The Brain That Changes Itself
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science NORMAN DOIDGE, M.D.
For Eugene L. Goldberg, M.D., because you said you might like to read it
1 A Woman Perpetually Falling . . . Rescued by the Man Who Discovered the Plasticity of Our Senses 2 Building Herself a Better Brain A Woman Labeled "Retarded" Discovers How to Heal Herself 3 Redesigning the Brain A Scientist Changes Brains to Sharpen Perception and Memory, Increase Speed of Thought, and Heal Learning Problems 4 Acquiring Tastes and Loves What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love 5 Midnight Resurrections Stroke Victims Learn to Move and Speak Again 6 Brain Lock Unlocked Using Plasticity to Stop Worries, OPsessions, Compulsions, and Bad Habits 7 Pain The Dark Side of Plasticity 8 Imagination How Thinking Makes It So 9 Turning Our Ghosts into Ancestors Psychoanalysis as a Neuroplastic Therapy 10 Rejuvenation The Discovery of the Neuronal Stem Cell and Lessons for Preserving Our Brains 11 More than the Sum of Her Parts
A Woman Shows Us How Radically Plastic the Brain Can Be Appendix 1 The Culturally Modified Brain Appendix 2 Plasticity and the Idea of Progress
Note to the Reader
All the names of people who have undergone neuroplastic transformations are real, except in the few places indicated, and in the cases of children and their families. The Notes and References section at the end of the book includes comments on both the chapters and the appendices.
This book is about the revolutionary discovery that the human brain can change itself, as told through the stories of the scientists, doctors, and patients who have together brought about these astonishing transformations. Without operations or medications, they have made use of the brain's hitherto unknown ability to change. Some were patients who had what were thought to be incurable brain problems; others were people without specific problems who simply wanted to improve the functioning of their brains or preserve them as they aged. For four hundred years this venture would have been inconceivable because mainstream medicine and science believed that brain anatomy was fixed. The common wisdom was that after childhood the brain changed only when it began the long process of decline; that when brain cells failed to develop properly, or were injured, or died, they could not be replaced. Nor could the brain ever alter its structure and find a new way to function if part of it was damaged. The theory of the unchanging brain decreed that people who were born with brain or mental limitations, or who sustained brain damage, would be limited or damaged for life. Scientists who wondered if the healthy brain might be improved or preserved through activity or mental exercise were told not to waste their time, A neurological nihilism — a sense that treatment for many brain problems was ineffective or even unwarranted — had taken hold, and it spread through our culture, even stunting our overall view of human nature. Since the brain could not change, human nature, which emerges from it, seemed necessarily fixed and unalterable as well. The belief that the brain could not change had three major sources: the fact that brain-damaged patients could so rarely make full recoveries; our inability to observe the living brain's microscopic activities; and the idea — dating back to the beginnings of modern science — that the brain is like a glorious machine. And while machines do many extraordinary things, they don't change and grow. I became interested in the idea of a changing brain because of my work as a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. When patients did not progress psychologically as much as hoped, often the conventional medical wisdom was that their problems were deeply "hardwired" into an unchangeable brain. "Hardwiring" was another machine metaphor coming from the idea of the brain as computer hardware, with...
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