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on 12 October 2010
I have almost finished reading this book. The author's writing style is very good, clear and readable. She has carried out a lot of research in the relevant literature and via interviews with neuroscientists and buddhist meditators, and she organises and explains the subject matter very well. The book describes how the brain can be plastic and change even in adults, and how areas of the brain have been found to be able to acquire new functions.
I am interested in improving the performance of my mind and in staving off problems such as dementia. The book does emphasise that research appears to show the beneficial effects of meditation on the brain, and on one's level of happiness.
I found the book useful in that it showed me the value of constantly seeking new experiences and acquiring new skills, and in considering the benefits of meditation.
Overall, this is a very good and interesting book, which I rate very highly.
I also recommend John Ratey's book 'Spark', which describes how vigorous exercise causes the birth of new brain cells, can defeat depression and dementia, and help people control their lives better.
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on 25 March 2009
This is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. Anybody who is interesting in how the brain/mind works, how people perceive and interact with the world and how the norms of neuroscience has been over-turned in the last 10/20 years should read this book. Even if you are not religious or spiritual in anyway (don't be put off by the Buddhist aspects to this book) the science is utterly fascinating. People who want to make their world a better place: "... I have a choice in how I react, that who I am depends on the choices I make, and that who I am is therefore my responsibility..." - if this is ringing any bells for you, should read this book. Anybody who is interested in how words and thoughts actually manifest the world around you because the labels you use to describe your world alter your perception of it, should read this book. It describes how thoughts (good or bad) can manifest in habits, which can be changed, it illustrates that there is the potential for brain damage caused by illness (strokes) to be alleviated, or how some aspects of dyslexia can be reduced. And presents them in easy to understand chunks. The intro could put some people off, and the chapter on how adolescent minds/brains work is a bit heavy, but it is well worth persevering. And it shows how some 'established' truths of how we as humans function, is in fact completely wrong... I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 7 June 2013
It was Aristotle who said: "We are what we repeatedly do". Neuroscience and precisely Neuroplasticity shows us just that. And this book is a good introduction on both.

First of all I would like to give it five starts for spreading science that can be used to enhance the 'human experience' (this is, just living healthy and happily, without too much pointless suffering).

I'm an strong atheist in total love with Neuroscience and Humanism and I find this book highly informative and educational: knowing how your brain works and interacts with your life experiences is knowing yourself, and what is best, knowing how to improve yourself. The discoveries in such a young science branch as is Neuroscience are full of excitement and hope for the future of humanity, and I certainly can't wait to see where does it take us. This book already gives some hints about the possibilities that are worth knowing.

However, the (most time excellent) writing gets repetitive at times, as if Begley couldn't develop the argument in an elegant, eloquent way to its end. She keeps repeating "the study would show otherwise - the study was showing otherwise - the study was still showing otherwise - the study showed otherwise", when you already know the outcome in the first to pages. This is usually necessary in scientific texts (explaining in detail about every phase of a study), but Begley abuses it unnecessarily, keeping the 'formula' without adding relevant information. So you end up reading the same idea again and again at some points. When it came to the study about mother behaviour in rats, I admit I had to quit the 3 last pages: it was too much, and unnecessary even from a scientific text.

The book follows a well-structured argument through the history of Neuroscience, which is full of detail about the way research and studies were carried out. It doesn't tell you "research showed this, period" and you have to believe it; It presents you with the facts, how everything was tested and proven to work. For someone who had to come across many self-help unbearable cr*ap(as is my case researching mindfulness meditation), this is something to be really grateful about.

If you are interested in science and the possibilities of Neuroscience and Neuroplasticity for human development and CAN'T STAND ESOTERIC EMOTIONAL HOPE-BASED SELF-HELP LITERATURE, this is the one.

Enjoy.
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on 21 May 2011
Having read and enjoyed Sharon Begley's earlier book on this topic, Train your Mind change Your Brain, I thought I would give this one a read too. Given both books are on the same topic, I expected some degree of overlap. What I got was exactly the same book with a different title.

