From Mind and Life XII:
Neuroplasticity: The Neuronal Substrates of Learning and Transformation
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain:
How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves
by Sharon Begley
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (November 20, 2007)
Is it really possible to change the structure and function of the brain, and in so doing alter how we think and feel?
The answer is a resounding yes.
In late 2004, leading Western scientists joined the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to address this very question — and in the process brought about a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation.
For decades, the conventional wisdom of neuroscience held that the hardware of the brain is fixed and immutable — that we are stuck with what we were born with. As Begley shows, however, recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates whether and how the brain can undergo wholesale change, reveal that the brain is capable not only of altering its structure but also of generating new neurons, even into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, and compensate for disability.
Begley documents how this fundamental paradigm shift is transforming both our understanding of the human mind and our approach to deep-seated emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. These breakthroughs show that it is possible to reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain. They also suggest that it is possible to teach and learn compassion, a key step in the Dalai Lama’s quest for a more peaceful world. But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, if particular, focused attention. This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone.
With her extraordinary gift for making science accessible, meaningful, and compelling, Sharon Begley illuminates a profound shift in our understanding of how the brain and the mind interact. This tremendously hopeful book takes us to the leading edge of a revolution in what it means to be human.
About Sharon Begley
Sharon Begley is the science columnist for The Wall Street Journal and inaugurated the paper’s “Science Journal” in 2002. She was previously the senior science writer at Newsweek, covering neuroscience, genetics, physics, astronomy, and anthropology. The co-author of The Mind and the Brain, she has won many awards for her articles. She is a frequent guest on radio and television, including The Charlie Rose Show, Today Weekend, CBS’s The Early Show, and Imus in the Morning.
Further Praise for Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley
“The Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and some of the world’s leading neuroscientists all gather once a year at a conference on the latest discoveries in neuroplasticity: the study of how the human brain can change itself. (This is the second book the subject due out in March, along with Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself). This remarkable conference serves as the center of Wall Street Journal science columnist Begley’s account of neuroplasticity. Until recently, the reigning theory was that neurons in the brain didn’t regenerate. Begley walks readers through the seminal experiments showing that in fact new neurons are created in the brain every day, even in people in their 70s.
With frequent tangents into Buddhist philosophy, Begley surveys current knowledge of neuroplasticity. Most interesting is a series of experiments with Buddhist adepts who have spent over 10,000 hours meditating. What these experiments show is tantalizing: it might be possible to train the brain to be better at feeling certain emotions, such as compassion. No less interesting are the hurdles the scientists face in recruiting participants; yogis replied that if these scientists wanted to understand meditation, they should meditate. Despite the title, the book holds no neuroplasticity tips, but it is a fascinating exploration of the ways the mind can change the brain.”
Publishers Weekly, Jan 15, 2007
“There are two great things about this book. One is that it shows us how nothing about our brains is set in stone. The other is that it is written by Sharon Begley, one of the best science writers around. Begley is superb at framing the latest facts within the larger context of the field. She also gives us the back stories that reveal how human the process of science research is. This is a terrific book.”
author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
“Reading this book is like opening doors in the mind. Sharon Begley brings the reader right to the intersection of scientific and meditative understanding, a place of exciting potential for personal and global transformation. And she does it so skillfully as to seem effortless.”
author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
“It is very seldom that a science in its infancy is so skillfully unpacked that it reads like a detective novel. The fact that this science includes collaborative efforts of neuroscientists, psychologists, contemplatives, philosophers, and the full engagement of the genius of the Dalai Lama is not only fascinating, but uplifting and inspiring. This book lets you know that how you pay attention to your experience can change your entire way of being.”
author of Coming to Our Senses
“This is a truly illuminating and eminently readable book on the revolutionary new insights in mind sciences. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in understanding human potential.”
author of A Path with Heart
“I have meditated for 40 years, and have long felt that the potential of mind training to improve our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being has barely been tapped. Thanks to Sharon Begley’s fascinating book, though, that is about to change. As human beings, we really do have inner powers that can make a world of difference, particularly if our goal is not merely to advance our own agendas, but to cultivate compassion for the benefit of all living beings.”
author of Healthy at 100 and Diet For a New America