Jafar's Reviews > The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
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's review
Dec 20, 2008

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The book is about neuroplasticity: the idea that our thoughts and experiences can rewire and change the structure of our brains. This may sound like a revolutionary idea in an age when too many people talk about a brain hardwired by our genes, and the author certainly dramatizes this point and wants to portray his book as representing a novel and ground-breaking idea, but somehow what the book says didn’t come across to me as revolutionary as it claims. Maybe because I’ve already read Ramachandran and was familiar with some of these “neuroplasticity” ideas? I don’t know. Some ideas in this book are common sense and common knowledge, like avoiding Alzheimer’s disease in the old age by living a life of intense mental activity.

The author seems to have ignored the basic rule of science that you cannot make general claims based on some individual cases. I blame that on his being a psychoanalyst. His long chapter on neuroplasticity providing a scientific explanation for psychoanalysis (aren’t psychoanalysts sore about being snubbed by hard scientists!) left me scratching my head. Some inveterate and hardened middle-aged man named Mr. L. finally breaks down after long sessions of analysis and cries, I want my mommy. I wondered what that had to do with neuroplasticity. The chapter on love, sex, and pornography (what a trio) makes all sorts of over-generalized claims. There are parts of the book that sound like a sales pitch for the products of companies that are doing research in neuroplasticity. However, there are also a few fascinating stories in the book that show a radical restructuring of the brain when individuals are subjected to drastically different life experiences or stimulating brain exercise programs.
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