The Brain that Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

February 12, 2009 at 16:16 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The brain that changes itself

The brain that changes itself

Norman Doidge has written an eminently readable and interesting book about advances in the understanding of brain function, perception, learning, and response to injury. He also illustrates how these advances are informing the development of more effective treatments and interventions for conditions as diverse as strokes and addiction.

However, the book is somewhat spoiled by the over-congratulatory tenor of the prose, and the over-enthusiastic application of these ideas to every aspect of human behaviour. It is ironic that he spends so much time lambasting the ‘localizationalists’ (bizarrely portrayed as a kind of establishment mafia hell-bent on stifling research) for over-extending their ideas whilst he undertakes similar mental gymnastics in his attempts to demonstrate that every condition – from autism to pornography addiction – can be wholly explained by brain plasticity.

And this is where the book ultimately falls down as a science book. In many cases he asserts ‘facts’ to support his hypotheses which are simply wrong – facts which the rather poorly referenced and constructed end-notes are silent on. The chapter on sexuality is particularly cringeworthy, as he trots out a number of bizarre assertions, social commentary and outdated Freudian concepts to build his arguments, apparently unaware of the rich depth and detail of research in this area which in some cases contradicts his hypotheses.

Is this an interesting book worth reading? Yes. But that comes with a warning that it contains the over-generalisations and unwarranted assumptions that, so often, are found in sloppy science – both ‘popular’ and academic.

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