Depression, stress, and growing new brain cells

There’s a fascinating article in this month’s Seed Magazine called The Reinvention of the Self, describing the latest studies showing that we aren’t actually born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have, how stress and depression seem to keep new neurons from growing, and how antidepressants seem to encourage the growth of new neurons.

While not the main thrust of the article, it highlights what I think is a pretty basic philosophical issue for our age:

Gould’s research inevitably conjures up comparisons to societal problems. And while Gould, like all rigorous bench scientists, prefers to focus on the strictly scientific aspects of her data—she is wary of having it twisted for political purposes—she is also acutely aware of the potential implications of her research.

“Poverty is stress,” she says, with more than a little passion in her voice. “One thing that always strikes me is that when you ask Americans why the poor are poor, they always say it’s because they don’t work hard enough, or don’t want to do better. They act like poverty is a character issue.”

Gould’s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.

The more we peel back the curtains that hide how the mind works, the more we’re forced to face age-old questions about what free will and responsibility mean when you can see the clockworks ticking towards their inevitable action.

(Thanks to XThread for the link!)