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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
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
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