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An astonishing new science called neuroplasticity is overthrowing the centuries-old notion that the human brain is immutable. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Norman Doidge, M.D., traveled the country to meet both the brilliant scientists championing neuroplasticity and the people whose lives theyve transformedpeople whose mental limitations or brain damage were seen as unalterable. We see a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, blind people who learn to see, learning disorders cured, IQs raised, aging brains rejuvenated, stroke patients learning to speak, children with cerebral palsy learning to move with more grace, depression and anxiety disorders successfully treated, and lifelong character traits changed. Using these marvelous stories to probe mysteries of the body, emotion, love, sex, culture, and education, Dr. Doidge has written an immensely moving, inspiring book that will permanently alter the way we look at our brains, human nature, and human potential.
Published: Penguin Group on
ISBN: 9781101147115
List price: $14.99
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Very readable account of the science of brain plasticity and its applications in therapies for people who have suffered strokes, brain traumas, addictions and old age. The appendix on "The culturally Modified Brain" is merely one high point in a brief book full of fascinating facts, insights and reflections.more
This was far too Freudian for me (ALL masochists had childhood hospitalizations & learned there to fetishize pain) as well as entirely too full of anecdotes. I like my science more, well, sciencey. There were some interesting anecdotes, to be sure, but ultimately it was not what I was looking for.

ETA: Um, yeah, I just NOW noticed the part of the title that references "stories of personal triumph" so it's my own damn fault. I hate "stories of personal triumph" as a rule.more
The first couple chapters of this book were really, really interesting to me. But by the end, I felt like it was getting a bit repetitive and I could kind of figure out the stories before he finished telling them because they all follow the same basic theme - these people showed that their brains grew by having some disability and then overcoming that disability. (Obviously that oversimplifies it quite a bit.)

In the end, very interesting book if you're interested in the brain/body, but you definitely do not need to be in the field to understand it.more
Interesting, but the kind of book that will turn people who do not have a natural tendency to be skeptics into TRUE BELIEVERS. Not my kind of thing (but I knew that from the "personal triumph" subtitle).more
Very readable examination of the ways in which medical opinion has changed on the former belief that the adult brain is incapable of developing new neurons and that specific regions of the brain's cortex are irrevocably assigned to specific functions.more
Doidge collects anecdotes from patients and researchers that bring to light the wonderful world of neuroscience and attepts to explain the concepts and principles of Neuroplasticity. It is easy to read and has great metaphors to help relate the research to the layperson.more
Best type of popular science. This book is an easy read and most inspiring - it introduces the layperson to neuroplasticity, showing how our brains are flexible and can rewire themselves in response to damage. It also shows how we can use practice, habit and our imaginations to rewire our own brains - for better or worse. You will not think in the same way after you have read this. Highly recommended.more
A fascinating, albeit some what repetitive look at how the human mind works and changes.more
This is a fascinating explanation of how the brain can change: how areas once devoted to a specific function or area of expertise can change their role if required; how people can use specific mental and physical exercises to promote healing after a stroke or brain injury; how we can keep our brains sharp. It is written in an engaging style, including several stories of real people that are inspiring. The scientific aspects are well explained for a lay reader.more
This was actually my third attempt at this book. Not that it is not a good book. It is actually a fantastic book. Engaging, not hard to read, etc. It just seems to be one of those books you really need to be in the right mood for. January seemed to finally be it as I ran through half the book on the first day. This book discusses breakthroughs in neuroplasticity, or the science of how our brain changes with input from the environment. Cognitive theorists viewed the adult brain as a 'machine' capable of very little actual change. Science shows our brains are constantly changing with new input for good (leaning to use skills again after a stroke, teaching the blind to 'see' with electronic input) or bad (repeating OCD compulsions deepens them further, watching hard pornography on a regular basis can make it harder to be aroused in a 'regular' sexual situation). It discusses many of the breakthroughs that help people lead normal lives and the research that discusses how neuroplasticity occurs. A great accessible read for the layperson, and a must read for anybody in psychology or medicine.more
