Norman Doidge · 427 pages
Rating: (24.2K votes)
“The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”
“All of us have worries. We worry because we are intelligent beings. Intelligence predicts, that is its essence; the same intelligence that allows us to plan, hope, imagine, and hypothesize also allows us to worry and anticipate negative outcomes.”
“As we age and plasticity declines, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore or forget, or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways. Increasingly the aging individual acts to preserve the structures within, and when there is a mismatch between his internal neurocognitive structures and the world, he seek to change the world. In small ways he begins to micromanage his environment, to control it, and make it familiar. But this process, writ large, often leads whole cultural groups to try to impose their view of the world on other cultures, and they often become violent, especially in the modern world, where globalization has brought different cultures closer together, exacerbating the problem. Wexler's point, then, is that much of the cross-cultural conflict we see is a product of the relative decrease in plasticity.
One could add that totalitarian regimes seem to have an intuitive awareness that it becomes hard for people to change after a certain age, which is why so much effort is made to indoctrinate the young from an early age.”
“We must be learning if we are to feel fully alive, and when life, or love, becomes too predictable and it seems like there is little left to learn, we become restless - a protest, perhaps, of the plastic brain when it can no longer perform its essential task.”
“Analysis helps patients put their unconscious procedural memories and actions into words and into context, so they can better understand them. In the process they plastically retranscribe these procedural memories, so that they become conscious explicit memories, sometimes for the first time, and patients no longer need to "relive" or "reenact" them, especially if they were traumatic.”
“Kandel argues that when psychotherapy changes people, 'it presumably does so through learning, by producing changes in gene expression that alter the strength of synaptic connections, and structural changes that alter the anatomical pattern of interconnections between nerve cells of the brain.' Psychotherapy works by going deep into the brain and its neurons and changing their structure by turning on the right genes. Psychiatrist Dr. Susan Vaughan has argued that the talking cure works by 'talking to neurons,' and that an effective psychotherpist or psychoanalyst is a 'microsurgeon of the mind' who helps patients make needed alterations in neuronal networks.”
“For children to know and regulate their emotions, and be socially connected, they need to experience this kind of interaction many hundreds of times in the critical period and then to have it reinforced later in life.”
“He is social, but not in large groups. "I don't go readily to cocktail parties, where people just come together and talk. I don't tend to like that kind of thing. I'd rather sit down with somebody and find a mutual topic of interest, and explore it in depth with that person, or maybe two or three people. Not a conversation that says how do you feel".”
“Ironically, some of our most stubborn habits and disorders are products of our plasticity.”
“If you want to lift a hundred pounds, you don't expect to succeed the first time. You start with a lighter weight and work up little by little. You actually fail to lift a hundred pounds, every day, until the day you succeed. But it is in the days when you are exerting yourself that the growth is occurring.”
“Mr. L. did not get better all at once. He had first to experience cycles of separations, dreams, depressions, and insights—the repetition, or 'working through,' required for long-term neuroplastic change. New ways of relating had to be learned, wiring new neurons together, and old ways of responding had to be unlearned, weakening neuronal links. Because Mr. L. had linked the ideas of separation and death, they were wired together in his neuronal networks. Now that he was conscious of his association, he could unlearn it.”
“Language development, for instance, has a critical period that begins in infancy and ends between eight years and puberty. After this critical period closes, a person’s ability to learn a second language without an accent is limited. In fact, second languages learned after the critical period are not processed in the same part of the brain as is the native tongue.”
“...an effective psychotherapist or psychoanalyst is a "microsurgeon of the mind" who helps patients make needed alterations in neuronal networks.”
“No other instinct can so satisfy without accomplishing its biological purpose, and no other instinct is so disconnected from its purpose.”
“We see with our brains, not with our eyes,”
“As we age and plasticity declines, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore or forget, or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways.”
“Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to injury.”
“One reason we can change our brains simply by imagining is that, from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound. When people close their eyes and visualize a simple object, such as the letter a, the primary visual cortex lights up, just as it would if the subjects were actually looking at the letter a. Brain scans show that in action and imagination many of the same parts of the brain are activated. That is why visualizing can improve performance.”
“When we learn, we alter which genes in our neurons are “expressed,” or turned on. Our genes have two functions. The first, the “template function,” allows our genes to replicate, making copies of themselves that are passed from generation to generation. The template function is beyond our control. The second is the “transcription function.” Each cell in our body contains all our genes, but not all those genes are turned on, or expressed. When a gene is turned on, it makes a new protein that alters the structure and function of the cell. This is called the transcription function because when the gene is turned on, information about how to make these proteins is “transcribed” or read from the individual gene. This transcription function is influenced by what we do and think. Most people assume that our genes shape us—our behavior and our brain anatomy. Kandel’s work shows that when we learn our minds also, affect which genes in our neurons are transcribed. Thus we can shape our genes, which in turn shape our brain’s microscopic anatomy.”
