Neuroplacticity & The Brain that Changes Itself--I have witnessed: Small Children Can Learn the Art

RevLindsG King

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The Brain That Changes Itself
Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science. By Norman Doidge, M.D. 427 pages. Viking. $24.95

The credo of this revolution is neuroplasticity — the discovery that the human brain is as malleable as a lump of wet clay not only in infancy, as scientists have long known, but well into hoary old age.

In classical neuroscience, the adult brain was considered an immutable machine, as wonderfully precise as a clock in a locked case. Every part had a specific purpose, none could be replaced or repaired, and the machine was destined to tick in unchanging rhythm until its gears corroded with age.

Now sophisticated experimental techniques suggest the brain is more like a Disney-esque animated sea creature. Constantly oozing in various directions, it is apparently able to respond to injury with striking functional reorganization, and can at times actually think itself into a new anatomic configuration, in a kind of word-made-flesh outcome far more characteristic of Lourdes than the National Institutes of Health.

So it is forgivable that Dr. Doidge, a Canadian psychiatrist and award-winning science writer, recounts the accomplishments of the “neuroplasticians,” as he calls the neuroscientists involved in these new studies, with breathless reverence.

Their work is indeed mind-bending, miracle-making, reality-busting stuff, with implications, as Dr. Doidge notes, not only for individual patients with neurologic disease but for all human beings, not to mention human culture, human learning and human history.

And all this from the fact that the electronic circuits in a small lump of grayish tissue are perfectly accessible, it turns out, to any passing handyman with the right tools.

For patients with brain injury, the revolution brings only good news, as Dr. Doidge describes in numerous examples. A woman with damage to the inner ear’s vestibular system, where the sense of balance resides, feels as if she is in constant free fall, tumbling through space like an ocean bather pulled under by the surf. Sitting in a neuroscience lab, she puts a set of electrodes on the surface of her tongue, a wired-up hard hat on her head, and the feel of falling stops. The apparatus connects to a computer to create an external vestibular system, replacing her damaged one by sending the proper signals to her brain via her tongue.

But that’s not all. After a year of sessions with the device, she no longer needs it: her brain has rewired itself to bypass the damaged vestibular system with a new circuit.

A surgeon in his 50s suffers an incapacitating stroke. He is one of the first patients to enroll in a rehabilitation clinic guided by principles of neuroplasticity: his good arm and hand are immobilized, and he is set cleaning tables. At first the task is impossible, then slowly the bad arm remembers its skills. He learns to write again, he plays tennis again: the functions of the brain areas killed in the stroke have transferred themselves to healthy regions.

An amputee has a bizarre itch in his missing hand: unscratchable, it torments him. A neuroscientist finds that the brain cells that once received input from the hand are now devoted to the man’s face; a good scratch on the cheek relieves the itch. Another amputee has 10 years of excruciating “phantom” pain in his missing elbow. When he puts his good arm into a box lined with mirrors he seems to recognize his missing arm, and he can finally stretch the cramped elbow out. Within a month his brain reorganizes its damaged circuits, and the illusion of the arm and its pain vanish.

Research into the malleability of the normal brain has been no less amazing. Subjects who learn to play a sequence of notes on the piano develop characteristic changes in the brain’s electric activity; when other subjects sit in front of a piano and just think about playing the same notes, the same changes occur. It is the virtual made real, a solid quantification of the power of thought.

From this still relatively primitive experimental data, theories can be constructed for the entirety of human experience: creativity and love, addiction and obsession, anger and grief — all, presumably, are the products of distinct electrical associations that may be manipulated by the brain itself, and by the brains of others, for better or worse.

For neuroplasticity may prove a curse as well. The brain can think itself into ruts, with electrical habits as difficult to eradicate as if it were, in fact, the immutable machine of yore. Sometimes “roadblocks” can be created to help steer its activity back in the desired direction (like bandaging the stroke patient’s good arm). Sometimes rewiring the circuits requires hard cerebral work instead; Dr. Doidge cites the successful Freudian analysis of one of his patients.

And, of course, the implications for external re-engineering of the human brain are ominous, for if the brain is malleable it is also endlessly vulnerable, not only to its own mistakes but also to the ambitions and excesses of others, whether they are misguided parents, well-meaning cultural trendsetters or despotic national leaders.

