The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

My friend raved about how awesome this book is so I picked up a copy for myself.

It is an awesome book. Go read it.

The general opinion was once that the brain was hardwired and that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. If part of the brain malfunctions or is injured then too bad, that’s what you’re stuck with.
But that is a lie. Our brains are capable of remarkable changes. This book examines neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change. It isn’t self-help book, though I am sure you can use it that way. What this book does is present to us the people beyond the research and the people who have been helped by it. In the first chapter is a story of a woman with a severely damaged vestibular system, who constantly felt like she was falling (even while lying down). Through retraining the brain (using the tongue) she was able to retrain her brain and get her life back. In chapter 5 is the story of a researcher who experimented on monkeys and as a result, had his life destroyed by PETA. But he picked up the pieces and developed therapy that helps stroke victims regain speech and movement in paralyzed limbs and for amputees to lose ongoing pain in phantom limbs. There is even a person born with only half a brain!

One interesting mention at the end was a technique to improve drawing skills. Apparently the “analytical” left hemisphere of the brain can inhibit the right hemisphere and one way to lesson this is to sketch upside-down reference pictures. The study group drew better looking at an image that way compared with the right way up. Sounds pretty nifty. I’m going to give a go when I next feel motivated to draw (which sadly, isn’t that often so my drawing ability has plummeted).

Probably not the best written book out there but the important thing is that it is written at the right level and so is accessible to people without a background in the area. I read a book by Richard Dawkins and it was just oozing with eloquence and intelligence. But it was above my level and I really struggled to follow and retain the content, despite my biology background.

I recommend the people of the internets to read this book. You don’t need a mental problem or know someone who has a problem to get something out of this book and be inspired by the awesome work of the researchers and by the amazing stories of recovery and triumph.
See, science is good.


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