“We have seen that imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs that are involved in doing it. We have long viewed our imaginative life with a kind of sacred awe: as noble, pure, immaterial, and ethereal, cut off from our material brain. Now we cannot be so sure about where to draw the line between them. Everything your “immaterial” mind imagines leaves material traces. Each thought alters the physical state of your brain synapses at a microscopic level. Each time you imagine moving your fingers across the keys to play the piano, you alter the tendrils in your living brain. These experiments are not only delightful and intriguing, they also overturn the centuries of confusion that have grown out of the work of the French philosopher René Descartes, who argued that mind and brain are made of different substances and are governed by different laws. The brain, he claimed, was a physical, material thing, existing in space and obeying the laws of physics. The mind (or the soul, as Descartes called it) was immaterial, a thinking thing that did not take up space or obey physical laws. Thoughts, he argued, were governed by the rules of reasoning, judgment, and desires, not by the physical laws of cause and effect. Human beings consisted of this duality, this marriage of immaterial mind and material brain. But Descartes—whose mind/body division has dominated science for four hundred years—could never credibly explain how the immaterial mind could influence the material brain. As a result, people began to doubt that an immaterial thought, or mere imagining, might change the structure of the material brain. Descartes’s view seemed to open an unbridgeable gap between mind and brain. His noble attempt to rescue the brain from the mysticism that surrounded it in his time, by making it mechanical, failed. Instead the brain came to be seen as an inert, inanimate machine that could be moved to action only by the immaterial, ghostlike soul Descartes placed within it, which came to be called “the ghost in the machine.” By depicting a mechanistic brain, Descartes drained the life out of it and slowed the acceptance of brain plasticity more than any other thinker. Any plasticity—any ability to change that we had—existed in the mind, with its changing thoughts, not in the brain. But now we can see that our “immaterial” thoughts too have a physical signature, and we cannot be so sure that thought won’t someday be explained in physical terms. While we have yet to understand exactly how thoughts actually change brain structure, it is now clear that they do, and the firm line that Descartes drew between mind and brain is increasingly a dotted line.”
“According to Ramachandran, pain, like the body image, is created by the brain and projected onto the body. This assertion is contrary to common sense and the traditional neurological view of pain that says that when we are hurt, our pain receptors send a one-way signal to the brain’s pain center and that the intensity of pain perceived is proportional to the seriousness of the injury.”
“REM sleep has also been shown to be particularly important for enhancing our ability to retain emotional memories and for allowing the hippocampus to turn short-term memories of the day before into long-term ones (i.e., it helps make memories more permanent, leading to structural change in the brain).”
“He also discovered that when he touched certain parts of the brain, he triggered long-lost childhood memories or dreamlike scenes—which implied that higher mental activities were also mapped in the brain.”
“We often praise “the ability to multitask.” While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn’t lead to abiding change in your brain maps.”
“When such patterns are triggered in therapy, it gives the patient a chance to look at them and change them, for as we saw in chapter 4, “Acquiring Tastes and Loves,” positive bonds appear to facilitate neuroplastic change by triggering unlearning and dissolving existing neuronal networks, so the patient can alter his existing intentions.”
“Based on his work with plasticity, Taub has discovered a number of training principles: training is more effective if the skill closely relates to everyday life; training should be done in increments; and work should be concentrated into a short time, a training technique Taub calls “massed practice,” which he has found far more effective than long-term but less frequent training.”
“Nature has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”
“In the course of my travels I met a scientist who enabled people who had been blind since birth to begin to see, another who enabled the deaf to hear; I spoke with people who had had strokes decades before and had been declared incurable, who were helped to recover with neuroplastic treatments; I met people whose learning disorders were cured and whose IQs were raised; I saw evidence that it is possible for eighty-year-olds to sharpen their memories to function the way they did when they were fifty-five. I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas. I spoke with Nobel laureates who were hotly debating how we must rethink our model of the brain now that we know it is ever changing. The”
“Everything feels like the end of the world, and you can't reason with someone who can't see tomorrow.”
“Oh, I woke up on this bayou,
Got a chain around my heart.
Yes, I'm sitting on this bayou,
Got a chain tied 'round my heart.
Can't you see I'm dyin'?
Can't you see I'm cryin'?
Can't you throw an old dog a bone?
Oh, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Yes, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Can't you see I'm tryin'?
Can't you hear my cryin'?
Can't you see I'm all alone?
Can't you throw this old dog a bone?”
“I think we make our own luck. Our parents give us life, but what we do with that life is our own responsibility.”
“No boy is worth your tears, but once you find the one that is, he won't make you cry.”
“How are you doing this?" I continued, frowning at him. "And if you say 'I am a cat.' I swear I will throw you off this balcony.”
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