Doidge, Norman, M.D. The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.
Brain function and neural plasticity are fascinating subjects, and our brains are capable of almost miraculous re-wiring to accommodate to situations incurred by accident, disease, learning disabilities, natural aging, or stroke. That does not mean that all brain trauma can be cured, just that the brain has the often amazing ability to recover brain function in cases previously considered hopeless.
Dr. Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is on the faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York and the University of Toronto's department of psychiatry. His research into neuroplasticity leads him to interview some of the world's leading neuroscientists, to visit their labs, and to observe their methods in action.
In a fluent and highly readable account, he gives the reader an extraordinary look at individual triumphs and at scientific concepts and experiments that have led to so many hopeful discoveries in the field.
Portions of the book read almost like science fiction--fast and furious--leaving you marveling at the possibilities. Other portions slow you down and are more technical, but are still within the comprehension of the lay reader and are equally gripping.
The first chapters in the book are some of the most exciting. These chapters deal with almost unbelievable improvements in certain individuals with brain trauma or disabilities, the scientists who did the research, and the methods of research. While some very exciting discoveries have come about with improved technology that has allowed more and more accurate brain scans, other scientists have formed hypotheses and created treatments using very low-tech methods.
One interesting aspect is that brain plasticity or malleability, can be a blessing or a curse, for while the brain has remarkable flexibility, repeated patterns of thought and behavior ("neurons that fire together wire together") can create a rigidity that is hard to break. As a result, both positive and negative results can be achieved by the same brain process. (Ahh, those bad habits that we reinforce daily....)
On the other hand, "neurons that fire apart, wire apart" a phenomenon that provides a method of correction and a way to break bad habits or addictions.
Other interesting points (and there are far too many to mention!):
* Use it or lose it applies to mental as well as physical skills. Plasticity is competitive and unused areas can be pruned back or used for other information.
*The benefits of memorization (largely discarded in modern education) increased auditory memory, and therefore, thinking in language and that the stress on handwriting (also no longer a priority in education) not only increased motor skills, but probably "added speed and fluency to reading and speaking."
*Culture is more important than some believe. Because our brains are plastic, "To a larger degree than we suspected, culture determines what we can and cannot perceive." An example is in speech. There is a critical period during which the auditory cortex develops and during that period an infant is "capable of hearing any sound distinction in all the thousands of languages of our species." After the period closes, however, infants lose the ability to hear many of the sounds not used in their own culture which explains the problem some cultures have reproducing certain sounds.
Melbourne Conversations - Dr. Doidge speaks and explains better than I can.
Here is an article about the CBC Documentary with David Suzuki; there is also a link to a video, but it is evidently only available in Canada.
The brain is an astonishing organ; this book affirms that the brain is capable of significant growth, change, and self-repair.
(If you've reviewed this book let me know, and I'll link to your review.)
Nonfiction. Science. 2007. 408 pages.