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Us Brothers are often wont to point out that the conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. This book assimilates the evidence that shows that the CW regarding the brain which held sway for decades or longer is untrue.
Conventional wisdom held that our brains grew rapidly early in life and thereafter, were incapable of changing fundamentally. So, if someone had a stroke and a part of their brain was damaged, the functions which that part of the brain performed couldn't be "handed off" to another part of the brain. If a stroke victim regained these functions, it was assumed that that part of the brain had recovered.
What neuroscientists now understand, however, is something radically different. The brain has the ability to reorganize itself and that different parts of the brain can perform widely different functions, and yet when one area is damaged, another can step in and take over the functionality of the "lost" area.
plasticity - the property of a solid body whereby it undergoes a permanent change in shape or size when subjected to a stress exceeding a particular value
The term coined to describe the phenomenon is neuroplasticity, which refers to the brains ability to reorganize itself as a result of learning and response to stress and injury. In his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge explores the evidence for neuroplasticity and its ramifications for learning, medical treatment, and brain exercise. Through a series of case studies (backed by copious footnotes), the author relates seemingly incredible instances of people's brains rewiring themselves to deal with stroke, congenital conditions, and various disorders.
This remarkable collection of stories is tied together to show the resilience of the brain, and its ability to cope with even the most severe injury. From stroke victims regaining movement of limbs (though their brains remained severely damaged) to the use of the brain's plasticity to get rid of phantom limb pain, each case stands on its own as a testament to neuroplasticity. Doidge also suggests where this ability may lead, by showing the development of learning methods and brain exercises that can use this plasticity to "rejuvenate" the brain and help people with learning disabilities.
If you still hold the image of the brain as a computer that is wired early in life and then just hums along doing input / output operations until it fails, you owe it to your self to read this book. Even if that isn't the image you have, you'll be drawn in by the compelling individuals profiled, and the lessons about the brain that can be drawn from their experiences.
Book-related and General Links:
The Brain Science Podcast