Coming at this from the perspective of someone who has studied philosophy and NLP and is fascinated by the brain's potential to help itself, I found this book quite the page turner. Ignoring any new-age stuff, the fact is there is plenty of evidence that the brain has the capacity throughout our lives to re-wire and re-programme itself according to the environment and need. It is saying we don't have to accept whatever we're dealing with, we can address it and re-programme our brain not just passively by thinking differently everytime we encounter a problem, but actively by doing that to the point where we can re-programme ourselves to respond differently automatically -- and the evidence is on the fMRI's, PET scans and whatever else you care to scan a working brain with. The section on vivisection was unpleasant reading, but what the experiments revealed about the extraordinary 3 pounds or so of matter in the skull is astonishing. I didn't see anything that decided once and for all the philosophical questions as to the matter of mind-brain identity, but to be honest I didn't care. I got plenty out of this book without that. Remove that claim and just focus on what the book is essentially about -- the brain's capacity to adapt -- and it's a worthwhile read.
The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force, by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Sharon Begley, Harper Perennial, 2002, 432 ff
The power of the mind to structure the brain By Howard Jones
This is an account of how patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder were able to be guided through treating themselves by reconditioning of the brain. Dr Schwartz is a Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and his co-author, Sharon Begley, is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. As well as describing clinical case studies, the book provides a suggested mechanism of action for mind-brain influence through quantum phenomena, as shared with the authors by quantum physicist Henry Stapp. The treatment and explanations Schwartz offers are also imbued with a fair measure of Buddhist philosophy. The calming effects on breathing, heart rate and blood pressure of meditative techniques have been known for thousands of years to eastern mystics and are used regularly in complementary therapies.
For the past two decades at least, books have been appearing to refute the idea that mind or consciousness is merely the name we give to brain function. This was the old materialist view in science that mind described brain function just as digestion describes the operation of the gut. However, there are now several books by physicians and psychiatrists that describe how patients can take conscious steps to improve their health by controlling brain and body function: books by Hamilton, Hay, Dyer, Dossey, Benson and Tart spring to mind.
Here, Schwartz describes how he teaches his OCD patients the practice of mindful awareness, which he describes as the foundation of Theravada Buddhism. The result is self-directed neuroplasticity - wilful effort or volition that can alter brain chemistry and function. The case studies given here indicate that the treatment is highly successful. But I mustn't give the impression that this book is all about OCD - that's only a part of the story. The author then goes on to give a detailed biological account, witty and wholly accessible to the non-biologist, of brain function and especially of how attitude of mind - will or volition - influences the brain. This is very reminiscent of Schopenhauer's philosophy of Will.
Incredibly, we read of preschool epilepsy patients who have surgery to remove half of the brain and not only survive but thrive! There is a discussion of brain development that highlights the well-established fact that learning a language or how to do mathematical operations is best learned as young as possible and certainly before puberty. The experiments on monkeys make for some uncomfortable reading - but the conclusions regarding brain function after stroke are highly significant. `The brain's response to messages from its environment is shaped by its experiences . . . throughout life.'
And that is the message of the book: neuroplasticity - reinforcing in biological language with theoretical explanations what the authors listed above have been telling us from practical experience. Explanations for the clinical physiology given in terms of quantum physics are excellent, the authors handling a conceptually difficult subject in accessible language. I think they make what is also a quite convincing argument. This is a very worthwhile book, but readers with little background in science will have to be prepared to be challenged, first by the section on the biology of the brain and then by the often perplexing conclusions of quantum physics.
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.
As a successful clinician I have 'known' for some time that my own optimism affects patient recovery. 'The Mind & The Brain' is a must read for all those people seeking enlightenment in the area of the New Biology... it makes scientific sense of all those everyday phases that we use like.. 'Sit up and listen' or 'Use it or loose it' or 'mind over matter'. If we only realised that our thoughts, words and deeds become literal manifestations in OUR lives we would be careful what we thought, said and did! I read this book with much relish and relief.
delivers less than it promises. Doidge's book more illuminating. Schwartz allows belief in Buddhism to confuse the science too much. Way too much detail on the suffering of monkeys in the cause of neuroscience and the development of Constraint-Based Therapy. Despite the book's concern with morality, there's seemingly no consideration of the moral issues of cutting the nerves in the monkeys' arms and - surprise surprise - discovering they can no longer feel nor use them..
Chapter on the quantum brain profoundly disappointing. Speculative, hazy evidence, no apparent practical value. Seemed to me to conflate and confuse moral philosophy (an esoteric version of Buddhism?) with a vague, poorly presented understanding of Quantum physics (a topic that not even physicists can explain consistently) I got more from just the first chapter of Feynman's QED. there was no clear (to me) theory on how quantum physics might explain neuro-plasticity, mindfulness, or how it might inform new treatments or explain "mental force". Very disappointing and of little value to a stroke survivor like me interested in self-directed rehab, to augment the invaluable help from my physio
So much in one book! A cure for OCD, a link between Buddhism ans Western science, and many graphic descriptions of animal experiments that will jog anyone's conscience (anyone for sewing up a kitten's eyelid?). Oh and quantum physics also for good measure
So - for me at least - not exactly a page turner - had to ration myself to morning reads when my own brain was sharpest - but full of stimulating propositions. Please read!