Norman Doidge's "The Brain That Changes Itself" offers a great starting place for those of us interested in understanding the physiology behind our learning process. Those willing to take the time to read the entire book will follow Doidge's explorations documenting how a variety of terribly challenged people have overcome tremendous physical and psychological disabilities far beyond the day-to-day issues confronted in our training-teaching-learning efforts. Those with less time to spare--or shorter attention spans--can move right to the heart of Doidge’s writings on the physiology of learning by diving into the third chapter, "Redesigning the Brain"--a fascinating and game-changing exploration of the work on neuroplasticity completed by University of California, San Francisco professor emeritus Michael Merzenich. Understanding the basics of neuroplasticity helps us understand the challenges our learners face. There are, for example, times in our lives--early childhood being one that is easily and commonly recognized--when learning appears to be easier for us. "Merzenich thinks our neglect of intensive learning as we age leads the systems in the brain that modulate, regulate, and control plasticity to waste away," Doidge adds. "In response he has developed brain exercise for age-related cognitive decline--the common decline of memory, thinking and, processing speed" and his efforts are producing noteworthy results (p. 85). The conclusions for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance or any other educational endeavor are obvious. If we want to help our learners, we have to make them aware of what it takes to expedite learning.more
A very enlightening read. Amazing accounts of the brain's ability to adapt and repair etc.more
An Amazing book. The case histories are astonishing. The brain is so powerful. The thing that struck me was there are many new cutting edge learning techniques being used very successfully but they are NOT being used in our educational institutions - why not? An eye-opening and brain expanding book - use some of your plasticity and read it.more
A discussion of newly-emerging knowledge about the plasticity of the brain. This is written for the non-technical reader, in the form of a series of case studies. It is a fascinating book, and a very hopeful one.more
A fascinating look at how the brain works, presented in layman's terms. My only negative would be that it's written from a humanistic, evolutionary worldview, but that should not prevent anyone from learning more about the incredible ways the human brain functions.more
 How the brain can re-wire itself after neuronal damage. This implies that some of what we think of as biologic brain function is really learned and rewired behavior and that it can occur very rapidly. Examples given are sexual preferences and pain, as well as brain damage stories.more
The field of neuroscience is only now coming to grasp that the brain can continue to reprogram itself through a person’s whole lifetime. This book sheds light on the field of “brain plasticity” and its impacts on recovery from injury and lifelong learning.more
I suggested this book for my non-fiction group and it was a great discussion-generator. It's about the "plasticity" of the brain, which allows it to reroute functions when a portion of the brain becomes disabled. The Brain the Changes Itself was a challenging but fascinating read. Although the author had ample chance to get caught up in the jargon of his field, he never did. The author's best "trick" to keep non-scientists reading was having a person with a problem featuring prominently in each of the eleven chapters to illustrate the ideas he's covering. And for those who can't get enough of the scientific part, he has great back-notes that give either sources or further information. The weakest parts were appendices I and II, which were simply underdeveloped chapters. I would have preferred the author either develop the chapters fully or leave them out. 04/10/2010more
This book covers past and present work in neural plasticity and is written for a non-specialist to understand easily. It gives some interesting case studies, which appeals to the mainstream audience. However, I found his Freudian expositions a bit irksome. I felt throughout the book that the author had a distinct agenda: to explain how modern advances in neuroscience 1) were already proposed by Freud or 2) are evidence that Freud's theories coincide well with physiological truth.more
Substance: Accounts of current and past research into the workings of the brain, especially the results that depict its plasticity and ability to change. Encouraging stories of how people can train themselves to overcome brain dysfunctions.Style: Uses anecdotes and case histories ties to a specific researcher's work to high-light different aspects of brain science.more
