In this fascinating book, Sharon Begley (a science writer for Newsweek and previously for the Wall Street Journal) goes through some of the history of neuroscience and summarizes some of the latest findings in the field. There was a time when scientists viewed the adult brain as rather static and that no new neurons could be formed. I even remember learning this long-held dogma in my neurobiology class in graduate school. Thankfully, we now know that the brain is remarkably plastic. The analogy of the brain as a muscle works rather well. The brain can change quite dramatically, even in adults, by “exercising” it. Exposing our brains to new learning experiences causes our brains to adapt – to grow new neural connections and even new neurons.
Begley also describes the collaborative work between neuroscientists and Buddhist monks, with the Dalai Lama’s enthusiastic participation. Through the efforts of the Mind & Life Institute and others, neuroscientists have confirmed what Buddhist practitioners have known for over two thousand years – that the mind can change the brain. Thus, the conscious application of our thoughts – through meditation and mindfulness work – has been found to have a profound positive impact on the brain. Startling, observable changes in both structure and function of our brains can occur through mindfulness training, which then results in benefits such as greater happiness and well-being, improved attention and concentration, greater compassion, and a reduction in negative emotions.
Begley has a real talent for making what could be difficult scientific material both accessible and enjoyable. If you are interested in neuroscience in the least…and how you can benefit from the latest findings…you should consider reading this book. Note that for this book, I actually read it instead of listening to the audiobook. If you have read some of my posts, you probably know I love audiobooks!