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on November 26, 2010
This book describes in very readable terms, the basic findings of recent research of the mind using fMRI imaging. Have you ever known someone that suffers (or has suffered) from anxiety disorders, coma, traumatic brain injuries? You need to look at this book! I picked it up on a whim and am so glad I did! This book does not give the "answers" but it explores research regarding the minds of "normal" people, those with Alzheimers, the aging mind, convicted criminals, teenagers, victims of traumatic brain injuries, etc. Absolutely fascinating and very informative! You will never look at people (especially "annoying" or "scary" people) the same after you read this!
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VINE VOICEon 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
and
Beyond Broccoli, Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn't Work
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This book takes a look at healthy and unhealthy brains as discovered by brain imaging technologies that also are changing the way we see the mind in action. There is a little discussion about neuroplasticity, higher consciousness and compassion. This book seems a little influenced by Buddhist thought when talking about the concept of the self. But on the whole it is not a religious book.

I learned some interesting things like how 80% of young adults who have survived abuse have at least one mental problem including depression, PTSD, anxiety or eating disorders. From knowing things about my friend's childhoods and how they act today I can say this is accurate. Even neglect can be abuse.

The only thing I really disagreed with in this book was that the author seemed to imply that God is the creation of the brain, not that he is the creator of the brain. Otherwise I found this book to be entertaining intellectually.

~The Rebecca Review
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on November 8, 2012
Well written, deep and societally relevant. This work is packed with neurology and it's implications toward personal and social systems. It raises many interesting and potentially dangerous questions. Pretty great for steeped and decently versed amateur nerds.

An important topic covered is Neuro-plasticity, or the ability of neurons to be changed as learning occurs. Evidence of this exists through Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which uses a magnetic field to align water molecules with / against the magnetic field of the brain and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in which a radioisotope is adhered to a bio-active chemical that then migrates to active regions of the brain.

The `Pictures of the Mind' are obtained through the aforementioned means. The authors then cover a few pertinent social and judicial issues with the tests that have been devised using the neurological measuring devices.

For instance:

Vegetative States - tests have been devised to show whether or not activity is occurring. At any given time there are between 25,000 and 35,000 `vegetative' persons in the US alone. Tests have been created that show whether or not a vegetative person can respond to stimuli occurring around them. If the neuro-imaging shows they can they are considered to suffer `Locked-In Syndrome' (LIS). If they are unresponsive the social issue of Doctor assisted suicide or mercy killing can then be raised.

Mindfulness / Meditation: Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teach people to realize their lack of control upon the universe, people and certain situations. It is a letting go of control coupled with an astute awareness of one's bio-feedback while attempting to create Metta (unconditional love for oneself and others).

Mindfulness also attempts to get at the root of `happiness' (pleasure is fleeting). Leading a eudemonic lifestyle, one filled with purpose, growth and mastery greatly increases overall happiness. Interesting constructs of the brain at work include: the insula (integrates emotion and the physical feelings associated to the emotion), left prefrontal cortex (gauges positive states of mind), the dorsal striatum (activity relates to # of dopaminergic synapses, also related to gene: Taq1a1), and the amygdala (negative emotion center of the `old brain').

Addiction: 40-60% of susceptibility can be delegated to genetics. In 1956 addiction was considered a `disease', it greatly effects the judgment centers of the brain (prefrontal & orbito-frontal cortices) but interestingly if the insula is damaged an individual often finds addicting habits easy to break.

Pain: The rostra anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) is designed to moderate pain and focus attention.

The authors also discuss legal issues regarding fMRI and PET scans that will likely be used in courts and judicial proceedings as they become more bonafide. For instance, will we soon know what `crazy' looks like using radioisotopes? How can underdevelopment be legally punished? Is a neuro-image a violation of the 5th amendment against self-incrimination?

A few other items of interest to myself:

`The Dark Network' - the spaces on an fMRI that show zero activity when we're actively engaged and focused upon an external stimulus, but once we've returned to day-dreaming or pondering our past / future it lights up.

Amyeloid plaques and tangles generally form in the `dark network'. Here, in other words, is where Alzheimer's Disease gets it's progressive, degenerative start. As many as 4.5 million Americans suffer Alzheimer's in some form. The development of Pittsburgh Compound B (PiB), a dye that attaches to early forming plaques may offer a means to keep that number, at least, stable.

Memory erasure is possible. PKMzeta & Alpha-CaMKII when used to over-express the protein in rats during recall have been shown to eliminate memories. This raises quite the ethics / metaphysical question - would you want your memories removed? Even the bad ones that make you `you'? What if this were forced upon you, say a soldier with PTSD?
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VINE VOICEon August 24, 2011
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a genuine interest in the latest research on the brain, that three pound tissue mass that controls our waking, sleeping, walking, talking, and thinking. From behavior and emotions to movement and memory, the brain is the master control center. While the book states that brain research is still in its baby stages, there's much more information available than there was even ten of fifteen years ago. Of particular interest was the material on supposedly brain dead people who are aware of their surroundings. Because of imaging techniques, doctors now know that even those who seem to be in a vegetative state can hear and understand conversations, even those chats that concern their own states of awareness. One patient later described his anxiety when hearing family members and doctors discuss his prognosis as though he didn't exist!