Most of the books I've read about neuroscience have been written by academic neuroscientists (big surprise there, eh?), and this one was refreshing in that its author is a practicing psychiatrist/psychotherapist and thus writes from a considerably more psychological viewpoint. This is a perspective I'd really like to read more of in general. However, in this book specifically, it didn't come together extremely well. He's clearly a committed Freudian, and while I certainly lack the training to really evaluate the validity of the various Freudian frameworks, I do know that his perspective is a far way from universally accepted, and I would have appreciated a more distant perspective, covering more of the history and development of these ideas rather than focusing on his own interpretation of them. The big weakness of this book is how often he seems to be using potentially cherry-picked data and anecdotes (lots of anecdotes!) to support his own a priori conclusions, rather than honestly examining data and discussing multiple possible interpretations of them. His treatment of the actual hard science, very relevant to his subject, is generally shallow. He really goes off the rails in the chapter ostensibly about "sexual attraction and love", which includes a lengthy and not a little bit hysterical screed about the dangers of "hardcore pornography", in which he acts as if porn producers malevolently set out to rewire viewers' brains by using "'gateway sites,' to get people into the harder stuff" (yes, direct quote); appears to be shocked and appalled by the fact that college-aged males masturbate a lot; cites a 2001 internet survey from msnbc.com with absolutely no disclaimer about the scientific worth of these things (generally zero); and at one point describes a scene from a novel (Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which he refers to as "his book on American campus life") as if it were a real event recounted in a non-fiction book, which crosses the line from hysterical into just plain dishonest.The book gets a higher rating than it would otherwise get because that chapter is by far the worst, so much so that it's really out of place and could easily have just been cut out. The rest of it has some of the same weaknesses, but stands up far better. The case studies are very interesting, the detailed discussion of the neurological effects of psychotherapy is very interesting, and this is stuff that's often missing in "hard" neuroscience books. I hope to find another book that addresses this stuff without losing so much of the scientificness. (I'm not apologizing for that word either.)A final note: it's not very well organized for a non-fiction book. There were parts where I itched to put in a [citation needed]. Some things, for some reason, he elaborates on in endnotes yet fails to provide a citation. Overall the way things are organized between text, appendices and endnotes is kind of weird and confusing, and there's no "suggested reading" section outside of the notes and references section, which is disappointing in a popular text for a lay audience. It's maybe a little weird that I, obsessed as I am with David Foster "Footnotes" Wallace, would be this bothered by this. But DFW this dude is not.more
Possibly the most exciting non-fiction book I've read. Certainly the most exciting this year. What a wonderful and amazing set of stories - and so much that is useful to apply in life. I wanted to make notes and I think I will go back and do so.Not even horribly marred by the author's need to pin his psychiatrist's views on a couple of self-indulgent chapters without much underlying science.The parts that are backed by science appear very well referenced.I want to buy a heap of copies for family and friends - even though I don't think many of them would read it.more
The book is immensely satisfying science for lay readers, that is to say for people who know Sweet Fanny Adams about neuroscience but are interested in the workings of human brains. The subtitle – Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science – is a fair summary of the book’s approach to its subject: each of eleven chapters matches the work of a scientist or clinician with the story of a person who has benefited directly from that work.Seen from one point of view, the book is full of wonders. A woman born with only half a brain nevertheless reads, relates intelligently to other people, performs astonishing feats of memory, and dreams of a heaven tailor-made for her needs. People paralysed by stroke years earlier recover speech or movement through an intensive exercise regime. Persistent pain in phantom limbs is relieved using a mirror in a box. People move objects using only their imaginations (helped by electrodes attached to their brains and linked to computers).From another point of view, it charts the progress of hard science catching up with common wisdom. Contrary to the dogmas of the ‘mental health’ industry, observable changes in the brain don’t incontrovertibly indicate physical conditions that can only be remedied by drugs, surgery or electric shock. The aggressive assertions of evolutionary psychologists look even more ideologically based than they did without this evidence. addictions, including to internet pornography, Doidge is a Freudian, and describes the progress of one man’s analysis as an exercise in neuroplastic therapy. In an appendix, ‘The Culturally Modified Brain’ he writes: Neuroplastic research has shown us that every sustained activity ever mapped – including physical activities, sensory activities, learning, thinking and imagining – changes the brain as well as the mind.I’m glad my primary schooldays included endless amounts of memorising.more
The first thing to be said is that Doidge is no writer--he dangles participles like a bastard, he has a Tom Clancyish sense of the physical traits, personality points, and biographical notes that will make "brilliant physiologist Paul Bach-y-Rita" or "Holocaust survivor Eric Kandel" into the kind of pat characters whose life and work can be rolled out in a cheap moviesque narrative. Some of his sentences don't even make sense.

