Journal, October 5, 2021

Life is plastic.  Not like, polyethylene plastic, but malleable, ever-changing, adapting.  There's this concept in neuroscience called  neuroplasticity - the idea being that our brain is constantly remapping its routes between neurons.  If you bridge two neurons often, stronger pathways are formed.  If you don't connect from one to another regularly, those pathways degenerate.  If a shorter path can be found, the brain will build the most efficient path between neurons that need to connect.  Functionally this means that we improve what we use and discard what we don't.  Practically, this means that we're ever changing, always growing, becoming more efficient and effective at everything we do.

Social relationships are similarly plastic, I think.  People meet, they exchange conversations, they move on.  As those same people reconnect, stronger bonds are formed.  Interpersonal relationships are strengthened over time with shared experiences and interpersonal intimacy.  After a while, you just get someone.  You understand them, they understand you, there's limited ambiguity, and for whatever ambiguity is left, you know each other's boundaries and communicative style well enough to fill in the gaps.  In contrast, people you connect with less frequently are less easily understood.  It takes a certain level of rapport to develop a friendship.  It takes a different type of rapport to maintain an acquaintance.  Less still, people you interact with infrequently.  The more you interact with a person, the stronger the bond becomes.  What is true of our neurons seems similarly true outside of them.

The challenge, I think, is when a strong bond is suddenly and forcefully cut.  Many years ago I was in a motorcycle accident suffering a traumatic brain injury.  Functionally, a sharp impact of my brain on the inside of my skull managed to sever a significant number of neural pathways.  To an outsider looking in I had physical injuries to reflect the incident, but from the inside looking out all sense had been shattered.  Consider that you know your own name, what day of the week it is, where you left your keys, what you were doing five seconds ago.  We take for granted the interconnected web in our minds that allows for all that stuff to function seamlessly.  When that web is suddenly disconnected in seemingly random ways, little things like "what was I just doing?" don't connect anywhere meaningful.  All things considered, it's fairly disconcerting.  Take what you know that you know, and understand that you know that you know it, but you can't get to it from here, so functionally you don't know it, even though you know that you do.  Now, thankfully, our minds can rebuild.  It takes time and effort, but those pathways regrow stronger and better than before.  That time is challenging and the road is an uphill struggle - believe me I speak from experience.  But that isn't the point.

When we're connected to someone, and I mean really, deeply connected, a sudden separation is hard to reconcile.  I know where I left my keys just as strongly as I knew that my future involved someone.  I struggle with the disconnect as much as I struggled with my memories so many years ago.  The disconnect, be it physical or emotional, remains a struggle.  Yet, with time, this too shall heal.  Pathways are reformed, new relationships are created, and more efficient and effective routes are made so that we may continue succeeding.

Herein lies the dilemma.  The pretense here is that pathways are severed, and from those severed pathways new pathways are formed.  What happens when the path isn't severed, but instead, remains connected?  Like a poorly connected electrical circuit, electric shocks arc across failed pathways in an effort to reconnect.  At times, the reconnection seems functional, and at others, the signal gets lost in the static.  Should the pathway be cut entirely?  Should a new wire bridge the old circuit back in place?  Will the old circuit continue to build new, strong pathways circumventing the old, broken pathways?  Time will tell.

I suppose, at the end of the day, life is a constant learning experience.  For everything that happens to me, I reflect on what I can learn from it.  This is no different.  I can only reflect on what is and wonder on what will or could be.  I already know what was, and that's a part of the history that shapes what's to come.  The best I can do is learn and grow.  Always reaching out, trying to make connections, and strengthening the connections that are made successfully.

We're a lot like neurons, you and I.