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The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and The Power of Mental Force

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Biology 202
2006 Book Commentaries
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The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and The Power of Mental Force

Whitney McDonald

The Mind & The Brain by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley is a very dynamic and rich read which covers the phenomena of how the brain, behavior and emotions can be controlled by the mind. Schwartz puts emphasis on his progressive 2-decade research on non-invasive ways to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, he also draws on many other brain malfunctions and disorders from dyslexia to stroke patients. Although the book is very dense with lots of information, interesting phenomena, and concepts the authors does not fall short of making this book appealing and understandable to all levels of neurobiological understanding; it's relationship to the body and society. This book also includes the very controversial political process of promoting non-chemical and non-invasive ways of treating behavioral problems. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in consciousness, brain plasticity and free will in it's relation to behavior.

The book is broken into 10 chapters that essentially walk the reader through Schwartz's endeavors of treating OCD patients therapeutically rather than chemically. The first chapter, "The Matter of Mind" discusses societies look at the brain in comparison to how it is progressing with new methods of therapy for behavioral diseases being developed. Here, Schwartz challenges the idea that the brain is just a machine that receives an input and produces an output. He addresses historical views like those of Descartes and Newton in relation to the mind versus matter and the experience versus knowing debates. He denotes the idea that "consciousness, emotions, thoughts and subjective feeling of pain, and the spark of creativity arises from nothing but the electrical activity [of the brain]" (31) and instead says that there is more to the brain and all of it's functions than it's basic "matter" and machinery. The mind is consciousness that is willing and able to control that machinery. The second chapter entitled "Brain Lock" is where he first begins to address his own research with OCD patients; he looks at current therapeutic methods of treating OCD patients and develops his own. The process of his findings are laid out in this chapter which include diagrams of the brain, figures of overly active areas in OCD patients, charts of reaction processes and extensive explanations of how activated areas of the brain are different in OCD patients in comparison to those with normal brain wiring. Schwartz's theory for intervention is "to experience the OCD symptom with out reacting emotionally to the discomfort it caused, realizing instead that even the most visceral OCD urges is actually no more than the manifestation of the brain wiring defect (77-8)." He says, for a patient to realize what is actually going wrong inside their brains would make them more mentally able to deal and willfully change their brain defect. He examined this theory further by taking brain scans of patients before and after receiving an OCD trigger. After this he introduces the "Refocus and Re-label" enabling a patient receiving a compulsive urge to wash ones hands for example to instead reliable it to make the choice to do something else. This was proven to be a very successful method and is elaborated upon in the text.

Through out the book he conflicts the issue that an old brain can never recover or in other word cannot fix the defects acquired through injury. Chapter 3 entitled "Birth of a Brain" I found very valuable for anyone interested in the neurobiological field. The authors extensively explain neuron cells, synaptic clefts, sight, etc. He elucidates this to go into issues regarding neuroplasticity and how synapses are created in an adult brain, what they mean, and comparing that of a newborns nervous system. He shows how "learning reflects changes in the synapses (130)" and, because of this, the body/ brain can always learn and change no matter what the age. Chapter 4 goes into the depths of societal conflicts in understanding the depths and complexities of the brain. Chapter 5 and 6 further makes the claim that plasticity of the brain is not only in infants. He is able to support this claim by looking at stroke patient's therapy to make use of the arms and limbs affected by stroke. By looking at brain activity scans it was found that "the healthy side of the brain had been drafted into service by the patients continued use of the affected arm (193)." It is evident here, that those brain functions had shifted as a result that adult brains can recover from injuries. Chapter 7 entitled "Network remodeling" goes through one of his studies of trying to improve reading skills in dyslexic kindergarteners. His noninvasive method was to have children listen to words and letter sounds that could be confused for one another and have the subjects try to differentiate. After 2 months of listening for 2 hours a day all of the children progressed 1 ½ to 2 years in reading skills. This improvements were due to brain rewiring by a non-invasive mean. This chapter further reiterates the idea that the brain can be molded and changed with the help of the mind and chemicals or surgery are not needed to achieve a behavioral effect.

Chapters 8-10 tackles quantum physics theories, freewill, and the effects of attention on behavior. Schwartz's addresses the issue that quantum physics is about the mind and it's discoveries and that without the mind physics would not exist. This addresses issues that debate if emotion, choice and perspective are valid in the scientific world or just mechanical outputs from the nervous system; also if the concepts that physics is the basis of science and applies to all working of the body. He says that if not for the minds apprehension, physics would not exist. "The mind has the power to act back on the brain...This makes the notion that mind is strictly determined by the movements of atoms and electrons seem as dated as Newton's powered wig (260)." He is trying to emphasize again, that mind is not just the matter it is made up of but is consciousness, choice and perspective. In the last two chapters Schwartz further alludes to choice and attention, making the claim that if a stroke patient, an OCD patient, or another with similar brain dysfunctions has the will and pays the proper attention they will be able to alter their brain functions. Schwartz says,"...a successful outcome requires that a patient make willful changes to the meaning or value he places on the distressing 'error' signals the brain generates (355)" here he is drawing on his refocus re-label concept . "...Once he understands the real nature of the false brain images the patient can actively refocus... quality of attention states influences whether patients actively process sensory stimulus as well as emotions and thoughts (355)" here, attention is crucial to processing sensory information and therefore allowing one to have the ability to influence their behavior.

Conclusively, this book is very rich, dynamic and powerfully convincing in that there is one purpose to influence society and the individual that the mind (choice, will, emotions and consciousness) has a substantial influence on behavior. It fulfilled that purpose on many levels. Not only does Schwartz draw on historical views of neurobiology he addresses his own research and findings. He does not leave the average casual reader in the dark about concepts discussed, he thoroughly explains and applies the ideas he presents. He supports treating brain wiring disjunctions through the abilities of the mind. This book explicates the mind as the body's best medicine.


Schwartz, Jeffrey M. The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. Harper Collins Publishing: New York, 2002.