Book Review – The Brain that Changes Itself

The brain is a very complicated system that we are still trying to understand. In the last decades the have been incredible leaps in this understanding, but we are just scratching the surface of an incredible machine that works in a way that we don’t understand, and doing so in a very efficient way. And yes, it has its many quirks and faults, but the closest machine learning and artificial intelligence system that we have are still far from being able to do what that mass of gray matter does inside our heads.

There are many theories on how and when the brain evolves and changes, and for many years we assumed that the brain of grown persons were static, had very little changes, and that it could not heal, or if it could, it would take very long for it to happen.

This book compiles multiple studies and long-term research projects that have turned this theory upside down. From teaching the brain to “see” in a completely new way, to understanding that pain is something the brain creates to keep you safe and that you can sometimes (and with a lot of effort) re-program the brain to stop creating this pain, and how practice inside your head is also practice.

Here are some interesting passages from the book:

  • One of the great discoveries Penfield made was that sensory and motor brain maps, like geographical maps, are topographical, meaning that areas adjacent to each other on the body’s surface are generally adjacent to each other on the brain maps. 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. The Penfield maps shaped several generations’ view of the brain. But because scientists believed that the brain couldn’t change, they assumed, and taught, that the maps were fixed, immutable, and universal—the same in each of us—though Penfield himself never made either claim. Merzenich discovered that these maps are neither immutable within a single brain nor universal but vary in their borders and size from person to person. In a series of brilliant experiments he showed that the shape of our brain maps changes depending upon what we do over the course of our lives. … Merzenich and Jenkins also found that as neurons are trained and become more efficient, they can process faster. This means that the speed at which we think is itself plastic.
  • 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.”

This book covers a lot and makes you want to learn more and more about the subject. Highly recommended. Buy it from your prefered site.

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