But that turns out to matter very little, because the material at hand here is so, so interesting. I'm a little suspicious of Doidge's "for years nobody believed in neuroplasticity, but now they realize it will FIX EVERYTHING", but I think that's more the fault of the presenter, because wow, neuroplasticity is going to fix everything! The basic concept is that while most of our mental and physical functions may live in specific locations in the brain, that's not hard and fast as suggested by old localization creed--neural maps can move, and new areas can take over for old ones, and with repetition and exercise we can train our brain to function in new ways and learn or relearn skills that brain damage should mean we've lost or never had. Help for kids with autism, aphasia, old people with Alzheimer's! Help for the deaf and blind! Understanding how falling in love wipes out our old mental maps as we neuroplastically mold to our new lovers! Amputating phantom limbs! Helping people with OCD, obsessive thoughts, chronic pain. Understanding the imagination. A sombre but not sensationalistic discussion of how neuroplasticity informs the whole internet-pornography thing. Helping people lose undesirable personality traits by learning why they developed them in the first place. Even a girl who is a little weird but fully functioning WITH ONLY HALF A BRAIN.

And let's go back, briefly, not to the brain girl, as interesting as she is, but to the personality traits thing. As an English grad student who was just laughing about how all the suggested t-shirt designs for our program feature quotations, not from literature, but from critical theorists, because that's still the way fucking English programs roll ("Dare to Dream" -Lacan. Nice sentiment coming from anyone else), what interests me is the way Doidge, obviously interested in the future of brain science but also a fairly old-school psychoanalyst and believer in the talking cure, manages to square the circle, reminding us that Freud ("Yo mama" -Freud. the others are even worse) was originally a neurologist and bringing stuff about plasticity back to the familiar ol' Freudian notions about how we learn to be who we are--and bringing Freudian notions about how we learn habits to protect our fragile psyches down to what that actually is proving to mean in the brain, and how true it's proving to be. Freud first proposed neuroplasticity. Freud first proposed the synapse, and the simultaneous firing of synapses is behind his ideas on free association. Other shit like that. I admit I'm not really qualified to evaluate the evidence coming as it does only from Doidge the true believer, but when I'm spending days in psych classes with Carrie Cuttler pooh-poohing the very notion of anything Freudian having anything relevant to say to modern psychology, which lest we forget is a real science, it's nice to get a corrective, however much truth is in it, that says hey, Freud may not be experimental science by the modern standard, but he created a model of serious explanatory power, and not just as a gussied-up metaphor the way English students use it. there is also a discussion of Marshall McLuhan in terms of how the medium actually affects the brain. Actually taking theory as referring in non-parameaningful terms to things and processes in the real world, and laying it all out for us in such compelling, even if sometimes crudely expressed, terms, is . . . well, it kind of restores your faith in the public (even the pop) intellectual, is what it does.

more
For a long time, the brain was considered to be hard-wired. When damage was done to the brain, it was thought to be irreversible and something the sufferer must simply learn to live with. 'Not so,' says researcher Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and researcher in neuroplasticity. He presents evidence of the brain's ability to re-wire itself following traumatic injury to allow other parts of the brain to completely or partially take over the activities previously associated with the injured area. He does this thru the compelling use of case histories and demonstrates the variable amounts of success patients have achieved. A thorougly engaging read that opens up a myriad of possibilities for brain research and personal improvement.more
"The Brain That Changes Itself" is about the scientists doing research on brain plasticity and some of the people who have experienced, or are experiencing changes in brain plasticity. The author has a psychiatric background; in fact he says psychoanalysis is a form of neuroplastic therapy.There are various case studies in this book, ranging from the man who was able to beat his internet porn addiction and go back to healthy relationships; the woman who was born with half a brain (and managed to mostly compensate for it); the woman who was labeled learning disabled but overcame it to teach other learning disabled children; and how most people are not too old to learn new things. In fact, it is strongly recommended in this book that people keep learning throughout life: such as learning a new language in your 50s, or learning a new skill such as dance routines. However, the book doesn't promise that every single person's brain challenges can be solved; sometimes there are hurdles such as "chemical" brain issues. It does provide encouraging news that many people can adapt to challenges given to their brains, ranging from those who suffer strokes to those who receive cochlear implants. It is not a self-help book but there are resources provided in the book for readers who might want to learn more about a particular topic that was discussed in the book.I thought this was a very readable book and a layperson unfamiliar with science and/or psychology would be able to understand it.more
An enjoyable and interesting read that I finished in one afternoon, the book explores the latest research showing how incredibly plastic the brain really is. I was already familiar with some of it, and hoping for a little more scientific depth (the jargon doesn't get much heavier than 'neuron' and various parts of the brain). But the anecdotes of patients with weirdly cool conditions and sketches of the "neuroplasticians" he meets are well done. A solid and entertaining summary, with an index and references to follow up.more
Read all 44 reviews

Reviews

Very readable account of the science of brain plasticity and its applications in therapies for people who have suffered strokes, brain traumas, addictions and old age. The appendix on "The culturally Modified Brain" is merely one high point in a brief book full of fascinating facts, insights and reflections.more
This was far too Freudian for me (ALL masochists had childhood hospitalizations & learned there to fetishize pain) as well as entirely too full of anecdotes. I like my science more, well, sciencey. There were some interesting anecdotes, to be sure, but ultimately it was not what I was looking for.

