Synopses & Reviews
Is it really possible to change the structure and function of the brain, and in so doing alter how we think and feel? The answer is a resounding yes. In late 2004, leading Western scientists joined the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to address this very question–and in the process brought about a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation.
For decades, the conventional wisdom of neuroscience held that the hardware of the brain is fixed and immutable–that we are stuck with what we were born with. As Begley shows, however, recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates whether and how the brain can undergo wholesale change, reveal that the brain is capable not only of altering its structure but also of generating new neurons, even into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, and compensate for disability.
Begley documents how this fundamental paradigm shift is transforming both our understanding of the human mind and our approach to deep-seated emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. These breakthroughs show that it is possible to reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain. They also suggest that it is possible to teach and learn compassion, a key step in the Dalai Lama’s quest for a more peaceful world. But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, in particular, focused attention. This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone.
With her extraordinary gift for making science accessible, meaningful, and compelling, Sharon Begley illuminates a profound shift in our understanding of how the brain and the mind interact. This tremendously hopeful book takes us to the leading edge of a revolution in what it means to be human.
"The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and some of the world's leading neuroscientists all gather once a year at a conference on the latest discoveries in neuroplasticity: the study of how the human brain can change itself. (This is the second book the subject due out in March, along with Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself). This remarkable conference serves as the center of Wall Street Journal science columnist Begley's account of neuroplasticity. Until recently, the reigning theory was that neurons in the brain didn't regenerate. Begley walks readers through the seminal experiments showing that in fact new neurons are created in the brain every day, even in people in their 70s. With frequent tangents into Buddhist philosophy, Begley surveys current knowledge of neuroplasticity. Most interesting is a series of experiments with Buddhist adepts who have spent over 10,000 hours meditating. What these experiments show is tantalizing: it might be possible to train the brain to be better at feeling certain emotions, such as compassion. No less interesting are the hurdles the scientists face in recruiting participants; yogis replied that if these scientists wanted to understand meditation, they should meditate. Despite the title, the book holds no neuroplasticity tips, but it is a fascinating exploration of the ways the mind can change the brain. Corrections: The author of The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession (Reviews, Dec. 18, 2006) is Ken Alder. The title of Heather Ewing's biography of James Smithson is The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution and the Foundation of the Smithsonian (Reviews, Jan. 1)." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A study of the new science of neuroplasticity examines the implications of changing one's brain throughout various stages of life and explains how the brain can be physically altered to regain the use of limbs disabled by a stroke, recover from depression, reverse age-related changes in the brain, acquire new skills even in old age, and more. 25,000 first printing.
About the Author
Sharon Begley, science columnist for The Wall Street Journal, inaugurated the paper’s “Science Journal” in 2002. She was previously the senior science writer at Newsweek, covering neuroscience, genetics, physics, astronomy, and anthropology. The co-author of The Mind and the Brain, she has won many awards for her articles She is a frequent guest on radio and television, including The Charlie Rose Show, Today Weekend, CBS’s The Early Show, and Imus in the Morning. She lives in New Jersey.