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The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force

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A groundbreaking work of science that confirms, for the first time, the independent existence of the mind–and demonstrates the possibilities for human control over the workings of the brain.

Conventional science has long held the position that 'the mind' is merely an illusion, a side effect of electrochemical activity in the physical brain. Now in paperback, Dr Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley's groundbreaking work, The Mind and the Brain, argues exactly the opposite: that the mind has a life of its own.Dr Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and Wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain. Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult neuroplasticity–the brain's ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by neuroscientists.

Through decades of work treating patients with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed, his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones, Schwartz's patients were using their minds to reshape their brains–and discovering a thrilling new dimension to the concept of neuroplasticity.

The Mind and the Brain follows Schwartz as he investigates this newly discovered power, which he calls self–directed neuroplasticity or, more simply, mental force. It describes his work with noted physicist Henry Stapp and connects the concept of 'mental force' with the ancient practice of mindfulness in Buddhist tradition. And it points to potential new applications that could transform the treatment of almost every variety of neurological dysfunction, from dyslexia to stroke–and could lead to new strategies to help us harness our mental powers. Yet as wondrous as these implications are, perhaps even more important is the philosophical dimension of Schwartz's work. For the existence of mental force offers convincing scientific evidence of human free will, and thus of man's inherent capacity for moral choice.

432 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2001

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About the author

Jeffrey M. Schwartz

14 books141 followers
M.D.,
Research Psychiatrist,
Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences,
University of California, Los Angeles

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 178 reviews
Profile Image for Aaron.
309 reviews43 followers
January 1, 2011
"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.
Profile Image for Ella.
736 reviews126 followers
January 1, 2020
Badly written, much like my original review. I'm changing it b/c the comments reflect that I did not explain myself well AT ALL. Firstly, I like these authors usually. Secondly, I do believe strongly in neuroplasticity. I work in TBI (traumatic brain injury) and trauma - if I didn't believe in neuroplasticity, I'd have to change fields. Somehow I didn't make that clear. My issue with this book is not that I don't somehow "believe in" neuroplasticity, but that I do not think the authors were very clear nor did they do anyone a service by adding a bunch of stuff about "mental force" in the early 2000s when they wrote/published this. Everything below is exactly as it was originally (in 2010, when I joined GR, years after reading this book, all of which is out of date now...) except that I've added some underlining, italics, bold & the note at the end. I have tried to pretend it's 2002 as I'm adding these things until the note:

To the author "mental force" (some of you may have heard this same idea called "soul" or "mind" or "free will" or countless other things people create when we haven't figured it out just yet) is bigger than the possibilities created by the plasticity of our wonderful brains.

The authors ignore the very plasticity they mention in their title in favor of their term "mental force."

There is power in exercising our brains. When we think -- positively or negatively, when we act purposefully or automatically, when we USE our brains, they do -- in fact -- change (add: This is called neuroplasticity or just plain old plasticity.) Ask anyone who has ever had any sort of brain injury. Do it repeatedly and you can even learn things! You can feel differently by thinking differently -- ask your favorite cognitive psychologist. This is nothing new. It's wrapped up in a bow w/ some added nonsense filling the package, but [that added nonsense] is just plain wrong. I believe that the actual process works, but I don't believe for a minute that the authors explain why.

NB: I read this book when it was released in the early aughts. It is now 2020, and maybe I should just delete this entire review and the book from my shelves, but I'd rather note that this book is out of date, was written early in the hoopla of neuroplasticity long before now, and that reading it is probably not of value to anyone who wants to be up-to-date or even well-informed on neuroplasticity. Always check the dates on science books - especially popular ones, because the books that are cutting edge right now are not going to be cutting edge (and may be unsupported) in just a few years.
Profile Image for Heather.
93 reviews85 followers
January 4, 2023
This book is extremely informative in many aspects of the physical and mental processes of the brain and mind. Although Dr. Schwartz emphasized that the intent of his experiments, understandings and knowledge was to understand obsessive-compulsive disorder in the brain, he includes examples of experiments and findings that reach other scopes of psychology and neurology.

Dr. Schwartz devotes a chapter to the basic explanation of the literal topography of the brain itself, touching on different processes of various areas. This was helpful to understand what,
exactly, can be changed and how it is changed through neuroplasticity. And through neuroplasticity and the power of mental force, the mind, or attention, or awareness can literally CHANGE the physiology of the brain structure itself. In his words, mental force is "directed, willed mental activity can clearly and systematically alter brain function; that the exertion of willful effort generates a physical force that has the power to change how the brain works and even its physical structure."

Meditation is quickly becoming more popular in today's society. In my own life, I have been encouraged to learn 'mindful meditation' to guide me through the stress of life. When Dr. Schwartz touches on the Buddhist 'bare awareness' concept of meditation, I found an increased understanding to how I may learn to acknowledge feelings, sensations, sounds, perceptions, etc without letting them affect me. I observe them as an outsider, one standing on the sidelines looking upon my own thoughts and feelings without engaging in them.

