One of my unusual interests in books is the world of neurology, a passion which has grown over the last few years since I first read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, a book which I have talked about at some length before in this blog. From there I tracked down the rest of Oliver Sacks’ extensive range of books on neurology, before branching out towards other authors. And, inevitably, I came across one of the most amazing books I have ever read, and one I want to share with you now, The Brain That Changes Itself : Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge.
This book is the result of research that Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, conducted into neuroplasticity, during which he met both the scientists behind it and the people whose lives have been radically transformed because of this amazing trait of our brains. What is neuroplasticity, you ask? It is the name given to the ability of the brain to change itself, to change both its structure and function, even into old age, and to adapt to a wide array of various traumas, limitations, and even just simply to change with new lifestyles. Up until the last few decades, it was believed the brain was fixed in its structure, hard wired in such a way that if a part of the brain was damaged, there wasn’t much that could be done to help. But this book, and the concept of neuroplasticity, sets out to show how wrong that previous understanding really was.
The Brain That Changes Itself is presented in a very accessible format, created with the intention of attracting all kinds of readers and generally spreading awareness of and appreciation for this incredible science. The book is mostly made up of various case studies, illustrating the amazing people who have undergone change through the processes neuroplasticity enables us. Some of these include a woman who is born with only half a brain, which manages to rewire itself to work as a fully functional brain; a lecturer who suffers a stroke, is told he will never talk or walk again, and, due to the perseverance of a family member, and neuroplasticity, manages to be back lecturing again only a year later; and people using brain exercises to raise their IQs and cure learning disorders. There are also people who change lifelong personality traits, people who manage to overcome depression and anxiety, people who manage to relieve themselves from painful phantom limbs, and so much more.
Some of these stories in this book are so amazing that you would almost think you were reading a fiction book, and it is quite remarkable that these are all true stories, which act as a beacon of hope for people all around the world. If you want to be inspired, and to learn things about the brain you never thought imaginable, this book is a very good place to start.
Have you read this book already, or heard of neuroplasticity from elsewhere? If so, what are your thoughts on the matter?