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The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Forceby Jeffrey M Schwartz
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One The Matter of Mind
Nature in her unfathomable designs has mixed us of clay and flame, of brain and mind, that the two things hang indubitably together and determine each other's being, but how or why, no mortal may ever know.
What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.
Of all the thousands of pages and millions of words devoted to the puzzle of the mind and the brain, to the mystery of how something as sublime and insubstantial as thought or consciousness can emerge from three pounds of gelatinous pudding inside the skull, my favorite statement of the problem is not that of one of the great philosophers of history, but of a science fiction writer. In a short story first published in the science and sci-fi magazine "Omni in 1991, the Hugo-winning author Terry Bisson gets right to the heart of the utter absurdity of the situation: that an organ made from basically the same material ingredients (nucleated, carbon-based, mitochondria-filled cells) as, say, a kidney, is able to generate this ineffable thing called mind. Bisson's story begins with this conversation between an alien commander and a scout who has just returned from Earth to report the results of his reconnaissance:
"They're made out of meat."
"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"
"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."
"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they're made of meat."
"Maybe they're like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."
"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their lifespans, which didn't take too long. Do you have any idea of the lifespan of meat?"
"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."
"Nope, we thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."
"Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat."
"So ... what does the thinking?"
"You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat."
"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture, or do I have to start all over?"
It was some 2,500 years ago that Alcmaeon of Croton, an associate of the Pythagorean school of philosophy who is regarded as the founder of empirical psychology, proposed that conscious experience originates in the stuff of the brain. A renowned medical and physiological researcher (he practiced systematic dissection),Alcmaeon further theorized that all sensory awareness is coordinated by the brain. Fifty years later, Hippocrates adopted this notion of the brain as the seat of sensation, writing in his treatise on seizures: "I consider that the brain has the most power for man ... The eyes and ears and tongue and hands and feet do whatsoever the brain determines ... it is the brain that is the messenger to the understanding and the brain that interprets the understanding." Although Aristotle and the Stoics rejected this finding (seating thought in the heart instead), today scientists know, as much as they know anything, that all of mental life springs from neuronal processes in the brain. This belief has dominated studies of mind-brain relations since the early nineteenth century, when phrenologists attempted to correlate the various knobs and bumps on the skull with one or another facet of personality or mental ability. Today, of course, those correlations are a bit more precise, as scientists, going beyond the phrenologists' conclusion that thirty-seven mental faculties are represented on the surface of the skull, do their mapping with brain imaging technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which pinpoint which brain neighborhoods are active during any given mental activity.
This has been one of the greatest triumphs of modern neuroscience, this mapping of whole worlds of conscious experience — from recognizing faces to feeling joy, from fingering a violin string to smelling a flower — onto a particular cluster of neurons in the brain. It began in the 1950s, when Wilder Penfield, a pioneer in the neurosurgery of epilepsy,electrically stimulated tiny spots on the surface of patients' brains (a painless procedure, since neurons have no feeling). The patients were flooded with long-forgotten memories of their grandmother or heard a tune so vividly that they asked the good doctor why a phonograph was playing in the operating theater. But it is not merely the precision of the mental maps that has increased with the introduction of electrodes — and later noninvasive brain imaging — to replace the skull-bump cartography beloved of phrenologists. So has neuroscientists' certainty that tracing different mental abilities to specific regions in the brain — verbal working memory to a spot beneath the left temple, just beside the region that encodes the unpleasantness of pain and just behind the spot that performs exact mathematical calculations — is a worthy end in itself. So powerful and enduring has been Alcmaeon's hypothesis about the seat of mental life ...
Conventional science holds that "the mind" is only an illusion, a side effect of the activity of the physical brain. Now comes a book, based on cutting-edge research, that argues exactly the opposite--that the mind has a life of its own. In The Mind and the Brain, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading brain researcher, and the distinguished science writer Sharon Begley, demonstrate that the human mind has the power to shape and control the physical brain. The authors chronicle decades of studies proving the existence of what Schwartz calls directed mental force--that is, the power of mind. The implications of Schwartz and Begley's thesis are extensive, from potential treatments for disease to new strategies to help us harness our mental powers. More important still is the philosophical dimension of their work--for its remarkable evidence of human free will has profound implications for man. Their conclusions will stir debate--and change the future of human potential.
A leading researcher in brain dysfunction and a Wall Street Journal science writer demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the physical brain. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
A groundbreaking work of science that confirms, for the first time, the independent existence of the mind-and demonstrates the possibilities for human control over the workings of the brain.
Conventional science has long held the position that 'the mind' is merely an illusion, a side effect of electrochemical activity in the physical brain. Now in paperback, Dr Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley's groundbreaking work, The Mind and the Brain, argues exactly the opposite: that the mind has a life of its own.Dr Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and Wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain. Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult neuroplasticity-the brain's ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by neuroscientists.
Through decades of work treating patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed, his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones, Schwartz's patients were using their minds to reshape their brains-and discovering a thrilling new dimension to the concept of neuroplasticity.
The Mind and the Brain follows Schwartz as he investigates this newly discovered power, which he calls self-directed neuroplasticity or, more simply, mental force. It describes his work with noted physicist Henry Stapp and connects the concept of 'mental force' with the ancient practice of mindfulness in Buddhist tradition. And it points to potential new applications that could transform the treatment of almost every variety of neurological dysfunction, from dyslexia to stroke-and could lead to new strategies to help us harness our mental powers. Yet as wondrous as these implications are, perhaps even more important is the philosophical dimension of Schwartz's work. For the existence of mental force offers convincing scientific evidence of human free will, and thus of man's inherent capacity for moral choice.
In his work treating patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz made an extraordinary discovery: by focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward positive ones, his patients were able to make permanent changes to their own neural pathways. In The Mind and the Brain Schwartz explores this power — the power of the mind to shape the brain.
Through research and case studies, he demonstrates the brain's ability to be drastically rewired, not just in childhood but throughout life — a paradigm-shifting discovery that could transform the treatment of every neurological dysfunction, from dyslexia to stroke.
Schwartz's landmark book challenges the idea that we are merely biologically programmed automatons and proves that we have the power to shape our brains and, consequently, our destiny — a revolutionary insight that continues to provoke debate among those who care about the future of man's role in the universe.
About the Author
Jeffrey M. Schwartz M.D. is an internationally-recognized authority on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and is the author of the bestseller Brain Lock. He is a Research Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine.
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