Is it really possible to change the structure and function of the brain, and in so doing alter how we think and feel? The answer is a resounding yes. In late 2004, leading Western scientists joined the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to address this very question–and in the process brought about a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation.
For decades, the conventional wisdom of neuroscience held that the hardware of the brain is fixed and immutable–that we are stuck with what we were born with. As Begley shows, however, recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates whether and how the brain can undergo wholesale change, reveal that the brain is capable not only of altering its structure but also of generating new neurons, even into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, and compensate for disability.
Begley documents how this fundamental paradigm shift is transforming both our understanding of the human mind and our approach to deep-seated emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. These breakthroughs show that it is possible to reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain. They also suggest that it is possible to teach and learn compassion, a key step in the Dalai Lama’s quest for a more peaceful world. But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, in particular, focused attention. This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone.
With her extraordinary gift for making science accessible, meaningful, and compelling, Sharon Begley illuminates a profound shift in our understanding of how the brain and the mind interact. This tremendously hopeful book takes us to the leading edge of a revolution in what it means to be human.
The content -- about neuroplasticity and the effects of meditation on the brain -- is very interesting. But this book is written in an irritating pop style that under-explains the science and boils everything down to "Scientist A was talking to Scientist B and then he had an idea that would change everything." Extremely skimmable and if you'd never read about these ideas before, maybe a good intro. But I've read better books on the subject. And her lengthy discussions of horrific animal experiments is a bit much for me to stomach.
Yes, another book with a great deal of information in it, and all fascinating to me. This is another that deals with neuroplasticity of the brain, but the author comes from a Buddhist background, so the whole discussion centers around the various meetings of the Mind and Life Institute, where various scientists or scholars in the fields of neurology and neurogenics come together with the Dalai Lama and his associates to speak of how the latest scientific pursuits in the field of brain science may cross paths with Buddhist thought, and especially mindfulness meditation. Of course, reading all the details may have made my brain hurt a little at times (but hey! That just means its circuitry was undergoing even more neurogenesis! haha)and it took awhile to wade through some of the jargon at times. Still, what a fascinating and exciting blend of psychological/physiological/spiritual thought is contained here. Our brains can adapt, compensate for genetic disability or heal after trauma. The excerpts that speak of overcoming OCD and depression are also really interesting. It was fun to have the author refer to the work of another favorite author of mine, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and briefly mention his mindfulness workshops at the University of Massachusetts. Makes me want to get out my (his) mindfulness meditation CDs again! Truly interesting stuff.
This is a jumbled mess of a book. There are plenty of positives: Sharon Begley, science journalist for Newsweek, is an impeccable researcher, as the 13 pages worth of works cited notes will affirm. The overall message of the book is clear: while adult minds are not as flexible as children's minds, neuroplasticity is valid. You can change your brain by focused and repeated attention on changing your thoughts. Unfortunately, this jewel of material is good for a three or four-part newspaper column, but not for a 250+ page book. Begley's starting point for the book was a 2004 Mind and Life conference with neurologists, hosted by the Dalai Lama promoting harmony of Buddhist meditation practices and the health of the brain. At times, the book reads like a roving camera covering the meeting. So much of the info is in quotes as explained to the Dalai Lama. Sometimes the book speaks to the layman; other times the technical terms used would be best understood by those with a medical degree. The target audience is unclear, the narrative muddled, the facts and experiments cited much more than even frequently relates to the point of the book. In the end, there is not a lot of practical advice. I am sure there must be better books that cover this subject.
A book about neuroplasticity and the way scientists discovered the level of neuroplasticity within the human brain, and the continuing development of synapses and brain growth throughout a human's life. It's as much about the careful progress of scientific method as about its subject matter--it's not enough to "know" something. In science, you have to take all the intermediate steps, to show the strong chain of your objective research. So it was slow but thorough thorough thorough. And I skimmed, because they had me at "yes." Fascinating and changed my understanding of the mind, something I care very much about.
This author shares the history and background on neuroplasitcity - the ability of the brain to generate new neurons and new connections. It starts with a lot of research that has been done over the last century and ends up with what the Dalai Lama has done with science to study how meditation changes the brain. Meditation can help us reduce stress, overcome obsessive compulsion and some physical conditions. It is very well written and a must read for those who want to make real change in themselves.