ETA: Um, yeah, I just NOW noticed the part of the title that references "stories of personal triumph" so it's my own damn fault. I hate "stories of personal triumph" as a rule.more
The first couple chapters of this book were really, really interesting to me. But by the end, I felt like it was getting a bit repetitive and I could kind of figure out the stories before he finished telling them because they all follow the same basic theme - these people showed that their brains grew by having some disability and then overcoming that disability. (Obviously that oversimplifies it quite a bit.)

In the end, very interesting book if you're interested in the brain/body, but you definitely do not need to be in the field to understand it.more
Interesting, but the kind of book that will turn people who do not have a natural tendency to be skeptics into TRUE BELIEVERS. Not my kind of thing (but I knew that from the "personal triumph" subtitle).more
Very readable examination of the ways in which medical opinion has changed on the former belief that the adult brain is incapable of developing new neurons and that specific regions of the brain's cortex are irrevocably assigned to specific functions.more
Doidge collects anecdotes from patients and researchers that bring to light the wonderful world of neuroscience and attepts to explain the concepts and principles of Neuroplasticity. It is easy to read and has great metaphors to help relate the research to the layperson.more
Best type of popular science. This book is an easy read and most inspiring - it introduces the layperson to neuroplasticity, showing how our brains are flexible and can rewire themselves in response to damage. It also shows how we can use practice, habit and our imaginations to rewire our own brains - for better or worse. You will not think in the same way after you have read this. Highly recommended.more
A fascinating, albeit some what repetitive look at how the human mind works and changes.more
This is a fascinating explanation of how the brain can change: how areas once devoted to a specific function or area of expertise can change their role if required; how people can use specific mental and physical exercises to promote healing after a stroke or brain injury; how we can keep our brains sharp. It is written in an engaging style, including several stories of real people that are inspiring. The scientific aspects are well explained for a lay reader.more
This was actually my third attempt at this book. Not that it is not a good book. It is actually a fantastic book. Engaging, not hard to read, etc. It just seems to be one of those books you really need to be in the right mood for. January seemed to finally be it as I ran through half the book on the first day. This book discusses breakthroughs in neuroplasticity, or the science of how our brain changes with input from the environment. Cognitive theorists viewed the adult brain as a 'machine' capable of very little actual change. Science shows our brains are constantly changing with new input for good (leaning to use skills again after a stroke, teaching the blind to 'see' with electronic input) or bad (repeating OCD compulsions deepens them further, watching hard pornography on a regular basis can make it harder to be aroused in a 'regular' sexual situation). It discusses many of the breakthroughs that help people lead normal lives and the research that discusses how neuroplasticity occurs. A great accessible read for the layperson, and a must read for anybody in psychology or medicine.more
Norman Doidge's "The Brain That Changes Itself" offers a great starting place for those of us interested in understanding the physiology behind our learning process. Those willing to take the time to read the entire book will follow Doidge's explorations documenting how a variety of terribly challenged people have overcome tremendous physical and psychological disabilities far beyond the day-to-day issues confronted in our training-teaching-learning efforts. Those with less time to spare--or shorter attention spans--can move right to the heart of Doidge’s writings on the physiology of learning by diving into the third chapter, "Redesigning the Brain"--a fascinating and game-changing exploration of the work on neuroplasticity completed by University of California, San Francisco professor emeritus Michael Merzenich. Understanding the basics of neuroplasticity helps us understand the challenges our learners face. There are, for example, times in our lives--early childhood being one that is easily and commonly recognized--when learning appears to be easier for us. "Merzenich thinks our neglect of intensive learning as we age leads the systems in the brain that modulate, regulate, and control plasticity to waste away," Doidge adds. "In response he has developed brain exercise for age-related cognitive decline--the common decline of memory, thinking and, processing speed" and his efforts are producing noteworthy results (p. 85). The conclusions for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance or any other educational endeavor are obvious. If we want to help our learners, we have to make them aware of what it takes to expedite learning.more
A very enlightening read. Amazing accounts of the brain's ability to adapt and repair etc.more
