Filled with interesting stories, quotes, and ideas about Buddhism and the evolution of the field of neuroscience, this book is truly a pleasure to read. My field of study as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, the somatosensory areas of the brain that are responsible for our sense of touch, is described in some detail. Indeed, much of what we know about neural plasticity comes from studies of the somatosensory system, including the work of Merzenich, Sur, and others that is described in this book. I also think the reader comes away with the feeling that neuroscience and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive ways of understanding the brain and the mind, but are actually complementary. And, as Francis Collins has pointed out, science and spirtuality in general are not mutually exclusive. Author of Adjust Your Brain: A Practical Theory for Maximizing Mental Health.
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581 of 599 people found the following review helpful
About the brain revolutionJan. 29 2007
S. J. Bockett
- Published on Amazon.com
Contrary to what the title may suggest, this is not a training manual for the brain. The book is a fascinating and convincing account of recent discoveries in brain neuroplasticity (i.e. its `pliability') even into old age, and the amazing implications of such discoveries. Sharon Begley states, "Yes, the brain can change, and that means we can change." For those looking for a magic bullet, she adds that it is not easy. "Neuroplasticity is impossible without attention and mental effort."
Those who have worked in fields such as psychology, education, gerontology and various social services will no doubt have observed unexplained and seemingly miraculous events with their clients and students. This book gives answers to their questions. For example, working as an occupational therapist in gerontology a number of years ago, I was stunned when an elderly (and chronic) stroke victim suddenly raised her paralysed arm to bat a balloon in a lighter version of volley ball. There was an "aha" moment when I read the chapter "New neurons for old brains."
This book also gives credence to the Superlearning trend of a decade ago, which met with a great deal of scepticism at the time. There were those, like myself, who used it anyway, purely on instinct, and met with amazing outcomes we could not explain. Anecdotal, of course, but Begley's book gives the following example some weight: While in my sixties, I decided to test out on myself what I had successfully used on the children. I undertook papers at university after forty years break from education, but reducing the study time by two thirds (using the Superlearning protocol.) It worked far better than I had dared hope; the 'grandmother' amongst students a third her age achieving the 90th percentile. (I later helped 'learning disabled' adults achieve the same percentile.) I couldn't say how it worked; just that it did. Now Begley gives scientific reasons why.
I am sure that other readers will find similar places of déja vu in this book and be assured that they can repeat, again and again, what they previously thought was mere chance. Whether you are a parent seeking hope for a dyslexic child, or an older adult who does not want to end up in mental decline like your parents did, there is solid evidence that "we can change what we choose to change."
Intertwined in Begley's reports of neuroplasticity research (cataloguing the unbelievable intransigence of the 'hardwired brain' traditionalists) is the story of an interaction that has developed over the years between the Dalai Llama and a group of enlightened Western scientists. This is a beautiful account of an interrelationship that has, without doubt, benefited the world, albeit with little media attention.
My only surprise is that, although Begley refers repeatedly to the scientists' rejection of mind-brain dualism, she does not answer this with any of the impeccable research available on non-local mind - such as that of William Braud (whose research is documented meticulously in "Distant Mental Influence.") However, Begley's "Train Your Mind, Change YOur Brain" was published in the same week as Lynne McTaggart's "The Intention Experiment," to create what is essentially a dyad in consciousness literature: while McTaggart shows how we can influence our outer world, Begley shows how we can influence our inner world. One way or another, we can be empowered.
273 of 283 people found the following review helpful
A Remarkable Study of NeuroplasticityJan. 15 2007
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Although this book is based upon the Mind and Life Institute's 2004 Conference with the Dalai Lama, this is not a book about Buddhism, but rather a study of neuroplasticity; addressing the question of whether or not the brain is fixed or flexible in its structure and capabilities. For years, we have been taught that the development and enhancement of the brain stops at a very young age and that it is not possible to change it. Recent studies, however, have shown that the brain can be re-wired through various cognitive techniques. While some of this research deals with the impact of meditation on brain structures, there is also very interesting material concerning the ways in which the brain accomodates for various disabilities such as blindness or loss of hearing.
If you are interested in the latest developments for treating dyslexia and depression, or in ways to prevent mental deterioration brought about by aging, this is an excellent place to look. This book demonstrates that you can teach old dogs new tricks and that you can combat genetic determinism through cognitive methods, rather than psychotropic drugs (not something that the makers of Prozac want you to know). Although the subjects explored are complex, Ms. Begley does a great job of keeping the book interesting without oversimplification.
