Professor Ronald McKay explains that although the underlying machinery of the brain is hardwired, it maintains a huge amount of flexibility to interact with the environment.
The question about the brain being hardwired lies at the sort of heart of all this. The answer to that is sort of yes and no.
So, it is hardwired to a very large extent, so all the basic anatomy of the brain is hardwired in the sense that it will occur even in the absence of electrophysiological activity.
But once you’ve assembled the basic architecture of the brain using what you might call the deep hardware of the system, then the wiring on top of that is controlled by behavioral input. And so it’s that combination that makes the brain so powerful.
The underlying machine, of course, has evolved, so it is not hardwired over the course of centuries and millennia, so it’s flexible on a much longer timeline. But once you have the nervous system, of course, it is absolutely critical that the nervous system responds to the environment that the animal grows up in or the human being grows up in. So, on top of the basic biology, there’s a huge flexibility and it’s that interaction that makes the nervous system such a powerful device.