An Amazing book. The case histories are astonishing. The brain is so powerful. The thing that struck me was there are many new cutting edge learning techniques being used very successfully but they are NOT being used in our educational institutions - why not? An eye-opening and brain expanding book - use some of your plasticity and read it.more
A discussion of newly-emerging knowledge about the plasticity of the brain. This is written for the non-technical reader, in the form of a series of case studies. It is a fascinating book, and a very hopeful one.more
A fascinating look at how the brain works, presented in layman's terms. My only negative would be that it's written from a humanistic, evolutionary worldview, but that should not prevent anyone from learning more about the incredible ways the human brain functions.more
 How the brain can re-wire itself after neuronal damage. This implies that some of what we think of as biologic brain function is really learned and rewired behavior and that it can occur very rapidly. Examples given are sexual preferences and pain, as well as brain damage stories.more
The field of neuroscience is only now coming to grasp that the brain can continue to reprogram itself through a person’s whole lifetime. This book sheds light on the field of “brain plasticity” and its impacts on recovery from injury and lifelong learning.more
I suggested this book for my non-fiction group and it was a great discussion-generator. It's about the "plasticity" of the brain, which allows it to reroute functions when a portion of the brain becomes disabled. The Brain the Changes Itself was a challenging but fascinating read. Although the author had ample chance to get caught up in the jargon of his field, he never did. The author's best "trick" to keep non-scientists reading was having a person with a problem featuring prominently in each of the eleven chapters to illustrate the ideas he's covering. And for those who can't get enough of the scientific part, he has great back-notes that give either sources or further information. The weakest parts were appendices I and II, which were simply underdeveloped chapters. I would have preferred the author either develop the chapters fully or leave them out. 04/10/2010more
This book covers past and present work in neural plasticity and is written for a non-specialist to understand easily. It gives some interesting case studies, which appeals to the mainstream audience. However, I found his Freudian expositions a bit irksome. I felt throughout the book that the author had a distinct agenda: to explain how modern advances in neuroscience 1) were already proposed by Freud or 2) are evidence that Freud's theories coincide well with physiological truth.more
Substance: Accounts of current and past research into the workings of the brain, especially the results that depict its plasticity and ability to change. Encouraging stories of how people can train themselves to overcome brain dysfunctions.Style: Uses anecdotes and case histories ties to a specific researcher's work to high-light different aspects of brain science.more
Most of the books I've read about neuroscience have been written by academic neuroscientists (big surprise there, eh?), and this one was refreshing in that its author is a practicing psychiatrist/psychotherapist and thus writes from a considerably more psychological viewpoint. This is a perspective I'd really like to read more of in general. However, in this book specifically, it didn't come together extremely well. He's clearly a committed Freudian, and while I certainly lack the training to really evaluate the validity of the various Freudian frameworks, I do know that his perspective is a far way from universally accepted, and I would have appreciated a more distant perspective, covering more of the history and development of these ideas rather than focusing on his own interpretation of them. The big weakness of this book is how often he seems to be using potentially cherry-picked data and anecdotes (lots of anecdotes!) to support his own a priori conclusions, rather than honestly examining data and discussing multiple possible interpretations of them. His treatment of the actual hard science, very relevant to his subject, is generally shallow. He really goes off the rails in the chapter ostensibly about "sexual attraction and love", which includes a lengthy and not a little bit hysterical screed about the dangers of "hardcore pornography", in which he acts as if porn producers malevolently set out to rewire viewers' brains by using "'gateway sites,' to get people into the harder stuff" (yes, direct quote); appears to be shocked and appalled by the fact that college-aged males masturbate a lot; cites a 2001 internet survey from msnbc.com with absolutely no disclaimer about the scientific worth of these things (generally zero); and at one point describes a scene from a novel (Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which he refers to as "his book on American campus life") as if it were a real event recounted in a non-fiction book, which crosses the line from hysterical into just plain dishonest.The book gets a higher rating than it would otherwise get because that chapter is by far the worst, so much so that it's really out of place and could easily have just been cut