Archive for May, 2010

The Brain That Changes Itself. Norman Doidge (ISBN 978-0141038872)

Read this book. It’s a long time since I read such an inspiring book. Norman Doidge is a great storyteller and in this book he weaves together a number of individual stories of pioneering clinicians and researchers and remarkable people who overcame enormous difficulties. One of the most remarkable elements of the stories of the researchers is contemporary rediscoveries of decades old findings which were totally dismissed by orthodox science of the time, and which met equally harsh criticism when re-presented and developed. There’s something about scientific orthodoxy which slows up progress as entrenched authorities dismiss new discoveries. Whilst scepticism is a healthy scientific stance, there are lessons to be learned about the negative impact of closed minds.
The stories told in this book show how careful observation of, and listening to, individuals, the ability to imagine what nobody else has considered so far, and the courage to break new ground by thinking differently, all combine to break through limits, deepen understanding and show what’s really possible.
The dominant model of the brain for centuries has been a mechanical one. In particular, we’ve had (and, amazingly, many still have) a model of the brain as being a machine of many parts, with fixed areas responsible for specific functions. The discovery of brain plasticity – the capacity of the brain to physically change – has blown this old model out of the water.
In chapter after chapter of this book, Norman Doidge shows that the potential for the brain to recover from serious damage is astonishingly greater than you’d ever have imagined. He also shows how the relationships between the brain and the mind, between the brain and the body, and between the brain and other people, is completely bi-directional. Our brains physically change with our thoughts – thought patterns create and reinforce physical connections of neurons – and those connections set up thought patterns. Our brains change our relationships with others, and our relationships with others actually change our brains.
This is an immensely convincing and satisfying alternative explanation to mechanistic reductionism.
Ultimately this is an exciting read, an inspiring read, a book that will change your idea of the limits of human potential.

Read Full Post »

nothing but the rain

Read Full Post »

Once again Iona Heath gets it right. In last week’s BMJ she wrote about the clash between organisational models and clinical models of health care. In short, she was pointing out that the moral imperative of a doctor was to provide the best care for the individual patient, and that the political perspective was focused at a population level.

I thought this paragraph was particularly pertinent.

Politicians tend to emphasise the uniformity of people. Despite the contemporary emphasis on choice, they cling to a normative view of patient aspiration, which is then reflected in the increasingly rigid guidelines that dictate clinical care. Clinicians, on the other hand, emphasise the diversity of patients and the challenge that this represents in providing the space needed to allow each individual patient to retain his or her moral stature—an aspiration that goes way beyond the meagre rhetoric of choice.

Read Full Post »

Here’s an excellent post on the School of Life blog by David Eagleman. He says…

….science never fails to provide more questions.  What we really discover from a life in science is the vastness of our ignorance.  When we reach the end of the pier of everything we understand, we find all the uncharted waters of what we do not know.  Given that, I’m surprised at the number of books in the bookstore that are penned with certainty.

This always surprises me too. The most strident promoters of scientism seem so sure of themselves. How can they be so sure and be scientists? Isn’t science about wonder, amazement, curiosity, and, indeed, a humble scepticism which never reaches the absolute, final last word on anything? For me, science is about trying to understand, and, maybe it’s because I’ve worked all my life as a doctor, but I’m never at the point where I’ve understood everything about anyone. And I never stop trying.

Read Full Post »

As I walked through Ueno Park in Tokyo on sunday morning this shrine caught my eye –


I went for a closer look once this young woman had moved on.


Goodness, isn’t this just amazing? I looked more carefully at the flickering flame –


I had no idea what this was all about but I found it completely captivating. At the base of the shrine was marble onto which the shadows of the overhead leaves played looking for all the world like fleeting reflections of the kanji letters below the dove with the flame.


Yesterday I asked the students if they knew what this was, and they told me that it was to commemorate those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that the flame was a continuous flame which stretched right back to the fires in those cities after the bomb fell.

Then this morning, outside my hotel room door, I find the Daily Yomiuri and look what’s on the front page –

daily yomiuri

Read Full Post »

feather plant

I’ve been thinking about imagination.
I’m updating my knowledge of neuroscience at the moment and learning a lot about brain function and the mental processes from the perspective that a definition of mind would be “an embodied, inter-relational process of regulation of energy and information flow”. That’s a wonderfully dynamic and holistic model of the mind. The brain in this model is the organ which produces the mind, and on which the mind acts, and we can see how energy and information flows around the brain, between the brain and the rest of the body, and between brains.

Given that the brain has 100 billion neurons and that each neuron has up to 10,000 connections, the number of distinct brain states (where each neuron is either “on” or “off”) is as great as the number of known stars in the universe!

Each brain state represents an act of remembering, perceiving and imagining – all at once!

So, what’s this imagining process? I’ve been wondering if it’s the process of making connections – of putting elements together to make a pattern. Those patterns might represent what we’ve already experienced, what we are currently experiencing, or, perhaps even more astonishingly, ones which nobody has ever experienced…..not even ourselves!

Remembering is a creative act. Perceiving is a creative act. Both involve focusing the imagination. In the former, we focus it on the past, and in the latter, we focus it on the present. But when we focus imagination on either the future, or use it to play with the patterns inside our own minds, then we make new connections – like seeing these feathers on this plant and imagining a feather-plant……ah that’s where feathers come from! That must be why we find birds in trees and bushes so often….they’re collecting feathers to cover their bodies and make their wings so they can fly!

See how easy it is to get your imagination flowing when you make connections?

Read Full Post »

I had a stroll around Ueno Park in Tokyo this morning and went to the Paeony Garden.

parasol and paeonies

The plants grow shaded by parasols and the combination is stunningly beautiful.
Here’s one of the gardeners at work.

parasol and paeonies

…and one of the many keen photographers…


paeony garden ueno

parasol and paeonies

Here are some of the ones which especially caught my eye.

white paeony

yellow paeony

pink paeony

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts