UNDERSTANDING THE PLASTIC MIND

Recall the first time you saw the term neuroplasticity?  Perhaps this is it.  A recent book by Norman Doidge is the Brain That Changes Itself.  I have not read it yet but the review discusses the topic of neuroplasticity of which I am somewhat familiar

It is an amazing concept because it challenges decades if not more of the assumption that neural cells in the brain were fixed in number and essentially unchanging in function.  There has always been evidence that massive damage to specific neurons which occurs after strokes or brain surgery often leave the patient permanently disabled.

Newer concepts of neuroplasticity are far less pessimistic about the potential for rehabilitation and potential therapy to re-route neural circuits.  The book apparently goes into specific details but others have written about the ability to regain function when alternative pathways in the nervous system are activiated to assume functions lost from trauma.

The concept also supports the studies lauding the benefits of meditation, prayer and even positive thinking.  It does seem that it is conceivable that ‘mind over matter’ can work.  Training the mind seems to help re-wire the circuits of the brain.  Studies of meditating monks such as Mattieu Ricard reveal distinct and characteristic changes in the physical function if not structure of the brain. 

In his book Happiness, Ricard describes the results of his own SPECT scans which reveal that his ‘happiness’ centers of the brain were profoundly influenced by his years of meditation.

There will continue to be a tremendous amount of research and study on the concept of neuroplasticity but the potential is exciting.  It may certainly justify the large and growing number of people who feel that adjusting attitudes and beliefs can do wonders for the way we heal ourselves.

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