This is a pretty interesting book about the research on brain plasticity by the science journalist Sharon Begley. It focuses on a number of recent studies suggesting that the physical structure of the brain can change in response to experiences, sensory and cognitive practices. Perhaps the most radical of these are Richard Davidson's investigations into the effects of meditation on the brains of Buddhist monks. Other researchers show that cognitive therapy, combined with meditation, can effectively treat OCD and depression by reshaping neural pathways. As a humanist, with little background in cognitive research, I find the idea that our mental patterns correspond to physiological structures both intriguing and disturbing. Even those of us who identify as “materialists” would like to imagine the mind as a realm of autonomy and freedom. Some unenlightened others might fall prey to the distortions of ideology, but even they can wipe the slate clean and set themselves on the right path by reading a book or enrolling in a philosophy course. The notion that thoughts reside in a physiological structure poses a challenge to this reasoning. Yet, at least to some extent, the findings of this book confirm what some 20th century theorists of subject-formation claim: that we are deeply informed by our social environment and our everyday practices, and that true change takes hard work and the transformation of these daily practices. As Begely writes, the science of brain plasticity and cognitive science in general is still in its infancy. What the scientist can learn about the brain, using MRI and other technology falls far short of what the humanities and social sciences were able to learn over millenia by observing and analyzing human thought and behavior. The discovery of brain plasticity is significant because it does allow for a meaningful dialogue between the humanities and cognitive sciences, one that goes beyond mutual affirmation or criticism of the “discourse” of science. Each area of inquiry can pose a number of vital questions for its counterpart, and each would do well to take these questions seriously.
In this book the humanities are represented rather one-sidedly by Buddhist teachings and the Dalai Lama, who also contributed a forward to the book. The Mind and Life conference in Dharamsala, where the exchanges between the scientists and the Dalai take place is Begley's focal point and she describes it in vivid detail. The Dalai is a pioneer among Buddhist leaders in encouraging a dialogue with science and it is his approbation that made Davidson's research on the impact of compassion meditation possible. The Dalai believes that because science is so dominant in our times, a collaboration with it will help spread the message of Buddhism. As fascinating as this unlikely rapprochement is, I would advise Buddhists and those who share their desire for a more peaceful world, to approach the research on brain plasticity with more caution. The most radical claim that Begley attributes to cognitive research is that “human nature” is not set but malleable, especially in respect to negative or violent emotions, such as anger, selfishness, suspicion of difference, which fuel conflict. This claim is a bit of a stretch, given that the research only suggests that it might be true, yet it is central to the arc of the book because it overlaps with a certain interpretation of Buddhism. The strongest evidence for the plasticity of such qualities as compassion and generosity is provided by Davidson's study of Buddhist monks, whose brains seem to have become structurally more compassionate. The weaker evidence is provided by experiments in which individuals who have been unconsciously “primed” by words associated with love and care, and who have subsequently acted in a more altruistic manner. Both studies are interesting and potentially significant, but it would be wise not to overestimate them. After all this is something that most of us already know: those who are treated with care and compassion are more likely to act compassionately. And perhaps, in some circumstances, our minds can create those initial conditions of compassion (as in meditation or verbal priming). What is problematic here is the claim that those practices in themselves can lead to peace and “happiness,” as it is conceived in the West. The book's most significant insight, as suggested by the title of the earlier edition, is that the mind can change—and repair—the brain. This counters the conceptualization of the brain as genetically predetermined and governed by mysterious chemical processes which no one can really understand but which can somehow be managed by costly pharmaceuticals. What the Buddha had intuited about the mind's ability to effectively manage thoughts and emotions through meditation, cognitive science now seems to confirm. Yet suggesting that science and Buddhist philosophy effectively state the same thing is misleading. I don't know the tradition well enough to speak for it, but I know that most Buddhist monks are required to work in the community, and that they are only permitted to beg for today's lunch and not tomorrow's. It is a deeply anti-materialistic culture, and I imagine that “happiness” has a rather different meaning for a Buddhist than for a Westerner. It is also quite evident that regardless of whether some part of our selfishness and greed is inborn (and Buddhism seems to recognize that it is), we live in a society that encourages those mental attitudes, and it encourages them all the more in those who do not have access to all the goods by which our lives are measured. While I think that meditation can be a positive practice regardless of the context, it is also important to remember the social or philosophical values that are traditionally associated with it. My own view is that in our highly atomized society, the individual practice is not enough. If we really want to bring about change, then we also have to work to transform social structures that affirm and reward the mental attitudes that Buddhism classifies as “afflictive.”
