A few years ago, I read The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. That was the beginning of the process that led to this blog. At the risk of sounding cliché and overexcited, I have to say that it is an amazing and very hopeful book. Its premise is the idea that the brain itself is an extremely malleable or adaptable organ. The word that the neurologists use for this wonderful flexibility is “plasticity.” They say that the idea that the brain is like a muscle that may be exercised and strengthened through exercise is an understatement. A more accurate expression would be that the brain is a muscle that is strengthened through exercise. Until recently, conventional medical wisdom grossly underestimated the ability of the brain to adapt – to change itself
The book is filled with astonishing and wonderful stories of men and women who, laboring under horrible injuries and deformities have, through concentrated training, found ways to adapt and lead enjoyable and productive lives. Although I loved reading these stories – and they make the author’s point very well – my primary interest, and the thrust of this blog, is not in the conquering of deformities and illnesses, but in the improvement of what might be called the normal. Those of us who live common, unremarkable daily lives – who go to work, pay the bills, watch sports on television and sometimes, in our better moments, wonder what we might be missing. Saint Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” I think there may be meaningful parallels between Paul’s two-thousand-year –old admonition and to what today’s neurologists are learning and telling us.
In my later years I have become firmly convinced of the notion that conventional wisdom – what might be called the spirit of the age – is very often completely wrong, and sometimes to the great detriment of those who, wittingly or not, follow it. My main case in point for now is the whole accepted dogma about diet. I was one of those who went right along with the government and advertisers in believing that saturated fats were terrible for you, that the single LDL cholesterol number was a definitive, reliable indicator of health, and that eating whole grains and cooking with vegetable oils was the way to avoid heart disease. All of these dogmas were conventional wisdom here for decades and all of them are dead wrong and all of them have directly contributed to our obesity epidemic and consequent health care crisis.
But this blog is not about diet. It is about the notion that what we have been fed for years may be dead wrong and may, in fact, be killing us or limiting our lives and our ability to fully enjoy them. Paul told the early Christians to avoid conforming to the pattern of this world. This blog will be a journal of my own experiment with brain training and the effort to get out of the mold that “this world” tries – however deliberately or unconsciously – to squeeze us into.
I have started brain training exercises on line and I intend to use this blog to report my progress and any changes that I see. To bring others with me along my journey.
Come along if you care. Come along if you dare.