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Book Summary: “The Brain That Changes Itself”, Norman Doidge

The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge

The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge

“The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science”, Norman Doidge
448 pages – Paperback | eBook

This book summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise ~70 books on Learning How to Learn - for more, see the full reading list.

TYPE: Non-fiction (science), theoretical.

SYNOPSIS: An informative and readable journey into the history, science and consequences of recent research in neuroplasticity – the brain’s incredible ability to change and reorganise itself – by psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher, Norman Doidge.

NOTE: In the past, the brain has been thought of as mostly hard-wired and unchanging. But evidence is increasingly confirming that it’s more malleable than ever imagined.

In fact, the brain is less like a machine, and more like a complex organism. It continuously adapts to the unique combination of stimuli, thoughts and activities we encounter in life.

This structural and functional neuroplasticity takes place in every part of the brain and at every level of its organisation – from the activity of its cells and neural networks to the specialisation of its regions and hemispheres.

And though heightened in critical periods (e.g., youth, falling in love, beginning parenting) and reduced in others (e.g., after adolescence, in senesce), neuroplasticity never stops – the brain changes constantly, throughout our entire lives.

We are just now beginning to understand the structures (e.g., neuroglia, hippocampus, basal forebrain), pathways (e.g., LTP, LTD, myelination) and chemicals (e.g., BDNF, oxytocin, dopamine) that enable and regulate neuroplasticity.

And yet this understanding has already and will have significant consequences for rethinking many aspects of our lives – from our innate or acquired abilities to our characters and even our sexual preferences.

What’s more, from blindness and deafness to learning disabilities, autism, strokes, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s, there are few dark corners of mental health into which the science of neuroplasticity doesn’t promise to bring light and hope.

It is this story and a glimpse into just these consequences that Doidge offers us in 11 chapters, two appendices and extensive notes in his excellent book, The Brain That Changes Itself.

A key takeaway for your day? Your brain is a muscle – exercise and mental activity strengthen and sustain both it and its ongoing ability to learn.

If you keep learning – no matter who or how old you are – you will retain the ability to learn. If you stop learning, you will lose that ability, along with everything else it enables.


The physiology and pharmacology of neuroplasticity was my absolute favourite topic at university. Nonetheless, three hours was far too little time to get fully into this wonderfully well-researched and well-written book. I’ll definitely be back for a full crunch.

For now, here’s a peek at the contents to remind you (and me) of what’s inside:

  • Preface – An Introduction to Neuroplasticity
  • Ch. 1 – A Woman Perpetually Falling
    Rescued by the Man Who Discovered the Plasticity of Our Senses
  • Ch. 2 – Building Herself a Better Brain
    A Woman Labeled “Retarded” Discovers How to Heal Herself
  • Ch. 3 – Redesigning the Brain
    A Scientist Changes Brains to Sharpen Perception and Memory, Increase Speed of Thought and Heal Learning Problems
  • Ch. 4 – Acquiring Tastes and Loves
    What Neuroplasticity Teaches Us About Sexual Attraction and Love
  • Ch. 5 – Midnight Resurrections
    Stroke Victims Learn to Move and Speak Again
  • Ch. 6 – Brain Lock Unlocked
    Using Plasticity to stop Worries, Obsessions, Compulsions and Bad Habits
  • Ch. 7 – Pain
    The Dark Side of Plasticity
  • Ch. 8 – Imagination
    How Thinking Makes It So
  • Ch. 9 – Turning Our Ghosts into Ancestors
    Psychoanalysis as Neuroplastic Therapy
  • Ch. 10 – Rejuvenation
    The Discovery of the Neuronal Stem Cell and Lessons for Preserving Our Brains
  • Ch. 11 – More than the Sum of Her Parts
    A Woman Shows Us How Radically Plastic the Brain Can Be
  • Appendix 1 – The Culturally Modified Brain
  • Appendix 2 – Plasticity and the Idea of Progress
  • Notes and References – Detailed and interesting notes, by page and point.
Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a productivity coach and writer who helps top young execs and entrepreneurs be more productive, find more balance and live more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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