Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Brain that changes itself ( for Breda )

" If we consider the number of possible neural connections in the brain, we would be dealing with hyperastronomical numbers 10 followed by at least a million zeros.( There are 10 followed by 79 zeros,give or take a few, of particles in the known universe.) These staggering numbers explain why the human brain can be described as the most complex known object in the universe, and why its capable of ongoing, massive microstructural change, and capable of performing so many different mental functions and behaviors." I'm quoting from Norman Doidge's "The brain that changes itself". In this book he links scientific experimentation with personal triumph in a way to inspire awe.
We are introduced to scientists like Ramachandran who discovered a way of using mirrors to 'rewire' peoples brains so the sometimes decade long suffering from phantom limb pain could finally be put to rest. Equally inspiring is Barbara Arrowsmith Young's story. A womam labeled as retarded, she had an assortment of serious learning disabilities. The area of her brain devoted to speech, Broca's area was not working properly, so she had trouble pronouncing words.Also because the part of her brain that helps to understand the relationships between symbols wasn't functioning normally, she had trouble undersatanding grammar math concepts, logic and cause and effect. She couldn't read a clock because she couldn't understand the relationship between the hands. Barbara reversed all of this she devised exercises which worked her most weakened function first and then spurred on by initial success she dasigned exercises for her difficulties with space, her trouble with knowing where her limbs were and her visual disabilities -and brought them up to average level. In 1980 she opened the Arrowsmith School in Toronto where she works on brain exercises with both children and adults so they too can correct their disabilities. As Norman Doidge says " The scientists who make important discoveries about the brain are often those whose own brains are extraordinary, working on those whose brains are damaged. It is rare that a person who makes the discovery is the one with the defect. Barbara Arrowsmith Young is one of these.
The book abounds with stories of people who go beyond, breaking through limiting beliefs imposed internally and externally. An inspiring read for us T'ai Chi practioners who are constantly pushing out beyond yesterdays limits. Each day we improve a posture either in its structure or flow we form many new neural connections. I have always intuitively felt this to be one of T'ai Chi's great benefits. It's good to have it confirmed .

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