in a human life? This research is based on the brains of meditating monks who acquire fantastic abilities, like elite athletes who push their bodies to do amazing things. I think the jury is still out on ordinary people who ride the subway and grind their teeth at night, whatever their brain scans might show.
“Not to mention that scientists still have only the most primitive idea of which part of the enormously convoluted and complicated human brain is responsible for which emotions. I stick to my original position on that — people cannot fundamentally change their personalities, or their brains.”
OK, although you realize that position reflects the rigidity you say you regretted as you were dying, and a refusal to evaluate evidence that can be shown on an MRI. Those brains showing all the damage that were imaged after months or years of therapy, good diet, plentiful sleep, deliberate changes for the better, and showed reversal of the damage? ‘Dassum shit’, you say? Have you become a science denier now too, just to win a senseless argument?
“You may have noticed that senseless arguments are the most hotly contested ones. If you’re going to base an argument on what makes the most sense, it’s often possible to show that one side is much more sensible than the other. Of course, the relative sense of positions is not the real question, most arguments are conducted for their own sake, they stand in for the primitive will not to be dominated. Did Eli’s arguments make sense?”
Sometimes they did, as ridiculous as they were at other times. I recall the time he accused his son-in-law Herbie of fucking him when he bought Eli a hearing-assisted phone.
“His hearing did get pretty bad at the end, when you were talking to him on the phone,” said the skeleton.
Yeah, so Herbie bought him a phone with an amplifier in the handset. He showed it to me like he was displaying a greasy, corn-encrusted turd someone left for him on his pillow. “Can you believe this shit?” he demanded.
I told him it was very nice of Herbie to get it for him and that we should plug it in. He looked at me like I’d just squeezed out a turd next to Herbie’s.
“Are you kidding me?” he fixed me with his famous scowl. “He didn’t buy me this to be nice, that’s not in his repertoire. He bought me this to say ‘here you go, you deaf old fuck, have a hearing aid phone!’ It was nice, all right, if you want to say he was being nice, it was a nice ‘fuck you’. Have it your way, then, he bought me the piece of shit phone as a nice “fuck you, Eli, you deaf bastard!” Are you too goddamned dim to see that? Come on!”
“Were you too goddamned dim to see that?” said the skeleton.
Look, we’re straying a little far from the point.
“Oh, ‘we’ are, are ‘we’?” said the skeleton archly.
“Look, you have to reconstruct, or let me be more precise, you have chosen to try to reconstruct, using memory, imagination and conjecture, what my interior life may have been like. You believe, with impressive, even heroic, naiveté, that once you have shaped this into a narrative that anyone will give a rat’s camisole about the life of an unknown man, alternately a gentle idealist and a violent monster.”
I’ll grant you the book proposal will lack some of the oozing sex appeal of the biography of some celebrity twat who, through tireless effort and cunning, parlayed a paltry ten or twenty million into a billion dollars, or sold ten million records, or could hit a baseball 450 feet, or who gave 10,000 blow jobs, or even someone who imprisoned and raped teenaged girls in his cellar, but life is primarily lived by anonymous people, sometimes invented out of whole cloth– as in famous literary characters– who read to find echoes of their own experience, and whatever little insights they can use, as often as they read to escape those experiences.
“Ah, so you give them both. Brilliant. A little worrying of the soul, a little torment, a ridiculous Eli anecdote sprinkled in for fun. Did you remember to tell them about Caesar Previti? That’s a good one.”
I was thinking about your friends and colleagues, or, I should say, the name Caesar Previti popped into my head the other day. I jotted it down and texted it to my sister, asking if the name rang a bell. It seemed to me that Previti was a co-worker at the Human Relations Unit. My sister had the same feeling, that Previti was a friend and colleague you spoke of from time to time.
“And you got excited, right? Like this was a little vein of gold to be mined, maybe Previti was still around to be interviewed or something, right?” said the skeleton.
I’m afraid so. Anyway, I put his name into google, and it spell- corrected it to Cesare Previti. After that, it was only a matter of seconds:
Cesare Previti (born October 21, 1934 in Reggio Calabria) is a former Italian politician and convicted criminal. He was, with Marcello Dell’Utri a close friend and right-hand of Silvio Berlusconi and founder of Forza Italia.
“Your sister was surprised too, right? Another clue, if one was needed, about the dodgy, slippery nature of memory. Perhaps your neuroplasticity research will take you to a place where your neurons are flexible enough to flawlessly separate fact from fiction, but then again, maybe you’re just kind of fucked, Elie,” said the skeleton, sniffing the breeze that was blowing down the hill from Oregon Road.