In the chapter Network Remodeling, Dr. Schwartz asks a question that particularly piqued my interest. "How, then, to apply mindfulness to depression?". This is one state to which I fall victim too easily--depression. He explains three ways to address this, but the third option impressed me the most. Speaking of 'mindful experience/being "in this way of thinking about your emotions, you sense feelings, sensations, and thoughts from the perspective of the Impartial Spectator. You regard your thoughts and feelings as passing, ephemeral "mental events" rather than as accurate reflections of reality. Instead of reacting to negative thoughts and feelings as "these are me," you come to regard them as "events in the mind that can be considered and examined". You recognize that thoughts are not facts...but are instead "events that come and go through the mind" pg 248

The chapter on The Quantum Brain was difficult for me to grasp in that it was almost completely quantum physics. I was not particularly proficient at classic physics to say the least. Briefly, he explains that if we utilize only classic physics, or materialism, to define the brain/mind, it comes up short. It basically negates the existence of mind or will altogether. One problem with this, is if we don't actually have a will, then we can't take responsibility for our actions because they are only resulting from the neurological processes of the brain. We can see that this would have grave judicial implications. There is no right and wrong. i.e. I can steal my neighbor's car because my brain made me do it. Again, in the words of Dr. Schwartz "I began lamenting the terrible social consequences of materialism...the moral condition of America...could be laid at the feet of nearly three centuries of materialist ascendance. The reigning belief that the thoughts we think and the choices we make reflect the deterministic workings of neurons and, ultimately subatomic particles seemed to me to have subverted mankind's sense of morality. The view that people are mere machines and that the mind is just another (not particularly special) manifestation of a clockwork physical universe had infiltrated all our thinking whether or not someone knew a synapse from an axon."pg 257-258

Quantum mechanics is based on observation. "Integral to quantum physics is the fundamental role played by the observer in choosing which of the plenitude of possible realities will leave the realm of the possible and become actual"..."there is no 'is' until an observer makes an observation" pg 263

He describes the double-slit experiment and the collapse of the wave function in observation: "Before the observation, the system had a range of possibilities, afterward, it has a single actuality. This is the infamous collapse of the wave function" pg 269

I won't dwell much more on the actual physics explained in this chapter, though Dr. Schwartz does a fabulous job of helping a lay person like me attempt and partially succeed in understanding. My main interest was how all of this physics relates to the mind and brain. His last two chapters are dedicated to free will and to attention. We actually have the will, and ability to experience our own thoughts. These thoughts can be turned into actions, whether it be sensations, reactions to an event, etc. This is completely up to our choices. Before we act, there is a wave of possibilities...we can be angry, we can be hurt, we may cry...if we choose to. We can focus our attention on what we choose to experience. Once we continually choose to think a certain way, it becomes easier and with continual willful attention paid to the chosen thought or experience, the actual physiology of our brain will change.

I have heard people say that I can choose to be happy. Well, this is actually true! Although in isolated instances it can be extremely difficult, overall with practice in choosing happiness it will become almost second-nature.

After reading this book and learning so much more about how the brain and the mind works for me, I will choose to practice mindfulness, I will choose to acknowledge then release the negative thoughts that result in depression, I will choose to be happier. I feel more in control of my life, in myself.

Note: Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz will be visiting my city as a guest speaker at the Surgical-Medical Society Conference in May 2014 and I have been honored with this opportunity to hear his wisdom once again.
Profile Image for Artur Olczyk.
18 reviews
April 11, 2019
Truthfully, I didn't have intention of writing a review of this book but considering there's something that might safely be called a debate between the book's apologists on the one side and its adversaries on the other side, I thought I might as well write the review. What follows, however, is just a simple advantages/disadvantages recapitulation of the book's claims and its internal structure.

Disadvantages

(1) With all due respect to Schwartz's treating of OCD patients and to the patients themselves, it's a rather mild mental condition (in terms of its dangerousness to the patient and his environment, and the social impact on the patient) (Seligman et al., 2002), as compared to other mental conditions, such as psychopathy with its instrumental and reactive aggression (Blair, 2006), Autism Spectrum Disorder with its non-understanding of emphatical emotions and severe social apprehension (Baron-Cohen, 1995, 2004, 2013), or schizophrenia with its (plausible) delusions and mental disintegration (Liberman, 2008). The author extrapolates his treatment of the OCD patients and their improvement, and proclaims that the power of attention, and thus the power of mind, reshapes neural circuitry and cortical maps. There are two things fundamentally wrong with his claim. First, it doesn't take the said reshaping (how would it even look like?) to mitigate the OCD symptoms. Through repetitive exercises, the brain can start functioning more adequately (but it doesn't change its internal structure) (Churchland P.S., 1986; Damásio, 1995). Second, extrapolating data (and drawing conclusions from it) is something any scientist should be cautious about due to each mental condition's different causes, epidemiology and management, not to mention healthy population's yet another, individual case.

