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The brain can change

According to today’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal (available online but only by subscription) -

“In the last decade of the 20th century, neuroscientists overthrew the dogma that the adult brain can’t change. To the contrary, its structure and activity can morph in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. The discovery has led to promising new treatments for children with dyslexia and for stroke patients, among others.”

The person who discovered that the brain and central nervous system have plasticity and an astonishing capacity to reorganize themselves is British scientist Geoff Raisman. When he first proposed the theory in 1969, his ideas were dismissed, but Raisman persevered, and eventually, with the nimbleness of a vast ocean liner, science swung behind him in the late 1990s. (Details in the Ingenious Timeline here and here. When you reach the century, scroll down or use Find to locate Raisman.)

Today Raisman is trying to restore movement to the paralysed. He is taking advantage of the brain’s plasticity to overcome a huge problem in physical healing – the inability of nerve cells to connect through the scar tissue that forms after an injury.

In a quite different venture in Canada -

University of Toronto scientists are exploring how thoughts affect the physical structure of the brain and eliminate depression. They call it cognitive-behavioral therapy and have used it, they say, to positively affect the ideas and emotions of depressed patients. They now have physical evidence that the change in their patients' thoughts changes the physical make-up of their brains, presumably for their greater happiness.

It did not escape Luigi Barzini that ideas are powerful. He was convinced that the success of Brits could be attributed to “a few ideas in their heads”. However, he was not certain what they were. Here is a suggestion.