mtvessel: (Default)
Jan 2014
The Brain that Changes Itself - Norman Doidge - Penguin, 2008
* *
My grandfather, who died when I was eight, was a scary man, but it wasn't his fault. Some years before I was born he had an operation to remove a blood clot. There were complications, and he had a stroke that left him unable to speak except in inarticulate groans that only my grandmother could understand. The surgeons also had to remove his leg, and the sight of the pink stump where his knee should have been and the weird contraption of his prosthetic leg were both disturbing and fascinating to my childhood eyes.

I tell this story as a corrective to the ones that are in this book. Like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Doidge relies largely on personal anecdotes to make his triumphalist points about how harnessing neuroplasticity and the "power of positive thinking" can transform lives. But there is a reason why scientists do not admit the experiences of individuals as reasonable evidence for knowledge, which is that they differ. My grandfather was an intelligent man, but after his stroke he never managed to learn to speak again. Brain plasticity only goes so far. Sometimes - usually - the damage is too great.
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