(2a) Mind/body (mind-brain) dualism is a concept that deserves a very careful scrutiny. If true, that is, if the mind and body were distinct and separable entities, any damage to the brain wouldn't affect the mind (which, needless to say, is non-physical). The reality is quite the opposite. Take these two cases as points of reference and further interest. Famously described (Damásio, 2005; Blair, 2006; Stanovich, 2009; Baron-Cohen, 2011) Phineas Gage, who suffered an accident in which an iron rod punctured through his head and damaged much of his brain's left frontal lobe, exhibited mental changes in his behavior after the accident. Another example is of a man, who, due to growing tumors in his brain, exhibited paedophilic tendencies, which vanished after the surgical removal of the tumors (Eagleman, 2015). If the mind-body dualism was true, such physical conditions wouldn't transcend the non-physical nature of the mind.

(2b) Another case against the proposed dualism derives from a biological instance of human development. Considering that we begin our existence as purely physical entities and since nothing outside of the physical domain is added later on in the course of our development, then, all in all, we must end up being fully developed physical beings.

(2c) Logic (and Occam's razor) dictates that if a phenomenon can be explained by existing referential categories, then adding other categories can be considered superfluous.

(3) Repetitive mentions of quantum physics doesn't make a book more scientific. It's been shown that making references to physics or mathematics (in reality, superficially or needlessly) gives a semblance of scholarship (Sokal and Bricmont, 1999) but the same quantum physics produces arguments against Schwartz's claims: any manifestation of a non-physical mind on the brain would entail the violation of physical laws, such as the conservation of energy, since some external source of energy would be responsible for the interaction between the non-physical and the physical.

(4) The Mind and the Brain doesn't observe established methodological standards for writing a book/an article. That a scientist considers himself a maverick and tries to unravel some mysteries and semi-revelatory truths before our eyes, doesn't mean he doesn't have to follow certain creeds of scientific research, especially taking into account that he draws from and writes about multiple fields of human knowledge, such as psychology, sensu largo neuroscience, philosophy, ethics and so forth. There are, to be perfectly fair to Schwartz, endnotes at the end of the book, but the phrases there only vaguely refer to certain articles/books he draws his assertions from. If I were to be mean, I'd say Schwartz's blunt references are exactly meant to cause confusion and create ambiguity. Insofar as proper references, which are nowhere to be found in the book, psychology books, for instance, follow methodological standards of putting their sources in brackets right behind a sentence they refer to, e.g. (Schwartz, 2002). Other books (legal, for example, which I'm most familiar with) contain footnotes that make a reference to a particular page of a particular book/article. In this regard, Schwartz's standards are unique, to say the least. There's also an oddity of writing in singular form, which, normally, isn't necessarily desirable, but I'll just blame it on Bagley's apparent minute input; that's also why I refer to the book as Schwartz's only (in this, I just follow his steps).

Advantages

(1) There are other books out there.
Profile Image for The Angry Lawn Gnome.
595 reviews19 followers
December 6, 2010
Take one good, or even very good book. Stick it in a blender with an awful one and set to puree.

Well, okay, I'm speaking metaphorically here, so don't do that. But that at least gives an idea of what I thought of this one. The sections of the book related to the author's work with OCD sufferers, his descriptions of similar work on those with Tourette's Syndrome and major depression and his basic narrative of discoveries related to the brain and what has come to be believed related to its flexibility were all superb. The man knows his stuff, knows lots of people who know their stuff and knows how to communicate it all to a general audience, though I must admit I he did lose me for a time in his section on Quantum Mechanics.

Unfortunately, that ain't all there is here. And that other stuff is a train wreck, mostl flowing from what I can only call a mission of some sort to disprove Materialism, both scientific and philosophical. First, makes no bones about the fact that what he has learned from Swami Dorito Guacamolejam (or whoever) is at least part of the reason behind this, revealing a rather unfortunate bias. Second, there's even a villain of the piece: Behaviorism. Not that I'm any fan of it, but, eh, he ain't Galileo and they ain't the Inquisition, so his over the top stuff here is just silly. And as best I can tell, his conclusions don't follow from his facts: in other words, Materialism is not disproven. Perhaps in need of modification, but not disproven.

I was also more than a tad irritated at his unwillingness to give a straightforward definition of the term "Mind." It is in the title, after all. But while there are lengthy discussions of brain physiology and function, the Mind seems to pop in and out of the book, usually only after some experiment or other is described that appears to debunk the commonly held materialist theory of XYZ. He also switches to the term "Will" for a while, which is either the same as the mind, a part of the mind or something else that falls outside materialist theory and has little or nothing to do with the mind (or brain), it really isn't clear.

Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,502 followers
July 17, 2010
This is an excellent book. I learned how people with severe conditions can sometimes overcome the debilitating effects of stroke, OCD, and so on.