The new science of the brain may still be in its infancy, but already, as Dr. Doidge makes quite clear, the scientific minds are leaping ahead.

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Ever since my student days at www.mta.ca and my interest in philosophy, psychology, the sciences and progressive religions, I have believed that all can live in harmony with one another.

The book first came to my attention when my granddaughter (born in 1988), who majored in philosophy/psychology, gave it to me for Christmas 2013. It has been a companion of mine since then. [Inspired by this book, are no lack of questions and comments]
It seems that the Power of Positive Thinking (1952)--based on the book by the Rev Norman Vincent Peale--has finally gained scientific credibility.
RevLindsG King, Oct 5, 2015 Report
 
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Carolla

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Brain plasticity is a very interesting phenomenon. How to harness it practically to make therapeutic change is a growing field. The work is intensive, and therefore a challenge to fund in present day health systems.

There was an episode on The Nature of Things recently on brain plasticity & mental illness. Interesting stuff.
 

RevLindsG King

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Carolla You say :
Brain plasticity is a very interesting phenomenon.

How to harness it practically and to make the therapeutic changes is a growing field. The work is intensive, and therefore a challenge to fund in present day health systems.
Very true! First, let's focus on this :) & (y) so that then we are more likely to be in the mood and prepared to be able focus on G~O~D--that which Generates (grows), Organizes & Delivers all that is basic to Goodness, Optimism and is Delightfully & Dynamically growing. :cool:, eh!

This will guide us to meet the people, who happen be willing and happen to have the resources and they need; to attract the support we need and to meet the people who need us. IMO, the plasticity of the human spirit (pneuma) and mind (psyche) in its broadcast mode, reaches far beyond the confines of our physical somas (bodies). :LOL:
 
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Luce NDs

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Does positive thinking go against negative emotions about that ugly woman next door until she develops into a buttie ... bootie?

Thus the SHUE theory as bottom line political cynicism! Near to Po' go-ism ...
 

KayTheCurler

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I guess I fit in the "I believe" camp on this topic. I know a person who was severely disabled following a brain hemorrhage. The docs said he would never be able to walk again. He eventually walked. All he could offer to explain it was that he had practised for hours while immobilised- he imagined himself walking until he could do it in real life. The mechanics of this baffled the docs who could run their tests and 'prove' that the required nerves were non-functioning. Eventually they decided that his brain must have rewired itself.

Another severely brain damaged person I know is missing most of the left temporal lobe (removed during surgery to save his life.) The family were told that he would never speak coherently again and would need supervision for the rest of his life. After five years he was living independently, managing his own money, driving and holding conversations. Occasionally he gets over tired and his brain appears to quit functioning properly, his memory is very poor too. Compared to the original prognosis he is a living miracle - and still learning!
 

chansen

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I'm a little touchy when people start talking about how the doctors were wrong and a person learned to walk again, despite a bleak prognosis. I know now that doctors give the family the worst case scenario. If they lead with the best case and the patient never makes it, then that's seen as a failing by someone, when it probably isn't.

If they lead with the worst case and the patient obliterates it, everyone is happy, including the doctors. It's not like they were betting their medical licences that their prognosis was correct. I hear people say, "Doctors don't know anything - my Billy is walking!" Well the doctors didn't want to get your hopes up if Billy never walked again. It's not that they're stupid.

There are certain brain injuries and ages that lead to better examples of neuroplasticity. Being young helps, but not too young. Ideally, if you can schedule your brain injury, choose your teen years. It's not completely understood, but new networks can form through good cells. If there is too much global damage, there is no good network possible. Also, deep brain injuries are less likely to repair than other brain injuries.
 

Carolla

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I agree chansen - we need to be cautious with expectations & the language used to convey such thoughts is so important.
 

KayTheCurler

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My observations seem to indicate that if you have a brain injury it would be best to have it in your twenties. By then you usually have a bit of everyday life experience under your belt. It is a better scenario if the memories remain from the life before the injury. Your hormones have settled down a bit too. A teen has no meaningful experience of running their life, managing money, cooking, holding a proper job etc. so this would all have to be taught in addition to learning to cope with other deficiencies.

