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Full of surprises about how the brain works, and inspiration for the brain's potential
on March 12, 2010
In this book, scientist Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald reports the latest on fMRI scanners and what they reveal to neuroscientists. The brain, once thought to be fixed and locked in after a certain age, is now known to be plastic and to regenerate. This neuroplasticity can give us great hope for people with injuries, addictions, memory problems, etc.
The journey begins with a British woman who was thought to be in a PVS (persistent vegetative state) but found to be conscious the entire time, but unable to communicate. The book highlights cases of various states, such as a young athlete who had everything a young man could want until after a tragic accident. He has since been left in LIS (locked-in syndrome). People have conceptions that such people would want to die, but most of them find something to live for and ways to communicate, even if just by blinking.
Moral dilemmas appear as we learn more about the brain. For example, one part of the brain rules morality and how we rationalize our moral decisions. Can we really hold accountable someone whose brain is different than the norm, thus leading to a crime? We are on the verge of being able to wipe out painful memories. Should we erase memories that ruin the lives of people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)? Or would we abuse that as drug companies encourage us to expand the definition of PTSD to include bad relationships? (Think of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which this happened!) How could people learn from their pain, gaining empathy, if every painful memory were eradicated?
Another chapter informs us on where addiction takes place in the brain. People who have had this part damaged (the insula) have been able to stop smoking cigarettes effortlessly! The book discusses how crystal meth damages the brain; yet the brain is able, given time, to repair itself to a great extent.
The book is full of surprises about the brain. For example, in one person, whose corpus callosum has been totally severed, there is no connection harmonizing the left and right brains. One researcher asked such people if they believed in God. The right brain would say "yes" but the left brain (analytical part) would say "no." The scientist performing the experiment noted that one hemisphere of the brain is an atheist, while the other is a believer, and this finding should have shaken the theological community to the core. "If this person dies, what happens? Does one hemisphere go to heaven and the other go to hell?"
The author saves the best for last: The last chapter deals with the mystical parts of the brain (the temporal lobes; people with seizures have all kinds of mystical experiences); the brain on meditation; the sense of merging with the cosmos and there being no separate self. We are shown how the power of simply paying attention to the breath affects the brain, and virtually all religions have noticed that.
This book leaves you with hope and inspiration that, whether you are brain damaged or healthy, you have the ability and potential to do more and go further.
Susan Schenck, author of The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet
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