Toward the end of the book, the author describes how quantum mechanics may be a key component to volition and free will. But, I am not completely convinced of the connection with quantum mechanics. I understand how the act of observation of an atom can resolve its (previously probabilistic) state. And the analogy between "observation" and "attention" is striking. But doesn't this just beg the question, what is the mechanism for the mind/brain to show attention to something?
Profile Image for Nick.
Author 21 books97 followers
December 26, 2010
Jeffrey Schwartz has written an impassioned argument for the neuroplasticity of the brain, based on his work with OCD patients and his practice of Buddhism. I have enormous admiration for anyone who brings together Eastern and Western ideas with skill and thoughtfulness, as Schwartz has done here, but when the work creates a genuine breakthrough in treating mental illness, then the originator deserves the highest possible praise. Millions of people suffer tragically from OCD, and the desensitization work of behavioral therapists often borders on the cruel -- and it's only partly effective. Drugs have huge limitations and of course side effects. So Schwartz has given humanity a gift by figuring out how to use the Buddhist concept of mindfulness to help people recognize and ultimately reject OCD thoughts, while at the same time making a larger argument about the plasticity of the brain, and the connection between mind and brain. A path-breaking work.
Profile Image for Alan Johnson.
Author 5 books200 followers
June 24, 2021
Neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz’s work The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force is, overall, a masterpiece. He shows that a correct understanding of neuroscience and quantum physics, confirmed by his clinical experience, leads to the conclusion that we have free will.

Chapter 2 of this book explains how Schwartz began developing his approach in the late 1980s and 1990s with the diagnosis and treatment of patients who had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Neuroimaging showed that the OCD symptoms were caused by malfunctions in the brain’s orbital frontal cortex and basal ganglia circuitry (74). A brain region called the striatum plays an important role in the development of habits (70). The habits connected with OCD could be changed by a four-step process, by which patients consciously learn to relabel, reattribute, refocus, and revalue OCD urges. After repeated habituation in this four-step process, the patients’ neuroimaging results showed that their brains had significantly changed in a positive manner: “Done regularly, Refocusing strengthens a new automatic circuit and weakens the old, pathological one—training the brain, in effect, to replace old bad habits programmed into the caudate nucleus and basal ganglia with healthy new ones. When the focus of attention shifts, so do patterns of brain activity” (90–91). This neuroplastic brain change corresponded to the patients’ being able to overcome their formerly strong OCD urges.

These results led Schwartz to a conclusion relevant to the question of free will:
The results achieved with OCD supported the notion that the conscious and willful mind differs from the brain and cannot be explained solely and completely by the matter, by the material substance, of the brain. For the first time, hard science—for what could be “harder” than the metabolic activity measured by PET scans?—had weighed in on the side of mind-matter theories that . . . question whether mind is nothing but matter. The changes the Four Steps can produce in the brain offered strong evidence that willful, mindful effort can alter brain function, and that such self-directed brain changes—neuroplasticity—are a genuine reality. (93–94)
As Schwartz observed, “This was the first study ever to show that cognitive-behavior therapy—or, indeed, any psychiatric treatment that did not rely on drugs—has the power to change faulty brain chemistry in a well-identified brain circuit. What’s more, the therapy had been self-directed, something that was and to a great extent remains anathema to psychology and psychiatry” (90).

Schwartz concludes that “mental force,” not reducible to the physical brain, arises from “willful effort”: “What mental force does is activate a neuronal circuit. Once that new circuit begins to fire regularly, an OCD patient does not need as much effort to activate it subsequently; the basal ganglia, responsible for habitual behaviors, take care of that” (95).

Schwartz argues that “the paltry 35,000 or so genes in the human genome fall woefully short of the task of prescribing the wiring of our 100-trillion-synapse brain” (366). Elaborating on the technical (and less accessible) accounts of his quantum physicist friend Henry Stapp, Schwartz explains how quantum mechanics makes free will possible. He illustrates this proof with the example of an OCD patient—a scenario quite familiar to him from his own clinical practice. On pages 362-63, he reproduces a chart that clearly depicts his (and Stapp’s) theory: mental effort controls the otherwise indeterministic release of neurotransmitters in synaptic firings of relevant neurons. The associated discussion near the end of chapter 10 explains the details; see also chapter 8 (“The Quantum Brain”).

This work of more than 400 pages also discusses many other matters, including the relevant histories of physics and neuroscience and patient case studies. I’m not sure about Schwartz’s thematic discussion of Buddhism, though I understand the point he is trying to make about the importance of focus and attention. Still, such a hard predeterminist as Sam Harris also invokes Buddhism in support of the exactly opposite conclusion. It appears that there are different versions of Buddhism, and I am not knowledgeable about these various interpretations. I also could nitpick at a few details in the book. These minor reservations aside, I regard this book as an outstanding contribution to the fields of free will, quantum physics, neuroscience, and neuroplasticity. I highly recommend it.