In the scenarios I shared there wasn't much likelihood of much recovery - even allowing for the doctors' pessimism and caution. The person who walked against all odds had no activity in the usual nerves that allow this movement. The other person was missing the speech centre of the brain. In both cases the doctors were amazed and ran extra medical imaging and testing to try to figure out what routes the patients were using.
 

RevLindsG King

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YOU CAN RELAX, CHANSEN--over the many years that I have visited doctors and hospitals, I have always done my best to practice the art of giving respect to those great souls who chose and continue to practice the art and science of medicine, especially those willing to take the time to teach their patients about holism--integrated: "Be a part of the healing team; be pro-active and be willing to learn to help your bodies heal themselves."

Interestingly, our word 'doctor' comes, like the words doctrine and document, from the same root word, meaning teacher.

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1. Dramatic events about the health of two very young children (both newborns from Willowdale) come to my mind: Early in my pastoral ministry at Willowdale UC, beginning in 1966, more than once my secretary received, and dutifully passed on to me, any calls she got from distressed parents who had received very sad news about the health of their first and newborn child.

2. Constantly, our family doctor plus my wife and I, were in touch with doctors we knew at Sick Children's Hospital, Toronto.

3. Next, I will tell the story of how the same doctors worked with us in helping our 7 year old daughter overcome a life-threatening lung condition.
 
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ChemGal

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I don't think many question whether brain plasticity exists. The details aren't fully known.
The power of positive thinking can be a bit of a funny thing. It's useful when combined with effort and a certain amount of realistic expectations. When it falls under something like The Secret it's more BS.
 

Luce NDs

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I guess I fit in the "I believe" camp on this topic. I know a person who was severely disabled following a brain hemorrhage. The docs said he would never be able to walk again. He eventually walked. All he could offer to explain it was that he had practised for hours while immobilised- he imagined himself walking until he could do it in real life. The mechanics of this baffled the docs who could run their tests and 'prove' that the required nerves were non-functioning. Eventually they decided that his brain must have rewired itself.

Another severely brain damaged person I know is missing most of the left temporal lobe (removed during surgery to save his life.) The family were told that he would never speak coherently again and would need supervision for the rest of his life. After five years he was living independently, managing his own money, driving and holding conversations. Occasionally he gets over tired and his brain appears to quit functioning properly, his memory is very poor too. Compared to the original prognosis he is a living miracle - and still learning!
Thus mental fixations can move and creep as plans, schemes and conspiracies to go against medical authority ... just to prove uncertainty exists out there! Would that set institutions in awe of just hyp' nautical states where they don't now "er" from "o" or Eire? Thus hyp*Eire boulei the UK Taurus!
 

Luce NDs

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I don't think many question whether brain plasticity exists. The details aren't fully known.
The power of positive thinking can be a bit of a funny thing. It's useful when combined with effort and a certain amount of realistic expectations. When it falls under something like The Secret it's more BS.
Lets just label it uncertainty entitlement and thus some domains are overrun by uncertainty while others are sure of what won't be uncertain ... but then it ups and radicalizes ... then Scottie can beam eM down ...
 

RevLindsG King

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Thus mental fixations can move and creep as plans, schemes and conspiracies to go against medical authority ... just to prove uncertainty exists out there! Would that set institutions in awe of just hyp' nautical states where they don't now "er" from "o" or Eire? Thus hyp*Eire boulei the UK Taurus!
"... authority ... just to prove uncertainty exists out there! Would that set institutions in awe of just hyp' nautical states where they don't now "er" from "o" or Eire? Thus hyp*Eire boulei the UK Taurus!"
Is it possible, Luce !?!?... for you to give us your translation of 'hyperbole'
a Latin and Greek term--My dictionary calls it, 'exaggeration made for effect! Example', "waves high as mountains broke over the reef." HYPER--means 'beyond'; + BALLEIN, the verb, means to throw.
 

