An interesting aside in Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s Advice for a Young Investigator on neuroplasticity, creativity, and identity:

When one reflects on the ability that humans display for modifying and refining mental activity related to a problem under serious examination, it is difficult to avoid concluding that the brain is plastic and goes through a process of anatomical and functional differentiation, adapting itself progressively to the problem. The adequate and specific organization acquired by nerve cells eventually produces what I would refer to as professional or adaptational talent. As a motivator of the will itself, this brain organization provides the energy to adapt understanding to the nature of the problem under consideration. In a certain sense, it would not be paradoxical to say that the person who initiates the solution to a problem is different from the one who solves it. This is an obvious and simple explanation for the astonishment proclaimed by all investigators on discovering the simple solution so laboriously sought. “Why didn’t I think of this at the outset!” we exclaim. “There was so much confusion traveling down roads that led nowhere!”

I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling like a particularly challenging piece of work required us to grow a little in order to solve it. What Ramón y Cajal is arguing here is that while we usually think of this as an improvement in our skills, we should think of it as an improvement in our selves as well.