Alan E. Johnson
Independent Philosopher and Historian
June 23, 2021 (revised June 24, 2021)

Note: Portions of the foregoing review are excerpts from my forthcoming book (scheduled to be published in 2021) Free Will and Human Life.
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
624 reviews81 followers
September 30, 2020
Review in Sep 2020:

I read The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force a few years ago. The book gives insight to patients with OCD and the subsequent treatment. In the second half of the book, the author sets out to use quantum physics to explain brain and mind, or how brain "creates" mind and mind "influences" brain, which is mind blowing to a layperson like me. In recently years I've read more about quantum physics and quantum computing. Although I am still very much a layperson, I know now that the brain can not be a quantum computer, because the physical conditions required for quantum computing can not be found in our biological brain, therefore there is no physical basis for speculating brain as a quantum machine.
Profile Image for Mohammed Al-Humaikani.
15 reviews6 followers
July 25, 2016
Wonderfully written by a highly experienced researcher. Revolutionary thoughts on neuroplasticity that are yet to be fully accepted by the scientific community. The wonderful blend of buddhist philosophy with deep knowledge of neuroscience is what has been established here. The pragmatic four step concept with the critical idea of mental force is highly applicable and strongly scientific to overcome habits that one is willing to change.
A beautiful chapter on Free Will and Free Won't that presents wonderful ideas that were highly convincing.
His great collaboration with Henry Stapp, the quantum physicist, and their reflections on the ideas of William James is spectacular.
A book I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Audra.
11 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2012
I quite enjoyed this book and its exploration of the relationship between mind, brain and quantum mechanics. It highlights the importance of attention and concentration in, for instance, acquiring a new skill or remapping faulty brain patterns. I would recommend this book as a sequel to "The Brain that Changes Itself"; it is more technical than the former book and delves deeper into brain structure.

I wish that the author had dwelled more on how meditation and buddhism can help in overcoming mental health issues and how it can help rewire our plastic brains. Though in the beginning it sounded as though it would focus more on meditation, there was only a brief overview of this near the end. At times, I also found the book to be a little long winded and repetitive; the author, obviously trying to revolutionize a field and make his argument as strong as possible, quotes supporting data and findings at great length. As a reader, this can get a little tedious. What I did enjoy was the history the author provides of past scientific discoveries and the worldview of materialism that has dominated science -- until now, that is, when mind-brain discoveries are shifting our understanding of the world.

For anyone interested in the brain, and more particularly in mind-brain issues, this is a great read.
Profile Image for Melanie.
158 reviews26 followers
April 21, 2013
This book is all over the place. The ideas are very intriguing and worth thinking about, but the execution is very uneven in quality. Some chapters (such as the one on Schwartz' own OCD-research) are to-the-point and interesting, others (like the last few) bring up fascinating ideas, but do not manage to convince me on either their grounds, workings or implications, while yet others are tangential to the subject at best and very distracting (such as the Silver Spring monkeys chapter).
The introduction of quantum mechanics into the neurosciences was cool and has a lot of potential, but the author was not well versed enough in the topic to truly take me in with his arguments. And while I am generally not averse to first-person narration in academic settings, I found it not at all well done in this book. Most of it was either unnecessary or greatly annoying. I think I would have rather read this book in the form of a couple of 30-page, well-edited articles instead of a padded 400-page book.
42 reviews11 followers
September 15, 2018
This book was fascinating and hopeful. I read the author's other book "You are Not Your Brain" and found the tone too cheesy and pop-self-helpish. It also left me with a question about the difference between the mind and the brain. When I found this title, it seemed it would answer my question--and it did.

The tone of this book is much more academic, though still intended for lay people. It wanders through the history of experiments that have led neuroscientists to their current understanding of neuroplasticity. It delves into the philosophical debate over the nature of the brain vs. the mind. It ends up in a discussion of quantum physics and how that creates a scientific basis for there being a mind independent of the brain, capable of acting on the brain.

All of this has implications for treating OCD and other disorders such as depression and anxiety that are for hopeful.
Profile Image for Lucas G..
74 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2020
This book took me way longer to finish than is reasonable. That may have contributed to my frustration. But the book is frustrating for many legitimate reasons. It claims to be a book about how the mind, an immaterial substance, influences the brain, a physical substance. But it takes almost 200 pages before the authors really get to that point. Before that, it is just a series of reflections on the history of neuroplasticity research. Also, there are no citations so the curious reader can't easily look deeper when something of interest comes up.

While much of the history is interesting, it is tangential to the point. For example, dozens of pages are filled with discussions of legal battles surrounding testing on moneys. Interesting. But not what the readers want.

With that said, the key insight of the book is great. Schwartz's research demonstrates how mental activity can cause physical changes in the brain. This has been seen in Schwartz's OCD patients who were able to refrain from giving into compulsions and refocus their thoughts elsewhere, which ultimately created new neural pathways and eliminated the compulsions. If Schwartz is correct, his research deals a serious blow to materialism.

