And yes that includes our so called “defective,” “mentally ill,” “brain disordered,” “schizophrenic,” and “bipolar” brains!! For my other pieces on neuroplasticity look here.
I usually try to stay away from copying whole articles these days, but a friend the other day told me fair use laws allow for this sort of copying for educational and non-commercial purposes. And I have linked to the original piece. In general I ask permission if it’s an individual, but this is a newspaper article with no cited author so it’s not so easy.
The brain man
September 10, 2008 – From The Age
THE elegant, old-world dining room of the Hotel Windsor during afternoon tea is the perfect setting to talk about the nature of consciousness, and Norman Doidge is on a roll. We’re here to talk about the revolution in brain science known as neuroplasticity and Dr Doidge has drifted slightly off topic.
“The big question in brain science has to do with consciousness, and it may well be that there’s some type of integration between quantum physics, consciousness and mind,” he says. “Nobody knows for sure, but many arrows are pointing in that direction.”
The discussion is engaging — if a little surreal at times — and it’s a good 15 minutes before we think to pour our tea.
A poet, essayist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who divides his time between Toronto and New York, Doidge is the author of The Brain That Changes Itself, an international bestseller translated into 14 languages, published in 40 countries and essential primer for anyone who wants to better understand their own brains and the considerable advances in neuroscience of the past two decades.
For 400 years, says Doidge, scientists saw the brain as a machine made up of parts that performed specific single functions. “According to that way of thinking, this meant that if a part was damaged, nothing could be done, and it made no sense to try to preserve your brain as you aged, that was pointless effort. And it regarded human nature, which emerges from the brain, as being as fixed as the brain. This turns out to be spectacularly wrong.”
In fact, we now know that the brain has a remarkable capacity for change, for repair and healing after injury and for learning, from cradle to grave. Gone is the idea that the brain you were born with is the brain you are stuck with and that once you reach your mental peak it’s all downhill into doddery dotage.
Given the right training and treatment, the brain can rewire itself to perform essential functions after even severe damage, and can improve itself through exercise — hence the recent explosion of brain fitness software.
Doidge is in town between writers’ festivals — Christchurch earlier this week, Brisbane next week — and tonight will take part in the Melbourne Conversations series at Federation Square, where he will be joined by brain scientists from the Howard Florey Institute and Natasha Mitchell, presenter of Radio National’s All in the Mind, to talk about things neurological.
The discussion promises to be far-reaching and fascinating. During our chat at the Windsor, Doidge ranges across topics including how culture shapes our brains, the “immaterial” nature of thought, psychosomatic medicine, free will and the mind, the closing gap between Western and Eastern world views, Freud, Cartesian dualism, the potential for abuse of our new neurological knowledge and the relative effectiveness of brainwashing versus indoctrination methods.
There is an intellectual rigour to Doidge’s manner, an unwillingness to oversimplify or to gloss over nuance and detail. And while thrilled about the potential our understanding of neuroplasticity offers society, he also sees downsides, especially in the effects on the brain of modern technology, particularly on the young.
“One of the things that is most characteristic of young people these days is the extent to which they are always wired up to some sort of technology.
“Any technology that we use rewires our brains — pencil and paper rewire our brains. But the problem with modern electronic technologies is that they’re extremely compatible with the brain. They emit electronic signals and the brain starts to take on the characteristics of those technologies. There’s no doubt in my mind that the internet, for instance, and the habits people get from web surfing, are leading to a decrease in attention span.
“Television has contributed to this, too. In your typical TV commercial there’s a change of shot every second, which triggers the brain’s orient response, and after a while people start to feel that if they’re not inundated with novelty they get bored and are unable to pay attention.”
And what of the risk of abuse or manipulation by the unscrupulous?
“There’s never been any important human discovery — fire, understanding of illnesses, you name it — that hasn’t been abused by somebody,” Doidge says. “We learn about viruses or bacteria and somebody wants to put them in weapons to kill people.
“Freudian insights were used by Madison Avenue and elsewhere in marketing to sell everything with sex and power. Yes, you can count of the fact that neuroplastic discoveries in some cases will be abused. I’ve thought a lot about that, and when writing my book I wondered whether the potential for good here is greater the potential for harm — I think the potential for good is greater than for harm.”