Tuesday, March 10, 2009


This is an important book which I highly recommend:
The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge (Penguin, 2007).

Doidge is a psychoanalyst who has done a fine job compiling evidence from recent neuroscience research, and from some older but neglected neuroscience research, that the brain has a tremendous capacity--a capacity which is arguably its most basic, core, innate quality-- for change and adaptation.

The idea of the brain as permanently "hard-wired" is refuted, with solid evidence.

Many of these ideas I have always felt to be obvious truths. For example, it seems an obvious necessity that the brain would have to build new connections in order to form any new thought, experience any new feeling, store any new memory, learn any new skill. But the degree to which whole areas of the brain can "re-wire" themselves is extremely interesting, and the evidence Doidge presents is very convincing.

Also, it has always been an obvious truth to me that any kind of sensitive neuroimaging device would of course demonstrate changes following a successful course of therapy (or of any other sort of learning or substantive life change).

The therapeutic applications based on this book are numerous, here are a few I can think of:

1) structured, intensive practice could lead to far greater effects than what has previously been assumed. The brain itself, as well as people in society, informed by culturally-based attitudes, tend to "work around" problems if the situation allows, whereas it can be the case that the problems themselves can be solved directly under the right conditions. For example, if an English-speaking person moves to a small town in a foreign country, that person will quickly learn that new foreign language, if it is necessary in order to survive. But if there are numerous English speakers in that small town, that person may not learn much of the new language at all.
We may need a type of immersive, constrained experience in order to compel our brain to develop a new faculty.

2) structured, intensive activities that have become part of a cultural norm (e.g. internet use, TV watching, etc.) could substantially alter the brain's connectivity and functionality, to optimally adapt to these new media. This could serve us well, culturally--but it may come at a cost of reduced functionality in media away from the TV or internet, particularly with respect to sustained attention, other intellectual and emotional faculties, and various types of social interaction.

3) Addictive processes are fed by the brain's capacity to adapt, to "re-wire" itself to expect a frequently reinforced behavioural pathway. "Un-learning" addictive behaviour once again may require a massive amount of work, akin to learning a new language.

--I have yet to review all of the references cited in this book. I think the primary source data will be important to go through in detail. There are some areas and claims that I think may possibly be overstated, in my opinion. But first I would like to review the evidence directly. I actually find the term "neuroplasticity" somewhat annoying, especially when therapeutic ideas are labeled "neuroplasticity-based treatments", etc. --I would say in response that ALL therapy, of ANY sort, is of course "neuroplasticity-based", so such lingo is unnecessary, and rings of salesmanship to me (indeed, there are several corporate ventures mentioned in the book). What matters most is the new types of therapeutic ideas that have been conceived by some of the researchers cited in the book, and how well they can work for very entrenched problems.

In the meantime, I do recommend Doidge's book highly.


Anonymous said...

This is one of the authors that was mentioned in the book.


In general:
A good website I go to watch "education".

Better than T.V.!!!

www.ted.com (ideas worth spreading)

GK said...

thanks, ted.com is a great educational site!