Schwartz goes into weird territory, however, when he jumps head first into quantum mechanics. His position is that quantum mechanics, specifically the Quantum Zeno Effect, provides the physical mechanism for the mind interacting with the brain. The proposal is interesting, if not a bit weird.

Overall, if you're interested in philosophy of mind or neuroscience, you probably need to read this book. But be judicious. Not all the history is necessary, so perhaps skim over that information
Profile Image for Seth.
21 reviews1 follower
March 21, 2019
Schwartz achieves tremendous success in detailing the concept of neuroplasticity and how the mind can act as a "force" to effect lasting neurological changes. This empowers the reader as much (and probably more) than any self-help book out there, since he extensively backs his ideas with research article after research article. The brain has the capacity to change itself via attention and conscious effort, effectively challenging the reader to, at the risking of sounding trite, be the change she wishes to see. At the heart of this practice lies the idea of mindfulness. Recognizing one's impulses when they arise as an objective spectator, i.e. exhibiting "bare" attention to one's thoughts and desires and considering them nonjudgmentally, forms the foundation of concerted volition. Only by recognizing one's problematic or intrusive impulses/desires can she then shift her focus and attend to more desirable and productive behaviors.

However, there was perhaps too much buildup for how little payoff was delivered in the closing chapters. Schwartz's foray of the quantum side of the brain, I think, should have been a more essential feature of this book, given his introduction, but it ends up coming out as a hastily scrawled footnote supposedly solidifying his theories of neuroplasticity. He fails to properly reify this soiree with sufficient precision, resulting in a disappointingly effete exploration of a quantum basis for the mind-brain interface that's more wishful and speculative than convincing and rigorous.

Despite the ineffectual quantum sojourn, Schwartz lays his arguments out effortlessly with engaging prose and amusing anecdotes, not to mention elucidating an important moment in the history of animal rights as they pertain to science. Ultimately, after giving it due consideration, I still disagree with his thesis of free will being resurrected by this "new" science of volitional neuroplasticity. I maintain it's just as likely that volitional effort arose via evolutionary processes concomitant with the exquisite development of our prefrontal cortices (and hence the executive functions contained therein) which allowed the brain a means of inspecting and subsequently altering its own behavior as a way of adapting to novel environments and stimuli.
15 reviews
March 18, 2021
This book really seems like a well proportioned mixture of an excellent book and a mediocre retelling of new age science ideas.
The bits which deal with neuroplasticity, a field where author seems to command respect, are well worth the read. Author, however, intermittently goes off in tangents like legal battles which led to creation of PETA which reduces the impact of the book. And then there is the very new age science-y focus on mental forces and oriental meditations which seem very controversial and pretty out of date in the field of neuroscience.
If the books was split in two I would highly recommend one of them will probably avoid the second altogether.
Profile Image for Correen.
1,109 reviews
December 15, 2018
It kept my attention, introduced me to new ways of thinking (at least for me) and pulled together disciplines in ways I would not have considered, e.g., psychiatry, philosophy and quantum physics.
He even relates quantum physics to OCD disorders.

I plan to read the book again and am recommending to my more scientifically oriented friends.
Profile Image for Marc Dorval.
144 reviews4 followers
August 10, 2018
I really enjoyed this book as an additional introduction to neuroplasticity. Throw in some philosophy, quantum physics, and some fascinating history and you have a book that's educational and interesting at the same time.
Profile Image for Michelle.
485 reviews
December 31, 2021
This book sets out to prove to the reader that it is at least plausible that free will might not be an illusion; that our choices might not only be the product of non-sentient cells following deterministic trajectories, but that our inner "I" can in a top-down way control these cells (through "quantum mechanics"... we'll get into that more later in this review). By the time I finished this book, though, I felt even more persuaded of the opposite.

That said, this is a *good book* - well-written, well-researched, comprehensive, and I learned a lot from it. The first seven chapters describe how the brain assembles/develops, neuroplasticity, how the brain can fix itself and change. Schwartz continually tries to frame these changes as occurring thanks to the inner “I”, but even he acknowledges the changes can all still be explained from a purely physical, functionalist perspective.

On the one hand, if free will is an illusion, it would seem to be a good one. Our inner experience of actions we perceive as voluntary vs involuntary differs. Our inner experience of free will would seem to align well with a "top-down" view that some inner, metaphysical "I" controls our bodies, our cells, and even maybe our brains.

On the other hand, if you look at people suffering from dementia, schizophrenics, or anyone with brain damage -- it is clear that these problems are not a problem of "will." There are biological bases for these diseases. To me this evidence for a "bottom-up" approach to consciousness and volition.

Best parts:

pg 8: "Decades later, neuroscience has linked genetic mechanisms to neuronal circuits coursing with a multiplicity of neurotransmitters to argue that the brain is a machine whose behavior is predestined, or at least determined, in such a way as seemingly to leave no room for the will. It is not merely that the will is not free... it is more radically, that the will, a manifestation of mind, does not even exist, because a mind independent of brain does not exist." What is consciousness, anyway? Consciousness *feels* metaphysical. But if consciousness is fully rooted in physical processes, then “I” is material, and there is no problem then with “I” interacting with a physical world. (Free will is still tricky in this case, though)

pg 19: Free will may be an illusion, but we are dependent on believing in it in order to have a functional society.

pg 22: Love this short story! Hammers home the seeming paradox, how can we be both conscious and at the same time made out of materials, e.g. non-sentient cells/molecules

pg 26: "There is a difference between a programmed, deterministic mechanical response and the mental process we call consciousness. Consciousness is more than perceiving and knowing; it is knowing that you know." What about a programmed, deterministic machine built to know that it knows? Couldn't that be us?


Pg 122: wholly fascinating account of how deprivation of stimuli during critical periods can impair you for life. (Isn’t this an argument against free will?)

pg 128: Another reason not to do drugs as a teen! People always say that to kids, “your brain is still developing,” but they should read this book as well to understand they might be actually *damaging* their brains

pg 147: “Failure to use a deafferented limb reflected learned helplessness, not a motor incapacity.” This is really interesting

Pg 239: (about treatments for Tourette’s) “Many parents, concerned about the lack of information on the long-term effects of the medications on children, are understandably reluctant to keep their kids drugged”

pg 250: Schwartz makes a distinction between “top-down” and “bottom-up” plasticity, the former coming from higher processes in the brain, and the latter coming from e.g., change in sensory input over time.


After the beautiful sections on neuroplasticity and the way the brain works, we are then given three cringey chapters on how quantum mechanics saves free will. And this is what knocks the book down from 5 stars to 4 stars for me. Before I jump into my criticism, let me first just say, I don’t know everything, and some of these people who believe some of what Schwartz talks about here are pretty legit people (i.e., Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate). However… I know there are also many legit people who don’t believe this stuff. (And I’m considering those statements to be appeal to authority “heuristics” rather than “fallacies”). For reference, I’d say I’m a semi-legit person — physics grad student who has taken 6+ classes in quantum or classes that use quantum.

My understanding of the argument that Schwartz presents is, because of the collapse of the wavefunction due to observation in quantum mechanics, the conscious observer plays a critical role in shaping reality. There is a major problem with this argument already, which is that the observer that collapses the wavefunction in quantum mechanics does not have to be conscious. (actually, the observer is *usually* not conscious, since usually we use machines for these measurements…) Schwartz’s second argument seems to be that the mind observes the brain, and therefore collapses superpositions in the brain, to then allow for free will. In my opinion though this introduces more complexity and more questions than it solves. Where is “I” exactly and what is it made out of? Why does it only collapse the wavefunctions in the brain without collapsing wavefunctions outside the brain? Considering most people don’t have telekinetic powers?. Or from collapsing the wavefunctions inside other people’s brains?

Probably because the arguments are so weak and there’s no real way of proving what he’s saying, the whole quantum section becomes a bit tautological and contradictory. E.g., “Almost all scientists… believe that the observer stands apart from the observed, and that the act of observation… has no effect on the system being observed. That attitude usually works just fine. But it becomes a problem when the observing system is the same as the system being observed — when, that is, the mind is observing the brain.” (But I thought the whole point of the book was that the mind and the brain were different?)

Also even more horribly cringey that Schwartz tries to use Bell’s inequality/nonlocality in quantum physics to justify nonlocality between some sort of metaphysical “I” and the brain.

Also, pg 341, Schwartz tries to argue that self directed attention can change the brain, talking about the chances stroke victims have of recovering functioning, but in making his point he unmakes it by tying the ability to self-direct attention back to the physical brain: “If the attention circuits in the frontal lobes are damaged by the stroke, the patient recovers less well from injury to other regions of the brain than if the frontal lobes are spared.”

In summary, Schwartz has written a wonderfully convincing book against the existence of free will. Even though I personally have found myself believing more strongly that consciousness and free will are completely rooted in physical components, I still have questions! Including, how many brain cells makes a consciousness? What distinguishes a conscious pile of cells from a non-conscious pile of cells, and how would we be able to tell when in principle both could interact with the world equally "intelligently"?