So far, this is the best book I've read about the brain. It describes various experiments on neuroplasticity and the general function of the brain and brainwaves, and the results of the experiments. Remember how we've all been told that once brain cells die, they don't regenerate? That's wrong. They totally DO regenerate, even in people in their 80s.
And although many brain inefficiencies such as depression, ADD, anxiety, OCD, etc. are largely influenced by genetics (certain people are born predisposed to these afflictions), people do NOT have to live out their lives bound by these things, or beholden to medication to mitigate the symptoms. Their brains can be RETRAINED to function normally. This is an amazing message, and generally counter to what most medical doctors promote. Because most medical doctors went to school before all this was known, and they've not kept up with the science.
Not that an inefficient brain can be changed quickly or easily-- they compare it to an athlete. If someone wants to get really good at a sport, they're not going to get there practicing only 45 minutes once a week. So it is with brain conditioning. You're not going to undo a lifetime to ingrained patterns by going to therapy once a week (or it will take a very long time to see the change at this rate, in any event). But if you practice daily, and really make an effort, over time you will see results.
I recommend this book to everyone, not just people who have diagnosed mental issues. Because the book also discusses ways that even highly-functioning people can improve their minds to ever more optimal conditions. This is all really fascinating, and the book is well-written, easy to read, and without jargon.
Having recently finished The Universe in a Single Atom, I was quite interested in reading Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. It was an excellent companion piece to another book I'm currently reading on neuroplasticity, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Many of the case studies presented in The Brain appear in Train Your Mind and it was intriguing to see the impact that these cases have had on research in the field of neuroscience.
The information presented was engaging though a bit scattered. However, it was worth being bounced around a bit for the message of hope that the book provides. With our deepening understanding of neuroplasticity, there is renewed hope for all people, from the stroke victim, to the addict, to the regular person who wants increase their base-line happiness. The solutions may not be easily attainable, but they're not out of reach. Science is proving what Tibetan Buddhism has known for years. The adult brain CAN and DOES change.
Begley spends 250 pages explaining what I assumed was common knowledge - that adult neuroplasticity exists. She does a good job explaining the history of scientific inquiry into the concept of adult neuroplasticity. However, this explanation is targeted to those who do not have significant scientific background. Second, her emphasis is on history. The majority of the book focuses on the progression of Western scientific understanding of neuroplasticity through years of research.
The preface of the book implies that it highlights the western scientific investigation into the physical changes Buddhist meditation has on the brain, but this is barely emphasized and definitely not explained. The last chapter or two touches on this subject, and perhaps modern science does not have significant conclusions about it, but it would benefit the reader if more of the content centered around this material.
Overall, not a great use of time. TL;DR - There is adult neuroplasticity, and conscious thought can reshape neuronal pathways.
A little preachy, a little dogmatic for Buddhism – but that’s fair considering it is a project encouraged by the Dalai Lama. I also have to agree with the other reviewers who point out this is not an in-depth study but more of an introduction. Also bear in mind that I listened to the audio book, which is a different experience compared to reading.
Having prefaced as such, this is a great introduction to the topic. It’s interesting, entertaining, and informative. It definitely gets one of my rare 5-star ratings (fewer than one in ten get a 5-star rating).
A book about mindfulness and neuroplasticity, a new concept; Buddhism and science interface! Several of the monks who had been practicing meditation for years and who were approached to undergo MRIs did not understand the reason for proving what they already knew. They kept imploring the researchers to 'try meditation'. The monks find truth from the inside out, and the west is trying to prove truth from the outside in. Interesting and thought provoking.
