The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
By Norman Doidge
Viking. 427 pp. ISBN: 0-670-03830-X
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves
By Sharon Begley
Ballantine Books. 283 pp. ISBN: 1-400-06390-6
All supposedly great truths have their foundational stories or myths—God's creation of the world from the void, Karl Marx's historical conflict between capital and the working class, Isaac Newton's getting beaned on the head by an apple, leading to the discovery of gravity and the development of physics. These stories begin the narrative from which all other truths unfold.
In the world of brain science, foundation truths have existed for more than a century. In 1861, French anatomist Pierre-Paul Broca discovered a region of the brain responsible for speech, which became known as "Broca's area." Anatomists then began to assume that each specific piece of neural real estate had its particular purpose. This was called "locationalization." The great Spanish neuroanatomist and Nobel laureate Santiago Ramó y Cajal put a seal on this, arguing in 1913 that the nerve pathways of the adult brain were "fixed, ended, and immutable." In other words, the brain might be a soft mesh of tissue, but the way it processed information was set in stone. We were all "hardwired," according to Ramóy…