Also, before reading this book, I used to think animals that don’t pass the mirror test aren’t conscious. But now, I’m not sure at all… how would we even know when we don’t really have a physical underpinning for consciousness? How would we know a rock wasn’t conscious? I’m serious though you guys…. :O
Profile Image for Steve.
23 reviews4 followers
August 12, 2012
If you would like to know more about the human brain, I highly recommend this book. I read it a number of years ago after hearing the author interviewed and I have remembered it ever since. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD, is a research psychiatrist at UCLA. His descriptions of how the brain is formed will astound you! The stories of how nerves are reclaimed and reused (in the event of a limb amputation, for example) are amazing. Did you know that violinists have a much larger portion of their brain devoted to their fingers? Much of the book is based upon experiments using PET (positron emission tomography) which allows the researchers to see what is occurring chemically in the brain at the same time that the patient is describing it. Ironically, Schwartz himself believes that there is much more to the conscious mind than simply the physical wiring. He uses the Buddhist notion of "mindfulness" in explaining what seems to be there and his interpretation I found pretty convincing. He also demonstrates that the idea that our brain is largely complete in youth and rigid after that is untrue and the adaptability of the brain (neuroplasticity) is available throughout our lives. Very hopeful and optimistic though some of the animal experiments may make some people squirm.
Profile Image for Duchess_Nimue.
351 reviews12 followers
February 6, 2017
The Mind and The Brain is a book that discusses how those two are separate. It talks how The Mind is more then chemical reactions in The Brain, and how the science grew to the the understanding of this.
Neuroplasticity is defined as an ability of neurons to create new links between nerves, which can happen with the use of mental force. Author places a substantial importance on attention, for without it, our successes would be much smaller.
Dr. Schwartz talks about his technique for treating people with OCD, and how similar techniques, developed by other like-minded people, turned up to have a great track record in treating people that suffered a stroke, or people with dyslexia, or depression.
More than talking about those techniques, Schwartz talks about how people got to those ideas, he takes us on a ride through the history of neuroscientific science, it's scientific research, and introduces us to quantum physics.
Profile Image for Holly.
56 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2015
At first, I was like:

Agreement gif

And then I got to the second half of the book and I was like:

Mind is blown.

Because QUANTUM PHYSICS IS WEIRD, Y'ALL.

And then I ended up with a little bit of this:

Yes, yes.

So, yes. Super interesting read if you'd like to understand why and how attention or the "mental force" of your mind can actually change the brain's structure.
Profile Image for Čavle Margarin.
29 reviews11 followers
June 17, 2015
a really weirdly written book. on the one hand it tries so hard to present itself as a serious scientific work, but the New Agey zealous and anecdotal tone doesn't really help in taking it seriously. also, it could have really used some editing, I mean I UNDERSTOOD YOUR ACHIEVEMENT IN OCD THERAPY THE FIRST TIME YOU EXPLAINED IT, YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO REPEAT IT ON EVERY SECOND PAGE OF THE DAMN BOOK. still, the quantum mechanics introduction is alright, as well as the summary of different schools of thought on the mind/brain problem, and I'll always cherish argumented attempts at salvaging the concept of free will.
227 reviews
September 2, 2015
Probably more like 3.5 stars but I'd give this book the benefit of the doubt. A seemingly 'easy' philosophical issue: is there a duality between mind and brain doesn't seem so simple to neuroscientist. Do mental forces affect the brain by altering wave functions causing us to act differently? The authors exhaustively explore this and other issues as it pertains to amputees, individuals with brain traumas as well as OCD patients. There also is a rather interesting chapter on the infamous (notorious) Silver Spring monkey experiments conducted in the 1980's and what was hoping to be accomplished. A bit erudite at times but a rather interesting introduction to the field of neuroplasticity.
25 reviews
July 24, 2014
Outstanding! Schwartz while working with OCD patients and developing a therapeutic intervention for them discovered what he calls "self-directed neuroplasticity" (mental force). He works with the physicist Henry Stapp to establish the mechanics of self-directed neuroplasticity in quantum physics and connects this with the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.In all of this, he makes a case for the human mind and human will having impact on the human brain: in other words, the mind can change the brain.
Profile Image for Mary.
806 reviews15 followers
July 23, 2017
The author develops a 4 part mental therapy to help individuals with Obsessive Compulsive disorder resist their obsessive and compulsive behaviors. His therapy involves being attentive to what you are feeling and then refocusing your behavior on a productive tasks. He believes that one can change the pathways in the brain that facilitate this behavior.

He describes different studies where human and animals have changed behaviors thus demonstrating the neuroplasticity of the brain. This book offers very interesting reading to those who want to learn about the mind brain connection.
Profile Image for Julieta.
22 reviews
January 22, 2009
First of all, neuroplasticity is just fun to say. It makes you sound all educated when you drop it in a conversation. But the truth of the matter is that Jeffrey Schwartz is able to explain a complicated subject to the common folk and teach us to utilize the benefits of science. So, where is your mind???? Find that out and you hold the keys to the kingdom. The answer is actually quite simple.
2 reviews
June 15, 2014
Jason Shawartz does an amazing job at walking the reader through what is happening in the brain when we are paying attention and apply focus to something. He details the Neuroscience behind what takes place as we create new habits in how we think and shows what free will really is. Controlling what we choose to think about and focus on. ... Its the proof behind James Allen's classic As a Man Thinketh.
15 reviews23 followers
December 21, 2008
This book explains the ability of the mind, or the will, to influence the brain. This has application for language learning. We can and do influence the ability of our brains to develop new neural circuits to cope with new languages. Language learning is more a matter of attitude than aptitude, I have always felt. This book supports this view.
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