RevLindsG King

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Just adding a note or two about D.A. Morgan.
FOR ANYONE INTERESTED, b
eginning in 2007--an easy-to-read print version is available. There I used 'Turner'--my son's first name and the maiden name of my wife, Jean his mother--and wrote about my interest in philosophy, the sciences & the arts, is available by using the link below.
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http://www.scienceagogo.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/printthread/Board/2/main/1617/type/thread

Take note of D.A. Morgan (DAM. I think he was from Wa, USA and very much a cynic)--not a positive and pleasant protagonist. Not long after this early and unpleasant dialogue, the mods at SAGGO told DAM to move on.

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http://www.scienceagogo.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/17958
 
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RevLindsG King

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RevLindsG King

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Female, from Edmonton

ChemGal, (CG) RevLindsG here: Tell us, is there a story as to how you decided to choose the name you now use? Are you a chemist?

You say, "I have nothing more planned for the tips. If you find an error, have a question, or think something should be added, let me know!"

May I add: From the moment I registered at MTA for four years (1947-1951) as a freshman I became fascinated with the history of philosophy, psychology, religion, the sciences, the arts, the role of the Bible, theology and the like, and how they do or do not work together, with one another.

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You say, "I don't think many question whether brain plasticity exists. The details aren't fully known (may I add, as of now?).

BTW, the idea of brain plasticity (BP) is one that caused me to wonder from the moment I began to take a deep interest in the art of HYPNO-therapy (what I now call PNEUMA-therapy) and began to closely explore the work of pioneers like, FRANZ ANTON MESMER, JAMES BRAID, CHARCOT, FREUD AND MANY OTHERS.

Meanwhile, because of the amazing personal experience of healing, which I had with the healing of my daughter, Catherine, I was drawn to the idea of BP, long before I read the book on BP.

You go on, "The power of positive thinking can be a bit of a funny thing. It's useful when combined with effort and a certain amount of realistic expectations."

"When it falls under something like The Secret' ... (for you is TS just more BS?).
 
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RevLindsG King

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Tomorrow, I will tell the amazing story of what happened, at Sick Childrens, to a newborn child close to death, who, with the help of her very depressed mother, recovered ... the parents with the child in their arms came to visit my wife and me, two days later. STAY TUNED!
 

RevLindsG King

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Okay CG, before I proceed with the story #2 for today, which I mentioned above, I need to mention newborn baby #1. So I made a pastoral visit to their house--not too far from my office.

From the young mother & father I found out that there had not been a normal pregnancy and delivery--there were no vocal sounds or movement of limbs; that all that the doctors at Sick Childrens Hospital Toronto could then offer the parents was: After a period of observation here, we recommend you take your child home; keep her under observation and us informed as to what happens.

I feel sad having to add: Husband and wife soon went their separate ways. Over a long period of time the story became a very complex and sad one, which unlike #2, did not have a happy ending.

ABOUT NEWBORN BABY #2--the story with quite a different ending
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In a call from the father of the child, a postman who said that both he and his wife knew me, said, "My problem, Rev King is this: My wife--who hasn't eaten anything substantial for days--is in such a deep state of depression that she is simply refusing to go with me to the hospital to see our daughter.

Meanwhile, the head doctor of the maternity ward of Sick - Childrens Hospital is calling me and saying that both of us must make a visit and map out future plans. If I brought her with me, would you be willing to see us, today?" Not long after I said, YES, they arrived.

Within a few minutes, I explained the simple process which, for decades, I have called PNEUMA-therapy. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily & readily she relaxed and fell into the trance-like and meditative state.

At this point I told her: "You are capable of being a loving mother, who is in spiritual control of who you are, mentally and physically. Then I asked her if she was hungry and, "Would you like to have a good supper?" To both questions she responded "YES". This gave me the opportunity to add: Over the last while, you have had the opportunity to have a deep and refreshing rest and sleep.

Meanwhile, your newborn--with the help of modern medicine--is intravenously receiving all the life-giving support she now needs to prepare her to take the next step into a healthy childhood.

After supper you and your husband will go and visit your daughter. When you see her--including the tubes and all--do not be afraid to reach down; gently pick her up and, both of you, speak to her and welcome her TO LIFE!

Even Jean and I were amazed at the amazing recovery that happened when this very depressed mother, recovered ... and as both parents, with their child in their arms, came to visit and thank my wife and me, two days later.
 
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