The Ecological significance of brain plasticity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the concept of neuroplasticity alongside anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s work on the ecology of mind. In the last three decades, a growth of research areas in neuroscience has drawn attention to the role of social interactions in organising brain circuitry. Some of the most compelling findings in this area of study are documenting the transformative potential of brain plasticity and its broader implications for learning, education and rehabilitation programs. However, most researchers working in this area take the brain or the psychology of an individual to be a self-evident entity lodged within an inner, subjective world that responds to changes in an external environment. Reading across disciplinary registers, Bateson’s ecological approach to mental processes challenges this individualistic model of the brain. He proposes a relational notion of learning that reconceptualises the assumption that an idea, a thought, or a habit originates from an individual. In Bateson’s account, mental processes are shaped by prevailing social and ecological circumstances, and these circumstances are themselves informed by specific historical contexts. This view of the biosphere as a self-organising system challenges dualistic depictions of mind and matter, individual and environment, self and system. This chapter explores how an ecological perspective of motivation recasts conventionally individualistic assumptions of agency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRelational concepts in medicine
EditorsMario Deng, Federica Raia, Maria Vaccarella
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781848880733
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameProbing the boundaries
PublisherInter-Disciplinary Press


  • Ecology
  • neuroplasticity
  • mind
  • learning
  • motivation


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