I picked this up after reading the report from the fourth Life and Mind conference on Sleep, Dreams, and Dying, which I loved. This book is the report for twelfth Life and Mind conference. This one I did not like.
I was hoping to peer in on an engaging discussion about the power of thinking and mental practices to change and heal the mind. In the end only chapters 6 and 9 get into that subject in a compelling way (chapter 9 detailing the results of measuring the brain activity of experienced meditators is actually really exciting).
The rest of the book is an overdrawn (and boastful) history of neuroscience including very little of the dialogue between scientists and monks that I understand these conferences were meant to be about.
Also, where the report of the fourth conference (which took place in 1992) very carefully and respectfully outlines a conversation taking place between two different traditions (western-scientific and Tibetan Buddhist), this volume proceeds from the assumption that the contemporary achievements of western science have managed to separate it from the western tradition at large (which is painted in a negative light throughout the book) and now this science is free to enjoy unmediated kinship with the Buddhist tradition. This assumption really destroys the possibility of the kind of dialogue that was so exciting to me in Sleep, Dreaming, and Dying (1997).
I'm going to check out the report from thirteenth Life and Mind conference published in 2012 (Title: The Mind's Own Physician). It promises to be more to the point.
Long story short, I wanted to learn more about the healing power of mental and meditative practices, but this book (contrary to its title) is not the one for that.
Training works! As athletes of every sort can attest the more they train their bodies the better their performance. Your minds functions of happiness, sadness, compassion, empathy and every other domain is equally malleable: so change your mind. Start today.
Neuroplasticity now has countless scientific findings that our brains our shapable, just like our bodies. This is beyond any dispute, what is novel here is that neurologists can now see in studying Bhuddhist monks brains that with years of training their minds in meditation these thoughts have in fact changed their brains.
There is the misconception, widely-circulated, that we each have a "baseline happiness" level and if we win the lottery or lose a loved one we will quickly revert to our baseline happiness.
This notion implies some helplessness that no matter what we do our brains will revert to their preset level. That may in fact be true: if we do nothing. But, if and where we actively train our thinking we can measurably change the very brain we use to think.
Think about that.
While you thinking, get started reshaping your brain today by first reading Sharon's book, it is well worth your read.
I found this book a great intro to neuroplasticity. I read "The Mind and the Brain" first, so I was already familiar with some of the experiments and the concept, but the two books make for excellent companions. I can understand how some are turned off by the "self-help"-style title, and how the content is different than this, but for me the book was inspirational on another level than some trite self-help book. I've seen a book out there that fits this bill, but nowhere on its jacket does it mention the word "neuroplasticity," which is not such a difficult word to define simply. The commenter who finds this book an affront to science should have actually read the book, because the scientists themselves are quoted therein, and many play central roles in describing their work during the Mind and Life conference Begley covered. I am glad to see writers like Begley doing this, because there are too few writers out there who describe "what this science means" well. Personally, I found this book's ideas to be a good foundation for the notion of personal resposibility, following the golden rule, and showing that experience (aka culture and society) do in fact impact us on a fundamental level.
I am familiar with the work of the Mind and Life Institute and finding that interesting picked up this book. Unfortunately, I found this very disappointing. I didn't get all that far because she makes huge assumptions, doesn't define (what she means by) either science or Buddhism (because they aren't my understanding of either) and either misquotes or quotes poor sources. This is the type writing about Buddhism in connection with western knowledge, in this instance science, that is very problematic and poor journalism. She compares B and s in ways that sadly don't match up. Moreover she makes B sound the same as the Secret (as in Rhonda Byrne). Perhaps the book get better, but I found the interesting parts of the topic diminished by all the rest.
This book, written by Sharon Begley, is a compilation of the findings of the 12th Mind and Life Dialogue of 2004.
The Mind and Life Dialogues, now known as the Mind and Life Institute founded in 1991, is a collaboration of scientists, psychologists, and his holiness, the Dalai Lama.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, expressed an interest in modern science and entrepreneur R. Adam Engle and neuroscientist Francisco Varela took notice and initiated the first dialogue in 1984.
