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The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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From Publishers Weekly
For years the doctrine of neuroscientists has been that the brain is a machine: break a part and you lose that function permanently. But more and more evidence is turning up to show that the brain can rewire itself, even in the face of catastrophic trauma: essentially, the functions of the brain can be strengthened just like a weak muscle. Scientists have taught a woman with damaged inner ears, who for five years had had "a sense of perpetual falling," to regain her sense of balance with a sensor on her tongue, and a stroke victim to recover the ability to walk although 97% of the nerves from the cerebral cortex to the spine were destroyed. With detailed case studies reminiscent of Oliver Sachs, combined with extensive interviews with lead researchers, Doidge, a research psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Columbia and the University of Toronto, slowly turns everything we thought we knew about the brain upside down. He is, perhaps, overenthusiastic about the possibilities, believing that this new science can fix every neurological problem, from learning disabilities to blindness. But Doidge writes interestingly and engagingly about some of the least understood marvels of the brain. (Mar. 19)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
It takes a rare talent to explain science to the rest of us. Oliver Sacks is a master at this. So was the late Stephen Jay Gould. A case can be made for John Emsley, one-time science writer in residence at Cambridge, and author, most recently, of Better Looking, Better Living, Better Loving: How Chemistry Can Help You Achieve Life's Goals (2007).
And now there is Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist who divides his time between Columbia University and the University of Toronto. Four years ago, Doidge set himself the most cerebral of tasks: to understand a concept called neuroplasticity. The brain, far from being a collection of specialized parts, each fixed in its location and function, is in fact a dynamic organ, one that can rewire and rearrange itself as the need arises. That need can arise when the brain is physically damaged, as it is by a stroke, or simply when it is allowed to go to seed, as it has in my case.
It is an insight from which all of us can benefit. People with severe afflictions -- strokes, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, obsessive compulsive disorders and the like -- are the most obvious candidates, but who among us would not like to tack on a few IQ points or improve our memories?
To benefit from a concept, one must first grasp it, and that is what makes The Brain That Changes Itself such a terrific book. You don't have to be a brain surgeon to read it -- just a person with a curious mind. Doidge is the best possible guide. He has a fluent and unassuming style, and is able to explain difficult concepts without talking down to his readers.
The case study is the psychiatric literary genre par excellence, and Doidge does not disappoint. There is a woman who manages quite well on just half a brain, an eye surgeon who made a remarkable recovery from a severe stroke, a seven-year-old who had to be taught how to hear pitch, an eight-year-old girl whose autism was holding her back from learning how to speak. Their stories are truly inspirational, and Doidge tells them with great compassion and sensitivity.
Buy this book. Your brain will thank you. -- Jessica Warner, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the author of Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason and The Incendiary: The Misadventures of John the Painter
A masterfully guided tour through the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity research -- Discover
Doidge provides a history of the research in this growing field, highlighting scientists at the edge of groundbreaking discoveries and telling fascinating stories of people who have benefited. -- Psychology Today
Doidge tells one spell-binding story after another as he travels the globe interviewing the scientists and their subjects who are on the cutting edge of a new age. Each story is interwoven with the latest in brain science, told in a manner that is both simple and compelling. It may be hard to imagine that a book so rich in science can also be a page-turner, but this one is hard to set down. -- Jeff Zimman, Posit Science, e-newsletter
It takes a rare talent to explain science to the rest of us. Oliver Sacks is a master at this. So was the late Stephen Jay Gould. And now there is Norman Doidge. A terrific book. You don't have to be a brain surgeon to read it -- just a person with a curious mind. Doidge is the best possible guide. He has a fluent and unassuming style, and is able to explain difficult concepts without talking down to his readers. The case study is the psychiatric literary genre par excellence, and Doidge does not disappoint. Buy this book. Your brain will thank you. -- Globe & Mail
Lucid and absolutely fascinating... engaging, educational and riveting. It satisfies, in equal measure, the mind and the heart. [Doidge is] able to explain current research in neuroscience with clarity and thoroughness. Presents the ordeals of the patients about whom [he] writes...with grace and vividness. In the best medical narratives -- and the works of Doidge... join that fraternity -- the narrow bridge between body and soul is traversed with courage and eloquence. -- Chicago Tribune
Only a few decades ago, scientists considered the brain to be fixed or "hardwired," and considered most forms of brain damage, therefore, to be incurable. Dr. Doidge, an eminent psychiatrist and researcher, was struck by how his patients' own transformations belied this, and set out to explore the new science of neuroplasticity by interviewing both scientific pioneers in neuroscience, and patients who have benefited from neuro-rehabilitation. Here he describes in fascinating personal narratives how the brain, far from being fixed, has remarkable powers of changing its own structure and compensating for even the most challenging neurological conditions. Doidge's book is a remarkable and hopeful portrait of the endless adaptability of the human brain. -- Oliver Sacks
The newest buzzword in brain science seems to be neuroplasticity-the idea that the adult brain is capable of positive change. Sharon Begley covers the same ground in her upcoming TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN but with stories of those whose lives have been saved or improved through training based on neuroplastic theories, Doidge's book is much more engaging for lay readers. -- Library Journal
The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility. Mind-bending, miracle-working, reality-busting stuff, with implications, as Dr. Doidge notes, not only for individual patients with neurologic disease but for all human beings, not to mention human culture, human learning and human history -- New York Times
[Doidge] links scientific experimentation with personal triumph in a way that inspires awe for the brain, and for these scientists' faith in its capacity. A valuable compilation of work that seeks to prove the unsung adaptability of our most mysterious organ. Readers will want to read entire sections aloud and pass the book on to someone who can benefit from it. -- Washington Post --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Dr. Doidge's book is a beautiful presentation of the human story behind the scenes -- including that of the researchers who committed their lives to this work as well as of the patients who discovered hope and help through it. No particular science background is required, because he does a wonderful job of explaining just what's needed in lay language. I had a hard time putting it aside even to sleep!!!
