Norman Doidge — putting to rest the static brain

Neuroplasticity is the property of the brain that enables it to change its own structure and functioning in response to activity and mental experience1

Today, May 5, 2017, is the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, a seminal and transformational introduction of brain neuroplasticity to a broad international audience. It has sold over one million copies and has been published in at least 19 different languages.

Prior to the work of Doidge and others in the last 20 to 30 years, most people believed in a static brain and the limitations of that model: once you reached adulthood, brain growth was complete, the wiring was permanent—fixed and unchanging, repair was limited, and there was no renewal. Irreplaceable neurons died one by one or in bunches. If you had a stroke or accident or other disease, then the damaged areas were lost forever. Regarding the permanent “wiring,” that notion was so firmly entrenched, its prejudice so prevalent, that even the idea that a blind person could develop greater sensitivity in the non visual senses was considered urban legend (despite massive anecdotal evidence to the contrary).

We see with our brains, not with our eyes

Norman Doidge was one of a select few that questioned the static brain orthodoxy. He not only challenged the notion but demonstrated that it was false and wrote two best sellers. His seminal The Brain That Changes Itself was transformational as it introduced neuroplasticity to millions of readers. His second book, The Brain’s Way of Healing puts the knowledge and insight of the first book to work with real world examples and further insights.

Those of you who have heard me wax philosophical may have heard me say “the human brain is the greatest organ in the universe.” To me the brain is great both in its capacity to understand and change the world and its versatility, resilience, and ability to change itself and to heal. What inspires me about the work of Doidge and others involved in neuroplasticity is their belief in the brain’s vast capacity and our capability to use that plasticity to transform ourselves.

Too many of our interventions are based on looking at symptoms and not nearly enough on what we might call pathogenesis – underlying causes

Norman Doidge has taken us to the leading edge of understanding that most remarkable organ. While his work begins with the brain, it spans all human neuro-physiology development—the whole person. It is a key supporting element of the treatments we provide here at Creative. For those with special needs who need help, Doidge has not only made the case for neuroplasticity and hope, but demonstrates the practical treatments that make use of it.

The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.

— Richard Feingold, Co-founder

1All quotes are from Norman Doidge

75 years of Progress in Developmental Neuro-Physiology – Meet the People Behind the Successes

To learn, you have to be able to listen

– Alfred Tomatis

The last seven and a half decades have seen an explosion in understanding how we develop as human beings and how we relate to each other and the world. It has seen us use leading edge developmental neuro-physiology1 to effectively treat children (and adults) with special needs—often with dramatic results.

Through a series of articles I will introduce you to the people behind this revolution.

Our time frame begins with the 1943 publication2 of Dr Leo Kanner’s seminal work on pediatric autism. Though a series of essays we will explore the wonders of being alive and human and having the greatest organ in the universe (thus far known): the human brain. You will meet some of these incredibly perceptive pioneers who have changed the way we understand human development.

These are a few of them:

  • Dr Leo Kanner
  • Dr Alfred Tomatis
  • Dr Jean Aryes
  • Mary Kawar, MS OTR
  • Patricia Wilbarger, MEd, OTR
  • Dr Stanley Greenspan
  • Dr Norman Doidge
  • Teresa May-Benson, ScD, OTR/L
  • Sheila Frick, OTR/L

Each of these remarkable individuals provided novel insight into how we develop and function as human beings—and most if not all provided tools to transform their philosophical understanding into effective therapies.

Before we begin the biographies I want to introduce two ultimately interrelated topics. (1) The wonders and reach of the human brain. (2) Gödel’s Proof.

The human brain is special. Its capacity to understand and control the world through machines and technology is unbounded. Human beings have created effective models of the microscopic world, the entire universe, and the beginning of time. Our intelligence has allowed us to control the forces of nature through fire, chemical reactions, and nuclear energy, and we now stand on the verge of controlling matter/anti-matter reactions. Physical and virtual libraries are filled with books on our ability to organize society, manufacturer things, build cities, grow food, and travel through space. As we’ll see through the works of the pioneers, the brain has the singular if not unique ability to learn, grow, adapt, reorganize, and change itself—through our entire lifetime.

Gödel showed us something even more.

Published in 1931 when he was 25, Godel’s Proof3 is one of the most remarkable discoveries in all of mathematics. Ironically, it is not well known even among many mathematicians.

While Godel’s mathematics is formidable, his results are straightforward and intuitive: Roughly speaking, most of the truths that can be known by human beings cannot be known, discovered, or proven by any of today’s computers (even quantum computers) or by any artificial intelligence (AI) based on current computer architectures and programming.4 Not only can human beings know more truths than computers, they can know infinitely more. This result affirms, supports, and validates my belief in the incredible potential and capability of the human brain—the greatest organ in the universe.

Now let’s go meet the people.

Empathy comes from being empathized with

– Stanley Greenspan

— Richard Feingold, Co-founder

1 The meaning of developmental neuro-physiology will reveal itself in the course of these articles. I will not attempt to define it.

2 Kanner, L. (1943) ‘Autistic disturbances of Affective Contact’, Nervous Child 2: 217-250.

3Kurt Gödel, 1931, “On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems, I,” Monatshefte für Mathematik und Physik, v. 38 n. 1, pp. 173-198.

4While it’s hard to imagine the type of computer to which Gödel’s Proof doesn’t apply, I must allow for its possibility.