out. The rest of it has some of the same weaknesses, but stands up far better. The case studies are very interesting, the detailed discussion of the neurological effects of psychotherapy is very interesting, and this is stuff that's often missing in "hard" neuroscience books. I hope to find another book that addresses this stuff without losing so much of the scientificness. (I'm not apologizing for that word either.)A final note: it's not very well organized for a non-fiction book. There were parts where I itched to put in a [citation needed]. Some things, for some reason, he elaborates on in endnotes yet fails to provide a citation. Overall the way things are organized between text, appendices and endnotes is kind of weird and confusing, and there's no "suggested reading" section outside of the notes and references section, which is disappointing in a popular text for a lay audience. It's maybe a little weird that I, obsessed as I am with David Foster "Footnotes" Wallace, would be this bothered by this. But DFW this dude is not.more
Possibly the most exciting non-fiction book I've read. Certainly the most exciting this year. What a wonderful and amazing set of stories - and so much that is useful to apply in life. I wanted to make notes and I think I will go back and do so.Not even horribly marred by the author's need to pin his psychiatrist's views on a couple of self-indulgent chapters without much underlying science.The parts that are backed by science appear very well referenced.I want to buy a heap of copies for family and friends - even though I don't think many of them would read it.more
The book is immensely satisfying science for lay readers, that is to say for people who know Sweet Fanny Adams about neuroscience but are interested in the workings of human brains. The subtitle – Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science – is a fair summary of the book’s approach to its subject: each of eleven chapters matches the work of a scientist or clinician with the story of a person who has benefited directly from that work.Seen from one point of view, the book is full of wonders. A woman born with only half a brain nevertheless reads, relates intelligently to other people, performs astonishing feats of memory, and dreams of a heaven tailor-made for her needs. People paralysed by stroke years earlier recover speech or movement through an intensive exercise regime. Persistent pain in phantom limbs is relieved using a mirror in a box. People move objects using only their imaginations (helped by electrodes attached to their brains and linked to computers).From another point of view, it charts the progress of hard science catching up with common wisdom. Contrary to the dogmas of the ‘mental health’ industry, observable changes in the brain don’t incontrovertibly indicate physical conditions that can only be remedied by drugs, surgery or electric shock. The aggressive assertions of evolutionary psychologists look even more ideologically based than they did without this evidence. addictions, including to internet pornography, Doidge is a Freudian, and describes the progress of one man’s analysis as an exercise in neuroplastic therapy. In an appendix, ‘The Culturally Modified Brain’ he writes: Neuroplastic research has shown us that every sustained activity ever mapped – including physical activities, sensory activities, learning, thinking and imagining – changes the brain as well as the mind.I’m glad my primary schooldays included endless amounts of memorising.more
The first thing to be said is that Doidge is no writer--he dangles participles like a bastard, he has a Tom Clancyish sense of the physical traits, personality points, and biographical notes that will make "brilliant physiologist Paul Bach-y-Rita" or "Holocaust survivor Eric Kandel" into the kind of pat characters whose life and work can be rolled out in a cheap moviesque narrative. Some of his sentences don't even make sense.

But that turns out to matter very little, because the material at hand here is so, so interesting. I'm a little suspicious of Doidge's "for years nobody believed in neuroplasticity, but now they realize it will FIX EVERYTHING", but I think that's more the fault of the presenter, because wow, neuroplasticity is going to fix everything! The basic concept is that while most of our mental and physical functions may live in specific locations in the brain, that's not hard and fast as suggested by old localization creed--neural maps can move, and new areas can take over for old ones, and with repetition and exercise we can train our brain to function in new ways and learn or relearn skills that brain damage should mean we've lost or never had. Help for kids with autism, aphasia, old people with Alzheimer's! Help for the deaf and blind! Understanding how falling in love wipes out our old mental maps as we neuroplastically mold to our new lovers! Amputating phantom limbs! Helping people with OCD, obsessive thoughts, chronic pain. Understanding the imagination. A sombre but not sensationalistic discussion of how neuroplasticity informs the whole internet-pornography thing. Helping people lose undesirable personality traits by learning why they developed them in the first place. Even a girl who is a little weird but fully functioning WITH ONLY HALF A BRAIN.

