Did you know your brain can radically alter how you function to adapt to new situations? That you can change your physical reactions? A basic survey of articles on the internet such as this introduction points to well known examples such as London Taxi drivers having enlarged hippocampi because of their line of work or nomadic sea-faring people getting sick when they stay on solid ground too long (the same way we get sea sick). Brains adapt!
Did you know those Moken sea-faring people can see twice as well under water than Europeans? Their pupils can be constricted an additional 22%. Sounds like an evolved adaptation, right? Nah, they just wanted to so their brains told their eyes to what was important.
In fact, your brain can increase function or activity in one of its areas simply by your concentrating on something. If you want to hear more clearly, close your eyes and focus on listening. How long will it take to hear better? Probably 60 to 90 seconds of concentration. Literally, in less than five minutes, you can radically change how you process information. Simply closing your eyes can alter the amount of information you’re putting into your brain, freeing up volumes of attention that (provided your brain feels safe you won’t open your eyes) you can allocate to other tasks.
Few expect these physical examples, but they are beside the point here. If you’re interested, there are countless examples on wikipedia in addition for your perusal.
More interestingly, you can send signals to your body from your brain to push it to incredible feats. You can even stimulate your body to adapt (hold your breath for more than fifteen minutes at a time) or express genes you didn’t know you had.
Mapping your brain cells to complete new tasks is not only a conscious process, you can do it without knowing what you’re doing. You can control what maps where simply by focusing on what you want. In phantom limbs, treatment involves consciously thinking about the world a certain way. By placing one limb in a mirror box and focusing on actions while looking at what your mirrored limb looks like (as in what you limb looked like before you lost it) can cause you to re-map neurons to avoid corrupted information making it seem like your missing limb is in great agony. This simple treatment (mirror box + time + effort = no crippling agony) exposes a phenomenon that we can apply a variety of useful ways.
Pause: so far, we’ve established that you can free up your brain’s processing power; that you can focus your attention to change physiological traits like pupil constriction or holding your breath an otherwise abnormal amount; that practicing skills can change brain size; and that conscious thought can remap neurons and modify how you sense the world.
One of my favourite books that makes this case and gives good instruction on how to do this is The Whole Brain Child