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The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force Paperback – October 14, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Schwartz (A Return to Innocence), a UCLA psychiatrist and expert on treating patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), teams up with Begley, a Wall Street Journal science columnist, to explore the mind/brain dichotomy and to discuss the science behind new treatments being developed for a host of brain dysfunctions. Building on the work presented in Schwartz's first book, Brain Lock, the authors begin by demonstrating that OCD patients are capable of rechanneling compulsive urges into more socially acceptable activities and that, by doing so, they actually alter their brains' neuronal circuitry. By presenting a wide array of animal and human experiments, Schwartz and Begley show that similar neuroplasticity is possible in stroke victims, often leading to a return of function previously thought impossible. The medical results and treatments they summarize are exciting and deserve widespread attention. In a chapter entitled "Free Will and Free Won't," the authors turn to the philosophical, examining the implications neuroplasticity might have on the differences between mind and brain; they also discourse on the existence of free will. Unfortunately, their integration of quantum mechanics and Buddhism into a search for a mechanism to explain the patterns scientists have been discovering is too superficial to fully engage readers. Nonetheless, a great deal in this book is sure to motivate discussion and more research.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Schwartz's undergraduate major was philosophy, and that interest as well as Buddhism has broadened his outlook and makes this book potentially attractive to more readers than those habitually interested in "brain science." Psychiatrist Schwartz pioneered the use of positron-emission tomography in studying obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The behaviorists' therapeutic use of the often-harsh exposure and prevention method with OCD struck Schwartz as brutal and unproductive. Searching for a new approach, he gradually developed the four-step method that he and science writer Begley thoroughly describe here. Employing the Buddhist idea of willful mindfulness, Schwartz and his colleagues enjoyed considerable research and clinical success. A long, informal collaboration with physicist Henry Stapp enabled Schwartz to overcome the problem of free will and moral action, and one of his major achievements was proving the neuroplasticity of the adult brain, thanks to which the formation of new transmission routes coincides with that of new neurons. Schwartz and Begley bring to life the thinking and work of many original investigators in a book that thoughtful readers will enjoy. William Beatty
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060988479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060988470
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I was having a bit of a philosophical crisis when I went looking for a book on free will and determinism -- I had discovered that deep down, I really didn't believe in free will. That was a surprise, since consciously I thought the idea of fate was absurd. I always thought that my brain had been programmed to be the way it was through my genes and the way I was raised, and that the best I could do was to not get too upset about the way I am, do whatever came to me, and hope for some life-changing experience to make things better.
After some research on the internet I decided to do what William James and Abraham Maslow did and "act as if" I had free will, and see if I got the same extraordinary results they did (both had been depressed determinists and were "cured" once they gave free will an active try). I still wanted intellectual confirmation though, and I came across this book at the bookstore and bought it on a hunch.
This book has blown my mind. Schwartz' cognitive-therapy work with obsessive-compulsive patients leads us to ask the question, "How is it that a strictly mental process can result in measurable brain changes as shown on PET scans?" Is it caused by another part of the brain? Even if it is, that just postpones the question, because what caused that part of the brain to be any different this time? He makes the case that conscious experience isn't reduceable to anything more fundamental -- try having a colorblind researcher truly understand the color "red" by tracing physical and chemical changes in the brain. Combine that with the fact in quantum mechanics that observation affects which reality it is that shows up, and he proposes a kind of fundamental "mental force" and does a much better job of explaining it than I've done here.
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By A Customer on January 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book anticipating a different perspective on this timeless question. A different perspective is exactly what I found. Schwartz begins with a description of his research on obsessive-compulsive disorder. This section of the book is simply great. It is a nice example of how advances in neurobiological investigation have helped to elucidate the neural circuitry that underlies psychological states. Schwartz also gives a nice overview of the current views on conciousness.
He then goes on to discuss the topic of neuroplasticity citing the case of the Silver Springs monkeys. You get a nice history lesson in addition to a summary of some hard won facts about the brain. He also gives plenty of examples of neuroplasticity in humans. He uses this as the physical basis of his own stylized treatment for OCD. His treatment is based on the concept of a mental force (a nebulous concept if there ever was one) that is able to change the brain through the principles of quantum mechanics. He devotes the rest of his book to discussing the quantum mind as well as some implications of the theory as it applies to consciousness.
It is the last third of the book that attempts to explain the concept of a mental force that interacts with the physical substance of the brain (through quantum mechanics) to ultimately produce behavior. The problem as I see it, is that Schwartz believes that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, in that it is more than the sum of its mere physical parts. He seems to be unable to accept the idea that our mental lives are reducible entirely to physical processes. Many of Schwartz's conclusions in this book are based on his a priori assumption that the mind is more than the brain.
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Format: Hardcover
There's a lot of interesting and useful information in this book, but it's not without it's flaws. On the positive side:

- The descriptions of experiments on the brain are fascinating. So are the descriptions of experiments in quanta mechanics and the resulting paradoxes.

- I find the conclusions regarding the brain's ability to rewire itself quite inspiring.

- I also find very interesting the idea that Buddhist meditation may be driving neuroplastic changes; it is implied that this physiological change--unbeknownst to the practitioner--is what is actually gained through meditation.

- I admire authors' drive to bring science to questions regarding sentience, although it isn't clear how successful they are; as others have said, taking the evidence provided to the conclusions provided requires a leap of faith. In any case, it's a start from which others may build.

On the flip side:

- I found myself reading reworded versions of the same idea over and over. It was as if the authors were themselves trying to rewire the reader's brain through repetitive exercises. Unfortunately, this makes the reader lose attention, thus undermining this goal.

- There is a lot of text that attempts to add a human interest perspective. Maybe this was considered important to the commercial appeal the book. But, for this reader, it only diluted the value.

- As mentioned by many others, the authors do not provide convincing evidence to support their conclusions on free will. For example, the authors provide very interesting details about quanta mechanics and the evidence that the universe is not deterministic.
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