The Wall Street Journal edition for 2-28-15 includes an interesting book review 2 books about neuroplasticity. The review, “Brainstorms Brewing,” is by Raymond Tallis, MD, who is described on his website as “ a philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic and was until recently a physician and clinical scientist.” He does seem to have impressive credentials for the material being discussed, including neurological work with acute and rehabilitation patients and award-winning research and publications about the brain and, more directly related to the topics of my blog, human behavior and psychology.
He reviews two books, The first is “Mind Change” by Susan Greenfield. She is described, at least in the popular press, as “Britain’s leading neuroscientist.” She is concerned about the effects of technology on the brain, and therefore on human behavior, particularly in regard to contributing, she alleges, to problems with attention, aggression and relationships. Her books thorough describes her concerns, but Dr. Tallis takes her to task for the quality of the scientific references that she uses to support her concerns. He notes, “Papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals jostle for our attention with reports from journalists, gossip, the views of a professional matchmaker, neuroprattle and personal impressions. “ And, “Inconvenient data—such as the fact that violent-crime rates appear to have fallen while the popularity of violent videogames has risen—are rationalized away.” Dr. Tallis concludes, “..some of Ms. Greenfield’s concerns may possibly be well-founded—after all, it would be surprising if protracted exposure to new kinds of experience did not change us a bit—but not at all certain of their larger significance.”
The second book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” is by a Canadian, Norman Doidge, M.D. Dr. Doidge is described on his website as a “psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet.” His clinical and research background includes an interesting mix of scientific research and psychoanalytic therapy and he has received some prestigious awards for his contributions. Dr. Tallis discussed how Dr. Doidges’s book describes “how the brain can alter its own structure and function in response not only to environmental stimuli but also to mental activity” and “clinics where miracle cures are seemingly an everyday occurrence, as patients are treated with light, sound or electrical therapy.”
Dr. Tallis clearly is concerned about the claims in the book, writing, “Dr. Doidge’s pen portraits of patients facing neurological adversity with courage and determination, and of their charismatic healers, are disarming. Yet the reliance on anecdotes and testimonials, without much clinically and scientifically relevant detail, is exasperating.” He goes on to eviscerate Dr. Doidge’s references in support of his claims, and he conclude, “ It seemed reasonable to conclude that, while using what we currently know of neuroplasticity may deliver modest therapeutic advances, we need to learn much more about the brain before we can hope to regularly achieve the results that Dr. Doidge reports.”
I found this review to be informative about the current issues, particularly in the popular press, about neuroplasticity. It is a helpful summary and objective critique of some the more extreme claim, both positive and negative, being made about what we know about the brain and human behavior in the digital age. Access to the review may require that you register for the Wall Street Journal website, which just takes a few minutes. The Journal provides excellent coverage of health, science and technology issues and I have never detected a political spin on any articles about these topics.