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The Brain That Changes Itself Summary – Norman Doidge

Arthur Worsley
by Arthur Worsley
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
2 MINUTE READ
The Brain That Changes Itself (2007)
Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

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One-Sentence Summary

The Brain That Changes Itself is an informative and readable journey into the history, science and consequences of recent research in neuroplasticity - the brain's incredible ability to change and reorganise itself - by psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher, Norman Doidge. (427 pages)

Note: This The Brain That Changes Itself summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise the Best Learning Books of all time.

Note: This The Brain That Changes Itself summary is a stub. I'll write a full summary later. For now, you'll find enough meta-data here to help you decide if it's worth reading the book.

The Brain That Changes Itself Summary

In the past, the brain has been thought of as mostly hard-wired and unchanging. But evidence is increasingly confirming that it’s more malleable than ever imagined.

In fact, the brain is less like a machine, and more like a complex organism. It continuously adapts to the unique combination of stimuli, thoughts and activities we encounter in life.

This structural and functional neuroplasticity takes place in every part of the brain and at every level of its organisation – from the activity of its cells and neural networks to the specialisation of its regions and hemispheres.

And though heightened in critical periods (e.g., youth, falling in love, beginning parenting) and reduced in others (e.g., after adolescence, in senesce), neuroplasticity never stops – the brain changes constantly, throughout our entire lives.

We are just now beginning to understand the structures (e.g., neuroglia, hippocampus, basal forebrain), pathways (e.g., LTP, LTD, myelination) and chemicals (e.g., BDNF, oxytocin, dopamine) that enable and regulate neuroplasticity.

And yet this understanding has already and will have significant consequences for rethinking many aspects of our lives – from our innate or acquired abilities to our characters and even our sexual preferences.

What’s more, from blindness and deafness to learning disabilities, autism, strokes, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s, there are few dark corners of mental health into which the science of neuroplasticity doesn’t promise to bring light and hope.

It is this story and a glimpse into just these consequences that Doidge offers us in 11 chapters, two appendices and extensive notes in his excellent book, The Brain That Changes Itself.

A key takeaway for your day? Your brain is a muscle – exercise and mental activity strengthen and sustain both it and its ongoing ability to learn.

If you keep learning – no matter who or how old you are – you will retain the ability to learn. If you stop learning, you will lose that ability, along with everything else it enables.

The Brain That Changes Itself Contents

The physiology and pharmacology of neuroplasticity was my absolute favourite topic at university. Nonetheless, three hours was far too little time to get fully into this wonderfully well-researched and well-written book. I’ll definitely be back for a fuller book summary later.

For now, here’s a peek at the contents to remind you (and me) of what’s inside:

  • Preface – An Introduction to Neuroplasticity
  • Ch. 1 – A Woman Perpetually Falling
    Rescued by the Man Who Discovered the Plasticity of Our Senses
  • Ch. 2 – Building Herself a Better Brain
    A Woman Labeled “Retarded” Discovers How to Heal Herself
  • Ch. 3 – Redesigning the Brain
    A Scientist Changes Brains to Sharpen Perception and Memory, Increase Speed of Thought and Heal Learning Problems
  • Ch. 4 – Acquiring Tastes and Loves
    What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love
  • Ch. 5 – Midnight Resurrections
    Stroke Victims Learn to Move and Speak Again
  • Ch. 6 – Brain Lock Unlocked
    Using Plasticity to stop Worries, Obsessions, Compulsions and Bad Habits
  • Ch. 7 – Pain
    The Dark Side of Plasticity
  • Ch. 8 – Imagination
    How Thinking Makes It So
  • Ch. 9 – Turning Our Ghosts into Ancestors
    Psychoanalysis as Neuroplastic Therapy
  • Ch. 10 – Rejuvenation
    The Discovery of the Neuronal Stem Cell and Lessons for Preserving Our Brains
  • Ch. 11 – More than the Sum of Her Parts
    A Woman Shows Us How Radically Plastic the Brain Can Be
  • Appendix 1 – The Culturally Modified Brain
  • Appendix 2 – Plasticity and the Idea of Progress
  • Notes and References – Detailed and interesting notes, by page and point.

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Read More: 5 Books Like The Brain That Changes Itself

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Books Like The Brain That Changes Itself: The Art of Memory
1. The Art of Memory - Frances A. Yates
Published 1966 // 464 pages // Rated 4.2 over 1,300 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like The Brain That Changes Itself: Outliers
2. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell (FREE Summary)
The Story of Success
Outliers systematically debunks the myth that success is only determined by talent and hard-work - with quantitative and qualitative evidence from medicine, sport, business, history, music, science and more - by journalist and author, Malcolm Gladwell.
Published 2008 // 309 pages // Rated 4.2 over 661,300 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like The Brain That Changes Itself: Mastery
3. Mastery - George Leonard
The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
Published 1991 // 176 pages // Rated 4.1 over 8,500 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like The Brain That Changes Itself: How to Read a Book
4. How to Read a Book - Mortimer J. Adler (FREE Summary)
The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
How to Read a Book is THE classic guide to reading faster, deeper and more effectively than you ever realised was possible - by deep-thinkers, philosophers and life-long learners, M. Adler and C. van Doren.
Published 1940 // 426 pages // Rated 4.0 over 20,700 reviews on Goodreads
5. Neuroscience - Mark F. Bear
Exploring the Brain
This amazing neurophysiology textbook was my go-to text when I studied Psychology at Oxford. You'll find much more in here than just a beautifully illustrated guide to learning and memory in the brain.
Published 1995 // 928 pages // Rated 4.3 over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads

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Arthur Worsley
I founded TAoL to discover and share the best wisdom on how to live long and prosper. Before that I studied Psychology, Philosophy & Physiology at Oxford and consulted at McKinsey. Still curious? Learn more or take my FREE productivity quiz.

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