Aaron's Reviews > The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force

The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz
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Jan 01, 11

bookshelves: social-science, philosophy-religion, just-terrible
Read in March, 2009

"Sitting somewhere between purely mental events and purely sensory ones is this vast sea of life called experience." (p. 250) And somewhere between the worst of bad popular science writing and New Age pseudo-philosophy lies this horrendous mess. Where to begin?

I have so many problems with this book that it's a challenge to put them together in a meaningful and organized fashion. Here's my best shot.

First, this book is supposedly intended to be a science book. However, there is not a single footnote in the entire text. There are notes at the end of the book (endnotes), but they are detached from the exact references, only listing the page to which they refer. What is the sense of this? I've never seen a book that does that before. It makes no sense. It's inefficient, inexact, and serves no one.

Second, the book varies between third person and first person descriptions. Furthermore, the authors use the first person singular, despite the fact that both Schwartz and Begley are clearly listed as coauthors. Poor taste. I assume Schwartz is the lead author because he references his own work on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and because Begley's book Train Your Mind Change Your Brain has a different tone and style. Scientific writers, in good taste, generally refrain from the first person when writing, unless they can pull it off effectively. Schwartz (and Begley) cannot and should not try.

Third, the topics and the style of writing are all over the map. Schwartz can't seem to make up his mind what should be the subject of his book, or for that matter even what kind of book he's trying to write. He wanders between trivial anecdotes of his attempts to be recognized by the medical community, blunt criticisms of the dogmatic medical community marginalizing important research on neuroplasticity, long winded explanations of research and legal battles over the Silver Spring monkeys, philosophical perspectives on free will and determinism haphazardly tossed in (without being clearly or meaningfully applied to the issues of the book), and, of course, some quantum physics for good measure. You would think it would be rather difficult to clearly and succinctly tie all these topics together under a single heading; apparently it is, and the task was well beyond the skills of the author. Schwartz doesn't commit himself to exploring any of these issues, and settles for literary name-dropping.


Finally, the cover. The title is The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. The name sounds impressive, and the cover art looks like a medical illustration of the brain (the scalp with the skin peeled back. This looks like an illustration of the meninges, not the "brain" proper (not cortex or brain stem), which makes an odd choice for the cover art. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., and Sharon Begley are listed as the authors; however, the book is written mostly in the first person singular ("I") not the first person plural ("we"), which leads me to believe that Schwartz wrote this mostly himself and Begley was tacked on. What exactly was Begley's contribution? Maybe not important, but certainly not clear and certainly poor taste; the first person is generally discouraged from scientific writing, and this book is fine example why. George Gilder provides a one-line review for the cover: "Stirring... a daring rescue of the concept of the free human will." This is, of course, to attract attention to the book as an argument for the concept of free will, written in casual pop science language. I bring up all these points because together they all suggest that this is a book aimed at a general audience without much familiarity with neuropsychology or philosophy, but who are concerned and probably anxious about their own freedom and inner conflicts. Basically it's good marketing.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob Hansen Stylistic critiques hardly invalidate the information presented. Also, if scientifically written rigorous sourcing. is what you desire, why not consult pages 376-408 for further reading? (the much maligned endnotes)


message 2: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark The review here is borderline ad hom, as the reviewer seems to care more about the author and his style versus the information presented within the book.

I find it interesting you failed to really address any of the main specific scientific points in the book. While I am not finished with it yet(about half way), I have yet to see the issues you've presented as anything but a personal dislike of the style and content of the book rather than any issues with actual evidence and information presented within it. It seems to be more of personal problem rather than a scientific one.

"He wanders between trivial anecdotes of his attempts to be recognized by the medical community, blunt criticisms of the dogmatic medical community marginalizing important research on neuroplasticity,"

^^ HOW exactly are these matters trivial? If true, its a game changer for the ENTIRE field. Thats one of the main points of the book.

The fact of the matter here is that neuroscience is changing on this topic BECAUSE of evidence and a lack of reasonable materialistic explanations for what we do have. The biggest issue isn't the evidence but opening the minds of the people looking at it. Theres ALWAYS resistance in scientific fields to the status quo. Neuroplasticity does and is consistent with the evidence for the idea that MIND exists outside the brain, among other things. Its consistent with evidence and makes sense of it. Sorry if thats personally hard for those that don't want it to be true.

I think the biggest question in all this is WHY exactly are people so strongly opposed to the idea in the first place? 95 percent of the universe is composed of a substance that we are almost completely clueless about and yet we have such strong resistance to the idea that maybe consciousness can exist outside the brain? God forbid we might be mistaken about the most complex organism in the universe. For those that don't obsess with maintaining a materialistic view on anything and everything, this book is easy to believe and makes a lot more sense of what we, as humans, experience everyday.


Jeremy Gonzalez he's got one thing right. It has a real nice book cover.


Jeremy Gonzalez But Schwartz is a pretty well respected researcher and M.D. His work on OCD and CBT had a pretty large impact on the field.


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