Agree very much with the review from "Proselytizing for New Age Quantum, Buddhism and Dualism"
Chapter 1 is starting with a frontal assault on `scientism', blind faith in science, materialism..... Dr. Schwartz is essentially setting up a straw man on some of the most extreme forms of behaviourism and then attacking them. Clearly there are aspects of behaviourism which where barbaric or non scientific (eg forcing people with OCD to wipe their faces with faeces causing infections...etc) however this is hardly summarizing mainstream practice. Picking on a few crazy cases is a straw man or red herring distraction for setting the stage for the rest of the book - to make the audience of the book feel sick to create greater contrast for the later "spiritual" insights from Buddhism.
There is one straw man that I did find annoying which was the analogy of aliens coming to visit earth and find a "conscious piece of meat" "Its just meat...how can it be conscious....etc caracatures of the brain. This is phoney ! disingenuine rhetoric. Later in the book the "meat" is explained as a brain with 100 billions of neurons with 100 trillions of synapses, dozens of different neurotransmitters and what is easily the most complex structure in the universe (that we know of using "It"") Yes it is mysterious how it works, but there is no need for the sort of rhetoric given at the beginning of the book. This is like taking the most advanced computer and just daying its junk made from steel, silicon and lots of plastic. "The brain is meat" is a loaded linguistic metaphorical rhetorical equivocation which is misleading
Chapter 2-7 are then about the history of the brain plasticity research and neuroplasticity. Very interesting but does not commit anyone to any specific philosophical view. Yes the degree of neuroplasticity is greater now that was thought 10 years ago or 100 years ago. However even with all of the cases in this book it is hardly some mind magic - there are serious limits onto the degree of neuroplasticity. I prefer to take a middle line here - yes there is hope for stroke victims but one has to be aware of avoiding false hope that after some exercises their brain is neuroplastic, the mind force will sort everything out and all will be OK and if its not then the person was not committed to the exercises. To his credit Dr Shwarz does mention this briefly on the topic of people challenging his work blaming all psychiatric problems of people misusing their willpower. However I can sense some of the new age "secret" "law of attraction" ideas that you can get and attract whatever you want or think about.
Chapter 8-10 Consolidates the claims of the mind as a non material force and justifies this with quantum mechanics mysticism. I agree with one of the precious reviewers that mind mystery + quantum mystery = solved mind-quantum mystery !!! To his credit Dr Schwarz laid the burden of quantum interpretation onto physicist Henry Stapp as an authority. However H.Stapp's ideas are far from credible due to very little evidence and many theoretical problems some of which a previous reviewer posted such as quantum effects being orders of magnitude smaller than the cell and synaptic neurological level. Also why replacing determinism with random probability is any more helpful ? Dr Shwartz did briefly discuss chaos theory and implications that we may never be able to predict what the mind does, this is probably true - however does not help the theory of a separate mind force that's dualistic to the brain.
Key idea = The mind (non material spiritual force) can change the physical brain The argument against parts of the brain that can influence other parts of the brain was not dealt with very well at all as opposed to a "mind spirit" which changes the brain. The potential for parts of the brain to influence other parts of the brain was hinted at time and time again throughout the book eg that faulty signals from the pre frontal cortex or damage to the PFC that what causes psychiatric problems involving volition. Professor Ramachandran has some fascinating lectures about rare very damage to part of the brain and the effects/various agnosias produced.
So summary - the book is advocating:
New age Quantum Spirituality (ala F. Capra, D. Chopra)- compounding mysteries with mysteries
Medieval/Cartesian Dualism mind and body separation - the perpetual energy of soul power which clearly violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics is the causal force that changes the brain
immaterial thoughts influence the physical world...`The secret' style - however maybe not as extreme as the solipsistic "we create all reality by being conscious of it"
Consciousness is an irreducible primary of the universe somewhat like time, space & fundamental forces
Quick question - what on earth was happening on the planets evolution for billions of years prior to any advanced sentient life who are "observers" of the universe ?
Dr Schwartz does fail to describe exactly what the mental force is, how it acts on the physical brain and act/interact with the unconscious etc... The comments of a previous reviewer can be repeated ! .......???...So is the brain an antenna receiving signals and modulating this basic force ? or is the brain creating the immaterial consciousness itself ? or is the brain just consuming/using this force like the lungs are consuming oxygen ??? Well no answer on this Brain and Mind problem - the headline of the book.
Then there is the whole identity problem of who exactly are you....who is the real you ? The claim the book makes is someones intrusive thoughts and behaviour in OCD "is not their real selves" and the "mind force" thats trying to control the OCD is "the real you" - what does all this mean ???? It contradicts one of the main themes of the book regarding responsibility. According to this a person can then go to court ans say to the judge "well the real me didnt to the crime, that was just the OCD parts of the brain, but it wasnt "me" judge. I know this is not what Dr Schwartz intends ! but it is a corrolary. Surely a [ersons "Real self" includes everything, all attributes both useful, healthy and pathological.