71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Marketing a title that is somewhat misleadingFeb. 1 2009
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I've been practicing meditation and am a keen follower of mindfulness techniques for the last twenty years. I have believed in the transformative potential for meditation mediated neuroplasticity, which is the main theme of the book, for much of that time. I was also aware of the collaboration of H.H. the Dalai Lama with neuroscientists over the last few years to discover the nexus between science and Buddhism.
I thought the book did a credible job of covering these areas, albeit in a non exciting way (at least for me).
I think the title is misleading. "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" implies the delivery of a actionable personal strategy , or at least the promise of action. Instead, the book delivers a fairly dry synopsis of the current state of science and the relative nature of that science to the Dalai Lama's conception of the interface of science and the ancient Buddhist system relying on insight derived through meditative practice. Those are two distinctly different foci for the potential reader who may be looking for different things based solely on the title.
One implies the book will deliver a personalized strategy. The other implies a review of the science and the amazing potential for all of us.
The book fails to deliver on the first, and is a reasonable guide to the second.
So to my evaluation of the book: * Be sure you read the description carefully of the contents before you use the "1-click" button. Be sure this is what you want. * If you want the science, this is a good overview. * If you want something actually actionable immediately, research Amazon's listing and buy something written by John Kabat-Zinn or Thich Nhat Hanh and just begin with their simple suggestions. If you need something cognitive-based which will give you immediate techniques for transforming your thoughts into more useful directions, then buy "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David Burns.
The study of meditation and cognitive science by reading books about them means nothing in and of itself except for the pleasant diversion of satisfying intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately there is no free lunch in this life. Only direct action by practicing the techniques daily can deliver the actual reality of delivery the potential for neuroplasticity to make a difference in your own life. You actually do have to "Train Your Mind" to "Change Your Brain". Why not just take the step of actually doing it to conduct your own personal experiment rather that just reading the experiments of others?
So marketers: be mindful of the implied promise of your catchy titles. Be precise about what a book actually is about. Deception is not a fair technique to the potential reader who has access to the dreaded "1 click" button.
So to my ratings: *delivers on the science and the promise *doesn't deliver any action plan
Best for: * people who are interested in the science of this field * those who for some reason need validation that meditation is useful
Not good for: * someone searching for the actual transformative practices which can be implemented now. That requires more books or training.
So be sure the cost of the book meets your needs and expectations.
133 of 141 people found the following review helpful
The Intersection of Mental Discipline and NeurobiologyJan. 23 2007
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In this lucidly written, very readable and compact volume, science writer Sharon Begley explores the recent convergence of learning about the mind and the brain through two very different approaches: Western science, in particular neuroscience and medical studies of the brain; and Eastern (Buddhist) philosophy, including mental training via meditation. As the book explains, recent research has documented changes in the brain that were once held to be impossible, changes wrought by conscious, focused mental effort on the part of the brain's owner. This emerging science has opened up wide vistas of possibility, ranging from mitigation of mental disorders that originate in brain (dys)function, such as OCD or the after-effects of stroke, to improving one's character by becoming more humane and compassionate. This book makes you think humanity may have a future after all, despite so much current evidence to the contrary, if we are wise enough to harness this powerful new knowledge to expand the common goodness of people everywhere.
The book's central message is a little like the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb--mind/brain change comes to an individual who really wants to change, and has the will to exert the needed effort. But techniques of mental discipline can be learned, and with proper motivation we can truly "re-wire" ourselves, potentially to eliminate violent or selfish impulses, for instance. The Dalai Lama is one leader who has already grasped the significance of the new science of neuroplasticity. Let us hope many others can follow in his footsteps. I highly recommend this book, which is readily understandable even for those with a minimal scientific background.
149 of 165 people found the following review helpful
RE-WIRING `HARDWIRED DOGMA' THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE- OUTSTANDING BOOK!Jan. 20 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
I must quote from this book which is a pivotal contribution to humanity.
". . . As late as 1999, neurologists writing in the prestigious journal Science admitted, "We are still taught that the fully mature brain lacks the intrinsic mechanisms needed to replenish neurons and reestablish neuronal networks after acute injury or in response to the insidious loss of neurons seen in neurodegen- erative diseases."
