Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mind Sculpture: Your Brain's Untapped Potential by Ian H. Robertson

I bought a 1999 edition of Mind Sculpture: Your Brain's Untapped Potential, and although Ian Robertson has his own poetic phrases for many of neuroplastic concepts. it's worth noting that these neuroscience research topics have been around for well over a decade. I believe their importance has been very, very undervalued in psychotherapy, self-healing, and rehabilitation programs.

Robertson uses his description of "the trembling web" for what many now call neural networks or even the catch-phrace du jour, the connectome. He uses the concept of "mind sculpture" for neuroplastic change, or what others call "re-wiring your neural circuits." His information is sync with later theories and elaborations, and though the contemporary analogies and metaphors may have changed over the years, most of the key concepts are expertly outlined in his book. Thumbs up.

Mind Sculpture: Your Brain's Untapped Potential by Ian H. Robertson

Research into the brain in the last decade has dramatically changed our understanding of how we humans manage to escape our biological shackles by constantly re-molding ourselves in a near-infinite number of ways. Here one of the world's leading researchers of brain rehabilitation explains with remarkable lucidity the new discoveries to the general reader and the important implications this has for health and human potential.

Ian Robertson explains in fascinating detail how who and what we are is sculpted throughout our lifetime, second by second, by our interactions with the world, by our relationships with other people.Your brain is changed physically by the conversations you have, the events you witness and the love you receive. This is true all through your life, not just when you are an infant,” writes Prof. Robertson. This process, which he calls “sculpting the brain,” occurs despite the genetic hard-wiring of Darwinian evolution. Indeed, evolution's gift to us, he says, is that we are no longer slaves of our biology, even if that biology hasn't endowed us with perfection. The evolutionary gift we have allows us to modify our inclinations in countless ways in a process which constantly shapes and reshapes us, as a trembling web of 100 billion brain cells fires off cascades of impulses which ultimately create the experiences which make us what we are.

Mind Sculpture shows:

• Why your brain is physically changed by what you do, see, feel and think
• How you can become physically stronger from the comfort of your armchair by carrying out mental exercises in your imagination
• Why learning molds the brain structurally, growing new connections between brain cells
• How education builds brain power — it's not all down to genes.
• How increasing your education over your lifetime will make you more likely to be mentally healthy in old age.
• Why stress can cause brain cells to shrink or even die.
• How keeping mentally active as you get older keeps your brain working better
• Why love grows the brain

From Publishers Weekly
In an engaging hybrid of scientific inquiry and personal discovery, Robertson, who teaches psychology at Trinity College in Dublin and has worked as science correspondent for the London Times, examines the functioning of the human brain. Presenting his ideas with energy, humor and clarity, Robertson's argument that "life sculpts your brain" runs counter to a fairly recent trend in brain research that assumes most, if not all, human behavior is already "hard-wired" through evolution and genetics.

Instead, Robertson claims there are many ways we can all "sculpt" our own realities by knowing how to exercise our brains in certain ways, thus affecting the "patterns of connections between neurons."

For example, education actually builds stronger connections between brain cells, according to Robertson, as neurons fire within the "trembling web" (the 100 billion brain cells that "make up 'you'").

Retirement and lassitude, on the other hand, can diminish the number and strength of these connections. To support his central point that "cells that fire together, wire together,"

Robertson draws mostly upon clinical case studies. In several chapters, he portrays an intriguing cross-section of the population who have experienced abnormal relations between brain and body (e.g., phantom limbs) or who have severe memory blockages. In other chapters, Robertson discusses the effects of trauma, fear and hatred on the brain's neural connections. His theory about the power we all possess to shape our own life experiences has far-reaching implications for all aspects of society, including the treatment of illness, education, the workplace and human relationships.

From Library Journal
Robertson (psychology, Trinity Coll., Dublin) has served as a science correspondent for several London newspapers, is a frequent contributor to science and medical journals, and has authored several books on neurorehabilitation. Here, he describes the brain's "trembling web," in which synapses can form stronger connections as a result of repeated and coordinated firing of neurons. Experience, he argues, can literally change brain structure. His two key principles are aptly phrased, "cells that fire together, wire together" and "when cells fire apart, wires depart."

Learning, therefore, sculpts the brain and affects the complexity and number of dendrites on the neurons. Robertson explains how mental imagery can modify the brain, how paying attention to experience is critical for sculpting to occur, and how physical and mental activity can temper the effects of age on the brain.

He also makes a strong case for the role of environment in the development of emotional and intellectual intelligence. Robertson uses analogies liberally and skillfully to illustrate these processes. This very readable title will engage and inform all general readers and is highly recommended for public libraries and undergraduate collections.

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