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Hope for the Aging Brain (and Body)

Psychology is a relatively young science, if you consider it remained the province of philosophers until the late nineteenth century. Even today, despite a handful of notable exceptions, it lacks clear, unifying principles. Thankfully, we survived Freud’s subversion of the conscious mind, Skinner’s behaviorism and the social theorists to emerge in the era of the cognitive psychologists with their respect for free will.

Assuming quantum physicists don’t destroy the concepts of self and consciousness, we may see psychology expand its knowledge base exponentially in the coming years. I’m heartened to see these books emerge on the scene: Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley and The Brain That Changes Itself by psychiatrist Norman Doidge.

The theme of both books is the idea that the brain is malleable and “plastic” throughout life. In other words, the adult brain is not necessarily doomed to stagnation and degeneration any more than the body is. For anyone who accepts the mind-body union principle, this may be a rather obvious point.

Matthew Blakeslee has a good review of these books in this month’s issue of Discover Magazine, in which he notes:

By recognizing neuroplasticity as a real and powerful force, we can tilt our theories of mind back into a realm where choice and free will are meaningful concepts, and where radical improvement to the human condition is possible using the right, scientifically proven techniques.

The empirical data supporting neuroplasticity may also shed light on why changing core beliefs and assumptions is effective in breaking habits.

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