The other day I overheard two people talking about neuroplasticity while waiting in line at Peets Coffee & Tea in San Jose. Talk about coming a long way!
When I was studying Psychobiology—aka, the neurological basis of behavior—at UC Santa Cruz back in the early 1980s, the structure of the brain was understood to be given and unchangeable. The homunculus—the representation of the physical body on the sensory and motor cortices based on Wilder Penfield's research—provided a physical basis for Feldenkrais' idea of the self-image. However, the homunculus was taken to be fixed, like a map that was hardwired into the brain at birth.
This presented a problem. If Feldenkrais was right—that we move according to our self-image and not our structure AND that our self image changed—that implied that the sensory homuculus, at least, would have changed as we learned. This idea was unacceptable to the orthodoxy at the time, which lead to some pointed conversations with some of my professors and fellow students.
At one point, I remember reading an article about research into the development of the nervous system of dogs done by Russian neurophysiologists. Following Penfield, they stimulated the motor cortex of puppies through the first days of life and they were able to show that the projection of the body onto the brain (since they were canines, does that mean we'd have called it the "canunculus?") changed over time. This was a breakthrough: the first evidence that the brain changed with learning that I had stumbled upon....