The Brain that Changes Itself

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 September, 2008, 12:00am

The Brain that Changes Itself

by Norman Doidge

Penguin, HK$136

Oliver Sacks probably wishes he wrote this book. Using remarkable case studies to illustrate brain 'plasticity', Norman Doidge shows why neuroscientists no longer consider grey matter as a fixed mass that fails to adapt and can't help but deteriorate with age. The Brain that Changes Itself is an apt description of the subject. Our control centre can apparently rearrange itself to compensate for deficiencies, which explains such phenomena as the woman with half a brain that reorganised itself to work as a whole and the blind who have regained their sight, defying previous 'one function, one location' assumptions about the brain. There is even a project involving a condom that may allow men with spinal-cord injury to have orgasms. 'The sensations of sexual movement, picked up by sensors on the condom, can be translated into electrical impulses that can then be transmitted to the part of the brain that processes sexual excitement,' Doidge writes. Also exciting is a series of plasticity-based computer programs called Fast ForWord, which apparently has helped people with cognitive problems improve rapidly. Some browsers might skim the back cover and think there is no need to read this book. They should think again.