Plasticity of the brain: the key to human development, cognition and evolution


Predecessor neuron

Ferrier prize lecture by Professor Colin Blakemore FRS, University of Oxford and University of Warwick

How do our genes program the complexity of our brains? Why is human culture so much richer than that of the Great Apes? And how has human cognitive achievement continued to accelerate, when our genetic makeup has changed very little over the past 100,000 years? The answers might lie in the adaptability and plasticity of the brain.

Development of connections in mammalian brains is specified not so much by precise instructions as by general rules, including adaptive mechanisms to fine-tune the connections between different levels in each pathway. And evolution has discovered genetic mechanisms that enable neurons to change the strength of their connections in response to the pattern of activity passing through them. Such plasticity gives us the capacity to remember and learn, and it helps to match our perceptions, thoughts and motor skills to the nature of the world around us. Brain plasticity, although genetically determined, enabled humans to escape from the informational limits in the blueprint of their genes and propelled them into a new phase of evolution.

Professor Colin Blakemore FRS is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and also holds a Professorship at the University of Warwick. From 2003 to 2007 he was Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council.

Prize background
In 1928, at the request of the contributors to a fund to perpetuate the memory of Sir David Ferrier and his pioneer work on the functions of the brain, the Society accepted a trust fund for the institution of a David Ferrier Lecture which is given triennially on a subject related to the advancement of natural knowledge on the structure and function of the nervous system.

Admission free - no ticket or advance booking required.
Doors open at 5.45pm and seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Plasticity of the brain: the key to human development, cognition and evolution 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK

Events coming up

  • Are you seeing clearly? 26 May 2015 at The Royal Society, London Café Scientifique exploring the future of light on earth.
  • Bioinspiration of new technologies 27 May 2015 at The Royal Society, London Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Denis Noble CBE FRS, Professor Clemens Kaminski and Professor Richard Templer
  • The next big thing 29 May 2015 at Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales Four Royal Society Research Fellows discuss their work at the forefront of science at the Hay Festival.

For more events please see the events diary.