And let's go back, briefly, not to the brain girl, as interesting as she is, but to the personality traits thing. As an English grad student who was just laughing about how all the suggested t-shirt designs for our program feature quotations, not from literature, but from critical theorists, because that's still the way fucking English programs roll ("Dare to Dream" -Lacan. Nice sentiment coming from anyone else), what interests me is the way Doidge, obviously interested in the future of brain science but also a fairly old-school psychoanalyst and believer in the talking cure, manages to square the circle, reminding us that Freud ("Yo mama" -Freud. the others are even worse) was originally a neurologist and bringing stuff about plasticity back to the familiar ol' Freudian notions about how we learn to be who we are--and bringing Freudian notions about how we learn habits to protect our fragile psyches down to what that actually is proving to mean in the brain, and how true it's proving to be. Freud first proposed neuroplasticity. Freud first proposed the synapse, and the simultaneous firing of synapses is behind his ideas on free association. Other shit like that. I admit I'm not really qualified to evaluate the evidence coming as it does only from Doidge the true believer, but when I'm spending days in psych classes with Carrie Cuttler pooh-poohing the very notion of anything Freudian having anything relevant to say to modern psychology, which lest we forget is a real science, it's nice to get a corrective, however much truth is in it, that says hey, Freud may not be experimental science by the modern standard, but he created a model of serious explanatory power, and not just as a gussied-up metaphor the way English students use it. there is also a discussion of Marshall McLuhan in terms of how the medium actually affects the brain. Actually taking theory as referring in non-parameaningful terms to things and processes in the real world, and laying it all out for us in such compelling, even if sometimes crudely expressed, terms, is . . . well, it kind of restores your faith in the public (even the pop) intellectual, is what it does.

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For a long time, the brain was considered to be hard-wired. When damage was done to the brain, it was thought to be irreversible and something the sufferer must simply learn to live with. 'Not so,' says researcher Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist and researcher in neuroplasticity. He presents evidence of the brain's ability to re-wire itself following traumatic injury to allow other parts of the brain to completely or partially take over the activities previously associated with the injured area. He does this thru the compelling use of case histories and demonstrates the variable amounts of success patients have achieved. A thorougly engaging read that opens up a myriad of possibilities for brain research and personal improvement.more
"The Brain That Changes Itself" is about the scientists doing research on brain plasticity and some of the people who have experienced, or are experiencing changes in brain plasticity. The author has a psychiatric background; in fact he says psychoanalysis is a form of neuroplastic therapy.There are various case studies in this book, ranging from the man who was able to beat his internet porn addiction and go back to healthy relationships; the woman who was born with half a brain (and managed to mostly compensate for it); the woman who was labeled learning disabled but overcame it to teach other learning disabled children; and how most people are not too old to learn new things. In fact, it is strongly recommended in this book that people keep learning throughout life: such as learning a new language in your 50s, or learning a new skill such as dance routines. However, the book doesn't promise that every single person's brain challenges can be solved; sometimes there are hurdles such as "chemical" brain issues. It does provide encouraging news that many people can adapt to challenges given to their brains, ranging from those who suffer strokes to those who receive cochlear implants. It is not a self-help book but there are resources provided in the book for readers who might want to learn more about a particular topic that was discussed in the book.I thought this was a very readable book and a layperson unfamiliar with science and/or psychology would be able to understand it.more
An enjoyable and interesting read that I finished in one afternoon, the book explores the latest research showing how incredibly plastic the brain really is. I was already familiar with some of it, and hoping for a little more scientific depth (the jargon doesn't get much heavier than 'neuron' and various parts of the brain). But the anecdotes of patients with weirdly cool conditions and sketches of the "neuroplasticians" he meets are well done. A solid and entertaining summary, with an index and references to follow up.more
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