Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain"

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.

Her latest book is Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Sharon applied the "page 69 test" to her book and reported the following:
I lucked out: page 69 includes the two main strands that I try to weave together in the book, namely, science and Buddhism.

'Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain' came about when I was asked to chronicle a meeting the Dalai Lama held with 5 neuroscientists in late 2004. The topic was neuroplasticity -- the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience, to the life we lead. The Dalai Lama is interested in this because it resonates with a core tenet of Buddhism, that the individual is a constantly-changing dynamic stream, that we have the power to change who we are, that the self and mind are very plastic, and (as one scholar put it) as we act, so shall we become.

A blow-by-blow account of the meeting would put readers to sleep, so instead I used the meeting as the springboard to explore the science of neuroplasticity. The research has shown that depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dyslexia, stroke and much more can all be treated by exploiting the brain's malleability; the trick is to discover the input that will act like a repairman to get the brain up and running normally. This has been done with the disorders above, but also with things that are not pathological: some of the research explores ways to tap the power of neuroplasticity to increase your capacity for empathy and altruism, for compassion and well-being, and to stave off or reverse the mental declines that come with aging. At various points, I bring in Buddhist views of and reactions to this research which, basically, shows that the old idea of the hard-wired adult brain is bunk. Instead, both sensory input and the mind itself (thoughts, feelings and mental training) can sculpt the very stuff of the brain.

Page 69 discusses one way this occurs -- the production of new neurons, called neurogenesis -- and raises the curtain on how the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist scholars are using the new findings to support and broaden Buddhist teachings. So yes, page 69 gives a good sense of what the book is about, and although other pages have more jokes I hope someone who opens to this page would be intrigued enough to read on.
Read an excerpt from Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.