"Neuroscientist Fred Gage, one of the researchers invited by the Dalai Lama to discuss the implications of neuroplasticity with him and other Buddhist scholars at the 2004 meeting, put the objections to the idea of a changing brain this way: "If the brain was changeable, then we would change. And if the brain made wrong changes, then we would change incorrectly. It was easier to believe there were no changes. That way, the individual would remain pretty much fixed."
"But the dogma is wrong. In the last years of the twentieth century, a few iconoclastic neuroscientists challenged the paradigm that the adult brain cannot change and made discovery after discovery that, to the contrary, it retains stunning powers of neuroplasticity. The brain can indeed be rewired. It can expand the area that is wired to move the fingers, forging new connections that underpin the dexterity of an accomplished violinist. It can activate long-dormant wires and run new cables like an electrician bringing an old house up to code, so that regions that once saw can instead feel or hear. It can quiet circuits that once crackled with the aberrant activity that characterizes depression and cut pathological connections that keep the brain in the oh-god-something-is-wrong state that marks obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The adult brain, in short, retains much of the plasticity of the developing brain, including the power to repair damaged regions, to grow new neurons, to rezone regions that performed one task and have them assume a new task, to change the circuitry that weaves neurons into the networks that allow us to remember, feel, suffer, think, imagine, and dream. Yes, the brain of a child is remarkably malleable. But contrary to Ramón y Cajal and most neuroscientists since, the brain can change its physical structure and its wiring long into adulthood."
"A few findings suggest that brain changes can be generated by pure mental activity: merely thinking about playing the piano leads to a measurable, physical change in the brain's motor cortex, and thinking about thoughts in certain ways can restore mental health. By willfully treating invasive urges and compulsions as errant neurochemistry--rather than as truthful messages that something is amiss--patients with OCD have altered the activity of the brain region that generates the OCD thoughts, for instance.
By thinking differently about the thoughts that threaten to send them back into the abyss of despair, patients with depression have dialed up activity in one region of the brain and quieted it in another, reducing their risk of relapse. Something as seemingly insubstantial as a thought has the ability to act back on the very stuff of the brain, altering neuronal connections in a way that can lead to recovery from mental illness and perhaps to a greater capacity for empathy and compassion."
"The discovery that thinking something produces effects just as doing something does is a fascinating consonance with Buddhism," says Francisca Cho. "Buddhism challenges the traditional belief in an external, objective reality.
Instead, it teaches that our reality is created by our own projections; it is thinking that creates the external world beyond us. The neuroscience findings harmonize with this Buddhist teaching."
"Buddhist narratives have another consonance with the discoveries of neuroplasticity. They teach that by detaching ourselves from our thoughts, by observing our thinking dispassionately and with clarity, we have the ability to think thoughts that allow us to overcome afflictions such as being chronically angry. "You can undergo an emotional reeducation," Cho says. "By meditative exertion and other mental exercises, you can actively change your feelings, your attitudes, your mind-set."
"Indeed, Buddhism believes that the mind has a formidable power of self-transformation. When thoughts come to the untrained mind, they can run wild, triggering destructive emotions such as craving and hatred. But mental training, a core of Buddhist practice, allows us "to identify and to control emotions and mental events as they arise," says Matthieu Ricard. Meditation, the most highly developed form of mental training, "is about coming to a new perception of reality and of the nature of mind, about nurturing new qualities until they become integral parts of our being.
If we place all our hopes and fears in the outside world, we have quite a challenge, because our control of the outside world is weak, temporary, and even illusory. It is more within the scope of our faculties to change the way we translate the outside world into inner experience. We have a great deal of freedom in how we transform that experience, and that is the basis for mental training and transformation."
Although this is not a "Buddhist" book, I can genuinely personally attest from my study of Buddhism and the positive mind changes that I have experienced by incorporating "right mindfulness and loving compassion" which has significantly transformed what used to be depression, insecurity, and nervousness, into so much more inner peace. As a result, my brain (thinking) became more focused, and aligned with positive intention.
This is an OUTSTANDING book, and a deep, engaging read for anyone interested in positive transformation, and mind functioning at its peak. FANTASTIC in all regards!
Barbara Rose, Ph.D. author of If God Hears Me I Want an Answer! and Know Yourself