Comments specific to the Kindle Edition Only
My major reservation and why the book receives 4 rather than 5 stars regards a dilemma with presenting it on Kindle media. Interestingly Dr. Doidge starts to evaluate the role of technology and media in influencing our brain function -- given its ready plasticity. He discussed TV, internet, video games, and the printing press, but unfortunately not Kindle versions of e-books, including his.
Itt would be valuable to address what was gained and lost with the Kindle version. Because Kindle is still a relatively new media -- now is the best time to exercise its own plasticity toward better wholeness.
Positive sparks for the Kindle: I indeed like the ability to receive the book within minutes of purchase. I like not needing to prop it open on the table in order to keep my place. I like not being tempted to fold over a page edge when the book won't stay propped or needing to scramble for some scrap paper to tear up and insert. It is a relief to be able to add notes which don't clutter up the margins with scribbled lines and highlights.
However, some negative Kindling was ignited as well trying to make my way through this book -- particularly over the loss of context and critical visuo-spatial clues. Reading is not a strictly linear activity. There were key features of the global spatial organization that are sadly missing in the Kindle version. Examples:
1. There are no clues as to what chapter you are reading once you have dived into one. So if you lay down your Kindle and resume latter...who knows? Many non-fiction books would have a header or footer on every page as a reminder or you can rapidly flip a chunk of pages in a matter of milliseconds to find out. Much more tedious to page backwards or forwards an unknown number of "location blocks" to find out. (Instead of page numbers you are shown locations blocks.) There are several potential solutions -- having a menu item that zooms out to context information like this, or implementing better use of the horizontal position bar at the bottom of the screen so that instead of showing you the percentage of the entire book you have passed through, the bar at least shows where you are with respect to major chapter divisions as a contextual map.
2. Finding natural rest breaks is nearly impossible. I like to have an idea how far into a chapter I have progressed, and whether reading just a couple more pages will leave off at a "good stopping point" (i.e. after a good night's sleep). Not possible. The progress marker at the bottom of the text refers to what percent of >7000 locations you have completed -- which refers to the percentage of the whole book. The only thing less useful would be to tell me how many words or characters I've completed out of the whole.
3. Use of supplmentary material is very cumbersome. After the first chapter or so, I like to know the scope of the remaining text, how much is really text versus supplements. How good the supplements and illustrations are and how they would be used while reading the text. Yes...I really do want to know what is actually in the appendices so I can see if I will use them as I am reading. Again. Not much to go on here. In this book the appendices do contain several items but these are not cataloged in the table of contents -- its a total mystery box. Once you start into Appendix 1 or Appendix 2 you can't tell what is coming up next or where you are within and between the internal sections. You don't know whether you will miss something valuable or not without going through every single screen. You can't perform a search for something you don't know yet is there.
4. The index likewise is not helpful other than to serve as a reminder of key phrases in the book. These do not work as links back to the relevant part of the text. No location or page numbers are shown. No frequency of occurrences is given. Nothing to suggest any relative perspective about where in the book the information occurs.
Instead you must type the phrases one at a time into the search box. I do like some features of the the resulting list of occurrences for that word or phrase, the 2-4 line capture of the surrounding sentence(s) and the ability now to link back to the text. However, most of the critical context is still lost. There is no easy way to "zoom out" and see whether the clip you have been transported to is in chapter three, five or chapter nine. You don't know if the topic covers a range of several pages and is a major occurrence or whether it is single line/paragraph hit. You can't tell whether it is before, after or anywhere near the passage where you remember reading about a favorite or related phenomenon. Looking up the related phenomenon next might help; however, it is likewise floating adrift in a contextless sea. I do realize that one can look at the location numbers. But these are so ridiculously large and not subdivided into chapters -- they are relatively meaningless. At least some memory functions work by chunking -- but these chunks need to have meaning!!
5. Similar constraints limit the usefulness of the notes section. they are not easily associated with the text to which they refer, nor is it easy to find them chapter by chapter -- only as giant a "clump" at the end.
It seems possible that an unfortunate side-effect of engaging in Kindle- reading, until these contextual and spatial clues are restored, would actually interfere with the forms of photographic memory unconsciously employed by most of us and especially by those who have a gift for photographic memory. It becomes nearly impossible to stamp into memory 7000 locations devoid of almost all other landmarks and that change based on text size. A truly functional and fascinating part of our brain function is potentially sacrificed.
Thus, I think it would be useful to gather some master publishers of printed works along with Dr. Doidge and the best of these surviving neuroscientists/neuroengineers he interviewed and put them into a think tank project -- these creative minds and Amazon's Kindle developers need to invest a bit more thought into ways to maximize the Kindle interface with: a)this book, and b) the human brain.
Surrendering so many visuospatial and organizational cues for contextless leaps between linear text clusters does not seem like a productive tradeoff to me. Neuroscience professionals working out these dilemmas on his intriguing book could solve similar problems for many other books -- the nonfiction and academic books are most in need. Navigating a novel with only a few trail markers may be fine. But not so fine for the less narrative works; its an especially vulnerable way to travel for anything academic.
Over time publishers have acquired a great deal of information about the organization and contextual patterns which truly improve understanding, learning, recall and motivation to return to a book for reference purposes. I really don't want to give up this acumulated wisdom. So far computer assisted publishing has added substantial depth to the ordering and visual aspects of the printed page. So...now with the Kindle...let's truly improve rather than just subtract contextual and multisensory clues.
I'd rather not rewire my brain backwards toward chaos through my exposure to Kindle books.