There have been a total of 14 dialogues since, with the last one meeting in 2010. These dialogues are a way to bridge the gap between science, religion, and philosophy.
This book focuses on the scientific evidence that proves the science behind the neuroplasticity of our brains. This is a relatively new study that only started in the 1970's. Neuroplasticity is our brain's ability to change or shift over time.
The studies in this book are nothing short of remarkable. We've often heard about how a person, who lacks the ability to see or hear, often times has a more acute ability with their other senses. Studies here prove that the brain actually repurposes areas of the brain that would otherwise be used for sight or hearing. Our brains actually continue grow, produce more neurons, and are far more adaptive than what many have previously thought.
The book is chock-full of scientific evidence that proves we have amazing abilities to reprogram ourselves and overcome challenges we faced in our younger years. It delves into the "nature versus nurture" debate and solidified my belief that we are able to go far beyond the original genes we inherited.
I absolutely love the study of the brain and our mind. We have so much to learn about how our brains operate. The study of neuroplasticity is in its infancy and the positive implications for our society as a whole, with further knowledge on this topic, is nothing short of extraordinary.
Amazon reviewers give this one 4.1 stars with 150 reviewers and Goodreads says 3.96 stars after 1,495 ratings and 142 reviews. Great book! I highly recommend it!
This book is all about neuroplasticity or as I'll refer to it as NP. The author discusses scientific studies in animals, rats, monkeys, birds, and humans supporting the theory that your brain can change and isn't set at birth. The book also looks to bridge Buddhism and neuroscience. The Dalai Lama has regular retreats with top scientists and Buddhist monks in an effort to learn more about how the two are compatible. The Mind and Life Institute is the organization that conducts this program.
Lots of talk about neurons, and how they form. Young brains may do better than older ones, are more plastic, but the jury is out. Sensory experiences can reshape the brain. Adult brains can reprogram themselves. Attention and focus can enable NP. Meditation can help alter the brain. Mental training too can change the brain.
So, you can be a life long learner and change your brain, the way you see things and think. You can develop more compassion and be happier. What happened to you as a kid, can be reprogrammed. You're not stuck in the past. Your birth DNA is not determinative of your potential.
My only issue is that the library copy of the book was all marked up by an angry or disgruntled reader and it distracted me. Why people do this is beyond me. Disgraceful!
“The environment and our experiences change our brain, so who you are as a person changes by virtue of the environment you live in and the experiences you have.”
Key takeaways: 1. Our mental capacity and behaviours are not determined by our anatomy or genes but rather our perceptions and experiences. Connections between one neurone and another are the physical manifestation of memories. So the brain undergoes continuous physical change based on how we translate the outside world into our inner experiences
2. The fact that our brain is malleable means that we’ll always be in a state of flux. In that sense, we need to relinquish the notion of self. When we are able to detach ourselves from our thoughts and emotions, we can transcend our craving and the cause of our suffering
3. Mental training with focused attention can rewire our emotional circuits to elevate our happiness baseline. It can bring enduring physical changes in the brain to to elicit sustained positive emotions can forever alter our sense of well-being and contentment.
This book, as I told the Dalai Lama, at his home in Dharamsala, India, actually has some very interesting information, unfortunately, the Dalai Lama has not discussed the use of commas, and run on sentences, with random comments in the middle of sentences, making almost every sentence in the book unreadable, and then we had lunch at his home in Dharamsala, India, but let me tell you about my first Summer job which has nothing to do with the point, and we experiments on monkeys, and pianists, making the whole thing quite interesting, as I told the Dalai Lama.
Overall, the information is great. I personally would have rather read the abstracts of all the studies mentioned, then been told what they had for lunch and who told who what, and the names of the monkeys.
You should meditate. It's good for you. It will change your brain. Read a different book if you need to know why.
Neuroplasticity. Regardless of what we used to think about the way the brain works or stops working, we can slow down the deteriorating of some brain functions by making changes in our thinking. Those born with hearing or seeing impairments can improve their brains Thinking is the key to change in brain, directed thinking can reprogram parts of brain normally used for vision to being used for hearing. etc. ghost limb portions of brain or giving rise to feelings related to the limb can be reprogrammed by thinking.
