Do you believe you can think yourself well, changing the very structure of your brain over time through rigorous training? Norman Doidge does…
Extract: A man walks off his Parkinson’s symptoms
Norman Doidge on neuroplasticity: 'How can so-called ethereal thought change so-called material strtucture? The subject is filled with wonder.' Photograph: Jaime Hodge When you pick up a bestseller that announces “this book will change your life”, or which, say, claims to be full of “mind-bending, miracle-making, reality-busting stuff”, what are your first instincts? Do you think “wow!” or “whoa”? In a bookshop, faced with a choice of browsing, do you turn most often toward shelves marked definitively “science” or those labelled provocatively “mind, body, spirit”?Norman Doidge’s two books, The Brain That Changes Itself (more than a million copies sold) and, just published, The Brain’s Way of Healing (which comes complete with that “mind-bending” quote, from the New York Times), present such dilemmas within their own covers. Doidge, a Canadian, is a distinguished scientist, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist on the faculty of both the University of Toronto and of Columbia University in New York. He started out as an award-winning poet and a student of philosophy. A profile he once wrote of the novelist Saul Bellow won the President’s Medal for the best single article published in Canada in the year 2000.He is persuasive and curious as a writer, and rigorous as a thinker, though what he writes about is at the edge of our current understanding of mind and body.For all these reasons, while reading The Brain’s Way of Healing I had a clear sense of other readers being divided – some turning its pages with a hardening edge of scepticism, some with a growing feeling of wonder. Chapter by chapter, I jumped constantly between the two.Doidge is, if not the inventor, then at least the populariser of a brand new science. That science is called neuroplasticity, and it develops from a growing understanding that the human brain – for centuries thought a fairly fixed and unregenerative organ that, if injured or diseased, is subject to only very limited recovery – is in fact capable of much more significant self-repair and healing. Not only that, but much of the healing – for conditions that range from Parkinson’s disease, to autism, to stroke, to traumatic head injury – can be stimulated by conscious habits of thought and action, by teaching the brain to “rewire itself”.
Novel things happen when you are concentrating on what you think you know and something occurs in left field. That’s how we evolved, how our brains evolve. #mindful