Book review meme – Train your mind change your brain

Updated again July 7, 2007: Lakshmi has responded. please see below.

Updated: July 5, 2007 : Ramya has responded. please see below.

I have been meaning to review this book for a while now. Archana Raghuram’s tag gave me the impetus to write this up. The book in question is “Train your mind change your brain” by Sharon Begley, one of my favorite science columnists. Overall it is a great book and one that i really enjoyed – lots of insights. The main theme of the book is Neuroplasticity – ability of the brain to change. Check the negatives section, before you buy though. Positives & key insights: 1. Excellent writing, to be expected from Begley, I guess. Very well presented as well. 2. Begley uncovers evidence after evidence that overturns a long standing myth in the neuroscientific world that the  neurogenesis (birth of new neurons doesn’t occur).  Neurogenesis does happen aplenty in the hippocampus – considered to be the seat of learning and formation of new memories. 3. Another long standing myth in the neuroscientific world is that the brain has a fixed structure and does not change. Again, Begley presents reams of evidence to show how the brain reorganizes itself – for example, in blind people that read braille, the otherwise unused visual cortex takes over the  function of touch and enhances it to enable the reading of braille that requires sensitive finger tips. 4. How brain changes occur only when attention is paid to it using the example of research on monkeys that show how monkeys learn new skills when they paid attention and not otherwise. 5. Begley weighs in on the nature vs. nurture debate with 2 astonishing examples. First, a water flea that grows a helmet like structure when it detects the presence of predators and not otherwise (a case of phenotype switching which by itself is a fascinating topic, i will cover later). Second, rats showing a gene for stress handling turned on when they were raised by an attentive mother as opposed to an inattentive/neglectful mother. You can read this excellent article on nature vs. nurture which also covers the water flea helmet. 6. Begley also covers how in Buddhist monks who have extensive meditation experience, structural changes have occurred that allow them to be more compassionate and more focused, creative etc. Negatives/Points to Ponder: 1. There is a lot of references to Buddhism. In fact the foreword has been written by the Dalai Lama. Sometimes these references seem to cloud the objectivity of this book. Buddhism is a great religion no doubt but these constant references about how great a religion it is, could have been avoided. 2. There is an research experiment that is described in which volunteers blindfold themselves and within a few days of the experiment, changes in the visual cortex were observed showing how quickly the brain starts changing. There is also a related write up on how in people that went blind after the age of 14 the visual cortex reorganization did not take place because it seems the brain is still waiting for signals from the visual cortex and refuses to reorganize it. The question is, have we tried blindfolding these people who are already blind to see if now the brain would start reorganizing the visual cortex? Seems to be that if in fully visioned people, reorganizing happens so quickly, would it not happen in blind people as well? 3. Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus is conclusively proven per this book. Begley also says these new neurons seem to be getting incorporated into the functional circuits of the brain. It is not clear how this is happening, considering that neurons don’t move around? Forwarding the meme – i tag the following people and they are requested to write a review of one of their favorite books and forward the meme to 5 other people: 1. Lakshmi Nagarajan – the mother of Lil General. [Lakshmi has responded with a review of a timeless faiy tale Cinderella. Thanks Lakshmi]

2. Kesava – the man at Berkeley. 3. Madan Menon – who doesn’t want pens and pencils anymore. 4. Pandurang Nayak – maybe he will review a book from the Microsoft Press! 5. Ramya Sethuraman – the mosakutti. [Ramya responded to the tag. Thanks Ramya] References:
1. Check this site out for some key extracts from the book.


  1. Anonymous said July 1, 2007, 8:22 pm:

    My review here: 🙂

  2. Anonymous said July 1, 2007, 10:52 pm:

    Thanks for the quick response, Sukumar. Sounds like the facinating book, I should read it.

  3. Anonymous said July 5, 2007, 11:04 am:


    Thanks for the swift response to the tag.

  4. Anonymous said July 5, 2007, 11:05 am:

    You are welcome Archana.

  5. Anonymous said July 6, 2007, 6:20 am:

    It took me a while to respond to this meme. I saw your post late. Not really a review but thats all I’ve been upto lately 🙂

  6. Anonymous said July 6, 2007, 11:04 pm:

    Thanks for responding to the tag Lakshmi. – Sukumar