. . . the most powerful influences on the mind come from within our own mind. 229 per Dalai Lama there is an "art" of happiness. * * * for him it is not that he has to suppress hatred, for instance, he never experiences it. p. 242
An interesting look at recent (well, recent as of ten years ago when the book was published) scientific research exploring the plasticity of the adult brain... And it turns out it is much, much more plastic than western science believed for a long time. The book also explores overlap with Buddhist philosophy, which has long held that the human mind has the ability to better itself through training.
Exciting implications for mental disorders, those with insecure attachment styles, aging, and really anyone interested in pursuing mental fitness in order to have a healthier and happier emotional life.
Citing numerous scientific studies in neurology, Begley argues that the plasticity of the human brain is shaped by mental forces, such as autosuggestion and affirmations. The book gathers all the information presented to the Dalai Lama as part of a conference on the nexus of neuroscience and Buddhism in developing a better understanding of the mind. Listening to all of horrible descriptions of animal torture and sacrifices made to obtain this knowledge for the selfish sake of humanity was grueling, which call into question the whole enterprise. As the experiments showed, however, focused attention is the difference that makes the difference to produce desired results.
"Genes are not destiny. Our genes, and thus their effects on the brain, are more plastic than we ever dreamed".
This outstanding, neurologically stimulating book illustrates with intricate examples and studies how plastic the brain really is. This gives hope to the millions that suffer with depression, motor deficiencies, and learning disabilities. It's possible to overcome adversities with mental conditioning and applied physical training with a determined mind that believes it can truly become triumphant.
Sharon Begley has a way of writing that keeps you on the page.
A very intriguing book full of interesting science and research to back up the idea that “thoughts change hone way you think”. However, there was so much information that there wasn’t much room to breathe, so you have to really pay attention and take notes. In the end, mental training and focusing and self-compassion will help you change your brain—it was cool learning the science behind that, but I already knew that, as well as most of the theories. This book does inspire me to implement new practices and taught me some interesting things for sure, but it was kinda an info dump! 🙈🤭
Recommended by Sanjay Gupta in "Keep Sharp", I decided to read as this book further explores neuroplasticity, the capability that we have to transform our brain. It is a great book with evidence of the impacts we can have on our own brains! Many of the examples used are Buddhist monks and their meditative practices. The evidence is clear, we can truly train our mind and change our brain even when we are in our 70's! I will admit it is a bit of a hard read with many terms describing parts of the brain, etc. I am not familiar with but it is worth the effort!!!
Me complace haber leído este libro de sobremanera,el mensaje es bastante claro y se resume en que nuestro cerebro,contrario a lo que todos piensan, puede tener un desenvolvimiento excelente aún cuando se esté en una edad muy adulta, la neuroplasticidad demostrada que existe en este, hace posible que podríamos ir más allá de lo normal,sin ninguna limitación más que cuánto lo entrenes, igual como sucede en un gimnasio,así puedes entrenar a tu mente y conservar/mejorar tus cualidades.Excelente y muy bien fundamentado libro.
The science of neuroplasticity receives a legitimate analysis and validation through anecdotal stories and their associated scientific studies. The mind can change the physical structure of the brain. Even in youth, the developing mind can change our genes for benefit and harm. Heavy focus on associating the tenets of Buddhism is here.
I believe such religious analogies could also be compared to Christianity and other religions. People often set the ABC (Anything But Christian) tone in spiritual transformation techniques.
This book debunks the theory your character, health, well-being, emotions are determined at birth. It provides scientific proof the brain is not a rigid, mapped out part of your body but that has the plasticity to evolve and adapt throughout your lifetime. I highly recommend this book to get you thinking not only about your long term physical health but your mental health as well
Interesting subject matter, but sadly not very well written. Too long, repetitive, wandering, and until the end, it felt like Buddhism was kind of shoehorned in. I wish the last 2 chapters, detailing how meditation may change the brain, and then what's next, were the whole book, as they were the most interesting part. There are also some really strained analogies in here, too. This book took me a long time to read, because I couldn't really do more than 5 pages at a time.