The one-star review is therefore for Amazon, who sell both books, but do not actually state that they selling the same book under two different titles.
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on 9 March 2013
I wanted a book on the plasticity of the brain (And mind!)...I got truly fed up reading about the religious leader who seems to have 'authenticated' everything the author says. I need REAL, scientific research and evidence, not Religion. Maybe I should have read all of it but I got bored with the religious aspect.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 November 2010
The Plastic Mind: New science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves, by Sharon Begley, Ballantine, New York, 2007; Constable, London, 2009, 368 ff.

How mind can inform and transform the body
By Howard Jones

Sharon Begley is the science columnist at Newsweek magazine. She is also the co-author with Jeffrey Schwartz of The Mind and The Brain that explores a similar theme to that in this book. The book grew out of a seminar of leading neuroscientists meeting in Dharamsala, India, at the home of the present Dalai Lama, who wrote the Foreword to the book.

The main theme of the book, as is obvious from the title, is that the functions of the human brain and mind are not totally prescribed genetically at birth. This should have been apparent centuries ago as it was obvious that we all learn innumerable things as we grow older. So the brain could not possibly be a wholly static organ. Eastern meditative practices in particular have long been known to alter perceptions in the physical body - resistance to heat and cold, ability to go without food or sleep, etc. This book describes the extent of this neuroplasticity and how it can be developed.

After the introductory chapter we are regaled with the disturbing details of the experiments performed on the so-called Silver Spring monkeys - experiments that triggered the animal rights movement. Moving on, the next two chapters deal with the presentations from two of the five distinguished neuroscientists at the gathering: Fred Gage and Helen Neville. After two chapters dealing with the neuroplasticity theme and the contributions made by other scientists, we have three more chapters devoted each in turn to the three remaining guest speakers: Michael Meaney, Phillip Shaver and Richard Davidson. The final chapter summarizes the previous ones and asks where this research takes us.

When the neurophysiologists tried to create `movement maps' to show what each part of the brain does, they found that not only do these differ from one individual to another, but they also develop progressively during the lifetime of one individual. Between this and Begley's previous book with Schwartz, together with Herbert Benson's case studies, no-one should be in any doubt that, with training, the mind not only alters the outlook of the individual but actually physically alters the anatomy as well as the physiology of the brain. Those with brain lesions can re-programme other parts to do the same jobs. This is illustrated with stroke victims and patients who are genetically blind or deaf.

This book ends with a short Appendix about the Mind and Life Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who sponsor these programmes in Dharamsala and 20 pages of Notes and references. A short but useful Index concludes the book.

This is an uplifting and eminently readable book that encourages us to keep mind and body as active as possible well into old age to fend off senility. We now have experimental evidence that brain cells and the connections between them keep developing at least into our 70s.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Mind and the Brain
Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief
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on 15 December 2009
I am about halfway through this book and struggling. Although the subject matter is fascinating and the book's message important, I find Sharon Begley's writing heavy going. It is a mire of mixed metaphors (and similes) which force the reader to go over paragraphs several times in order to grasp what she is trying to say. There is something patronising, too, about her attempts to make science palatable to the layman with heavy humour. It does not help that the book has not been adapted for a non-American audience, either, as some of the references, eg to baseball teams, are obscure to us.

The book seems to have been published under a different name in the US - buyer beware!
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on 19 February 2013
Take what this book says and you'll see there is hope for humankind. Advances in technology provides means of measuring the workings of the brain, using those measurements scientists are developing exercises to train the brain to recover after a stroke, dislexics lean to read better and other advances in correcting disorders, even cure depression without drugs that has less chance of relapse. Presented here in a way that the layman can understand, in a positive and factual way. Having just got into mindfulness, recently, myself, I found this book explains a lot that encourages me to persevere.
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on 14 April 2013
I've recently completed OU courses on Biological Psychology and Mental Health which introduced the topics of plasticity and mindfulness, and wanted to understand more about both. This book is marvellously well written and clearly explains the relevance of plasticity to everyday life, and includes upto date research which illustrates that brain plasticity can be both easy to achieve, with perseverance, and in some cases, the life changing effects it can have, in for example, stroke victims. This is not an academic book, but contains all relevant academic references for those who wish to research the subject further: very readable and enormously interesting.
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on 1 November 2015
A fascinating read reveals how the brain/mind can be an agent of healing throughout life and how and what we think is important for wellbeing.
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