Also of interest to me were the sections on the brain's involvement in drug addiction and its serious medications in Alzheimer's Disease (AD). About the drug addiction section, I know have a better understanding of just why and how some drugs have such a grip on people. And as a person who had a grandmother with AD, I was both intrigued and scared by the latest in Alzheimer's research.

Although the book is technical, it's not so medically based and ponderous that a lay person with a degree of knowledge about the brain and biology couldn't understand it. In fact, I'd recommend it as "must-read" for anyone who has ever asked WHY? or HOW? When considering some of the basics of human behavior and mental processes.
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on June 27, 2014
I found this book very interesting and thought-provoking. I wondered when my mother was in a coma prior to her death in 1966 whether or not she knew I was there with her and if she could hear what I was saying. After reading this book, I now believe that she was aware of much of what was going on around her even while she was in a coma.

The neuro-imaging technology will probably be used to help us in ways we hadn't thought possible. The author points out that we must be careful, though, not to carry the possibilities too far and make serious ethical mistakes.

It was difficult for me to follow the pictures of the brain scans on my Kindle. I like being able to choose my font and my font size on my Kindle, and I like the idea of saving trees; but trying to skip back to the narrative about the pictures was not the best way for me to learn about the scans. For that part of the book, I would have preferred holding a book with paper pages in my hands.

I think I found only one typo in the book, and it was very minor.

Thank you, Beatles (yes, the singing group) for making the CT scanners possible through the donation from your recording company.
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on February 25, 2012
When I picked up Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are it was because I was trying to change my life after getting out of a 20 year long emotionally crushing relationship. I literally had my whole identity shaped and decided by a person who left me emotionally broken after I decided taking care of this person was no longer a priority in my life. I did not in fact know who I was. This book was not what I expected, it was far better.
First, don' get scared off by scary words like Neuroscience and Neural plasticity. Ms. Boleyn-Fitzgerald does a great job of explaining even of the most complex terms in normal human English and she has a story teller like ability to explain the physical mechanics behind how the brain works.
Her way of building the the book starting at the very basic question of "What it means to have consciousness" is explained in a way that anyone , given enough time to think about things , can understand. She explores the physiology behind PTSD, the creation of emotions, how meditation works and explores controversial questions such as are we hardwired for religion and what does that mean.
Yes there is a lot of use of Buddhist ideas but part of it was due to the research that was being done. Later on it it merely serves as context for understanding how to train your mind for happiness. She makes sure the readers know this is not an exclusively Buddhist thing but rather yoga or mental walking for the brain.
How I viewed the world changed a lot after I read this book.. I recommend this book for anyone who went through a traumatic experience but I can , with an equal amount of enthusiasm for anyone who wants to understand "why" the feel the way they do and exert more control over the chemical reaction we call emotions.
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on July 6, 2012
Pictures of the Mind touches on the neuroscience related to an array of topics including happiness, morality, addiction and pain to name a few. Through the use of fMRI studies, it gives an interesting look at the way psychology and philosophies of such topics are intertwined with neuroscience and specifically plasticity of the brain.

The author offers a great deal of information relating the imaging studies to developmental changes of the adult brain; however, I wish she had followed through with more detail on some of the studies. The author worked to point out as many studies as possible instead of focusing on the facts of each study and how they define plasticity. Pictures of the imaging studies were also included in the book; however, they were not placed near the referenced study and their descriptions were not clear enough to decipher the findings without referring back to previous sections of the book.

All in all, this was a very intriguing book that was easy to read. It involved enough neuroscience to support the claims, but not so much that it would bore a person who was not familiar with this area of science. This book gave me a greater appreciation for the old saying "mind over matter" and the control we as individuals have over the way our minds work.
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on April 22, 2013
I have not finished this book, but there is no danger that I will stop reading it. It is taking longer than some because I am not a scientist. The reader must not be discouraged from buying it because it is very readable and one can always use the kindle dictionary to find words not understood. For me, it just takes longer to read than most of the things I buy, but it is so excellent - so informative - so encouraging to those interested in the way the brain works and interested in knowing more about the latest research that I cannot imagine not buying it. This book is superb.
Later: I have now finished the book and I still feel the way I felt when I wrote the above. All I can add is that, if you are the least bit interested in the subject of how the brain works and you are not a scientist, this book is for you!
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on May 30, 2013
I loved this because it not only had a lot of new information and good writing, but also something you hardly ever read in scientific publications, human empathy. I am not saying that scientist do not care about humanity, that is the main reason most of them do what they do, because they care. But most of the things I have read that had actual statistics and breakthroughs in science tend to leave out the emotional and , well, human side of the story. We never find out what happened to the people those statistics are actually about, or how they felt about it. In this book you not only get to hear about cutting edge science, but the humanity behind it. Love it!
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