The Brain That Changes Itself

I read a single chapter of this book as part of a course I was taking. I was so inspired by the chapter that I went out and bought a copy. This book is amazing and I think just about everybody would benefit from taking the time to read it. Surprising for a ‘science’ book, it is a page turner that presents a wonderful peek into the potential of the human mind. Below are some of my favorite quotes/ideas from the text…

Doidge, N. (2007) The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

We see with our brains, not with our eyes. (p. 15)

The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself. (p. 26)

…many children would benefit from a brain-area-based assessment to identify their weakened functions and a program to strengthen them – a far more productive approach than tutoring that simply repeats a lesion and leads to endless frustration. (p. 41)

Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960s educators dropped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too rigid, boring, and “not relevant.” But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives them us fluency and grace with symbols. (p. 41-42)

Trained or stimulated neurons develop 25 percent more branches and increase their size, the number of connections per neuron, and their blood supply. (p. 43)

The idea that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise is not just a metaphor. (p. 43)

…practicing a new skill, under the right conditions, can change hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells in our brain maps. (p. 47)

…when learning occurs in a way consistent with the laws that govern brain plasticity, the mental “machinery” of the brain can be improved so that we learn and perceive with greater precision, speed, and retention. (p. 47)

[The cerebral cortex] doesn’t simply learn; it is always “learning how to learn.” (p. 47)

…the shape of our brain maps changes depending upon what we do over the course of our lives. (p. 49)

…plasticity is an indisputable fact of childhood. (p. 53)

… brain maps were governed by competition for precious resources and the principle of use it or lose it. (p. 59)

Neurons that fire together wire together. (p. 63)

… when an animal is motivated to learn, the brain responds plastically. (p. 66)

… more efficient use of neurons occurs whenever we become proficient at a skill… (p. 67)

… as neurons are trained and become more efficient, they can process faster. This means that the speed at which we think is itself plastic. (p. 67)

… paying close attention is essential to long-term plastic change. (p. 68)

While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn’t lead to abiding change in your brain maps. (p. 68)

(Scientific learning = the study devoted to using neuroplastic research to help people rewire the brain.)

[Discussing the FastForWord software application:] This “reward” is a crucial feature of the program, because each time the child is rewarded, his brain secretes such neurotransmitters as dopamine and acetylcholine, which help consolidate the map changes he has just made. (p. 71)

[Using the FastForWord program had “spillover effects” such as handwriting improvement, sustained attention, focus, possible overall improvement in mental processing.]

[Nucleus Basalis,] the neurochemical system that, when turned on, puts the brain in an extremely plastic state. (p. 80)

[Can] the critical period of effortless learning be extended? (p. 83)

The only requirement is that the person must have enough reward, or punishment, to keep paying attention through what might otherwise be a boring training session. If so, he says, “the changes can be every bit a great as the changes in a newborn.” (p. 88)

Evidence suggests that unlearning existing memories is necessary to make room for new memories in our networks. (p. 117)

Unlearning is essential when we are moving from one developmental stage to the next. (p. 117)

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2 Comments

  1. Nice work…I would like to read this book…thanks for putting this together…

    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks. It is a fantastic book. A surprisingly good read. I would recommend it.

    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink