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Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are
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Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are

3.9 25
by Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald

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Neuroscientists once believed your brain was essentially "locked down" by adulthood. No new cells. No major changes. If you grew up depressed, angry, sad, aggressive, or nasty, you'd be that way for life. And, as you grew older, there'd be nowhere to go but down, as disease, age, or injury wiped out precious, irreplaceable brain cells. But over the past


Neuroscientists once believed your brain was essentially "locked down" by adulthood. No new cells. No major changes. If you grew up depressed, angry, sad, aggressive, or nasty, you'd be that way for life. And, as you grew older, there'd be nowhere to go but down, as disease, age, or injury wiped out precious, irreplaceable brain cells. But over the past five, ten, twenty years, all that's changed. Using fMRI and PET scanning technology, neuroscientists can now look deep inside the human brain and they've discovered that it's amazingly flexible, resilient, and plastic.

Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are shows you what they've discovered and what it means to all of us. Through author Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald’s masterfully written narrative and use stunning imagery, you'll watch human brains healing, growing, and adapting to challenges. You'll gain powerful new insights into the interplay between environment and genetics, begin understanding how people can influence their own intellectual abilities and emotional makeup, and understand the latest stunning discoveries about coma and "locked-in" syndrome. You'll learn about the tantalizing discoveries that may lead to cures for traumatic brain injury, stroke, emotional disorders, PTSD, drug addiction, chronic pain, maybe even Alzheimer's. Boleyn-Fitzgerald shows how these discoveries are transforming our very understanding of the "self", from an essentially static entity to one that can learn and change throughout life and even master the art of happiness.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Pictures of the Mind

Pictures of the Mind is an extraordinary book. It makes the unfolding scientific story of consciousness vivid, even joyous, while offering a sophisticated tour of what is known about our selves, our emotions, and our brains. A beautiful read.”

Ruth R. Faden,

Philip Franklin Wagley Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University

“This book explores the many ways in which neuroscience is revealing remarkable things about the inner workings of our minds–not the least of which is the transformative impact that meditation can have on destructive thoughts and behavior. I have no doubt that Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald’s work will be of great benefit to those with an interest in this fascinating new area of inquiry.”

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche,

Author of The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness

“The mind is embodied, and it is relational. In this straightforward and illuminating book, Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald reveals pictures in both visual and narrative form that capture the power of the mind to transform the brain. How our mental lives shape and are shaped by neural circuitry–itself forever being molded by experience–is the central theme of these powerful portraits of what it means to be human. By learning to focus our minds in more compassionate ways–toward ourselves and others–we can literally promote a healthier and more integrated brain. Read these pages, and you'll be able to see for yourself!”

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.,

Author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Co-Investigator at the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development, and Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center

“Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald has given us a remarkably clear and engaging account of the ways that the new brain imaging technologies can give us deep insights into our gravest maladies. Her conclusion, that healing may often lie with us, joins science with the wisdom of the ages.”

Jonathan D. Moreno,

Author of Mind Wars, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor, and Professor of Medical Ethics and of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania

“An engaging and compelling read that illustrates how the new brain science can help us understand elements of our basic humanity.”

Zindel Segal,

Author of The Mindful Way through Depression and Cameron Wilson Chair in Depression Studies at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Publishers Weekly
Over the past decade, a revolution in medical imaging has allowed researchers to scan the brain of subjects in situ, while setting their minds to an assigned task. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are revealing, among other discoveries, that the brain of some apparently vegetative patients can be active; the brain's ability to heal and grow well beyond what was previously believed; and the various centers of different behaviors and skills. Physicist and science writer Boleyn-Fitzgerald addresses brain injury, addiction, memory, meditation, and more with summaries of recent research, cogent explanations of what scientists are learning, and plentiful references. Fascinatingly, she illustrates how "knotty questions about morality, blame, and punishment provide abundant raw material for brain researchers," who can assess, for instance, "whether 'normal' brains are wired for altruism and cooperation." Boleyn-Fitzgerald writes in a clear voice, making scientific data engaging and accessible for anyone with an interest in the study of neurology, mindfulness, or behavior.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

FT Press
Publication date:
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt


Imagine your mind is a yard on a clear March day. You’ve been offered a chance to walk around. You may choose to clear fresh paths through the brown winter muck, pick up bits of trash you forgot were buried under all that ice and snow, decide what new seeds to plant and where. You’ve been told your soil is rich—much richer than you thought—and now you are sure that with time and attention and a lot of gritty work, you can grow almost anything. You roll up your sleeves and take stock. What habits of mind will you dig up and toss on the compost heap? What mental skills and emotional states, what beliefs about yourself and the world will you choose to cultivate?

Little more than a decade ago, the physical landscape of our minds was perfectly invisible to us and, for all we knew, as fertile and productive as it was ever going to get. Even if we were aware of our thoughts, ideas, and emotions, we had no way of watching the neural activity associated with mental phenomena arise, do its thing inside our heads, and pass away. We had no way of watching that activity actually alter and strengthen our neural networks. Now, thanks to powerful new imaging tools like functional MRI (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), we can watch the organ of the mind in action, and what we see is exhilarating: The brain has the capacity to heal, grow, and change itself in ways that before were thought impossible.

Conventional scientific wisdom used to paint a starkly different picture of the adult brain, one in which its physical structure was essentially immutable. By the age of three, the story went, most neural networks were in place, and by late adolescence, our temperament—our baseline chemical state of happiness or irritability—was thought to be fixed. If we had always been a sunny kid, our outlook would probably tend toward the golden for the rest of our lives, but for those of us born and raised on the dark side of the moon, we would probably always struggle with negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, and aggression. Compounding the depressing picture was the conviction that, were we to lose nerve cells through disease, aging, or injury, there was very little point in ever wishing them back.

Now we can watch our brains on-screen, healing and adapting to challenges, and we see that our genes and early experiences absolutely do influence our cognitive and emotional makeup in important ways, and that they absolutely don’t get to dictate who we become. This previously unappreciated flexibility and trainability of neural pathways is termed “neuroplasticity,” and it has transformed modern neuroscience into an intensely optimistic field where researchers seek new diagnostic techniques and therapies for patients recovering from structural damage and chemical imbalances due to traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, emotional disorders, drug addiction, and chronic pain. Research into neuroplasticity isn’t just revealing how we can heal brain injuries and sharpen our wits, but also how we can strengthen key neural pathways to become happier, kinder, less fearful, and more effectual merely by changing the way we perceive the world and our reactions to it.

The idea that humans are especially resilient creatures isn’t new. Aristotle, for one, thought that the brain’s chief biological role was to cool the heart, which he took to be the true physical seat of thought, reason, and emotion. The brain “tempers the heat and seething of the heart,”1 the great philosopher wrote, and because “the heat in man’s heart is purest,”2 humans require much bigger brains than beasts. We are the wisest, the best tempered of animals, he conjectured, because our brains are big enough to cool our hot, hot blood.

Our knowledge about the brain’s regulatory role has evolved since Aristotle’s time, but there is a sense in which he got it exactly right. Images of the brain recovering from emotional disorders, traumatic memories, and addiction show that this remarkable organ can, in fact, “cool the heart.” The self-regulating brain can alleviate the intense physiological effects of primal emotions like anger and fear, and in doing so, it can heal emotional damage and protect the body. We may even one day learn to cure the excruciating cravings that keep many of us locked in cycles of addiction by consciously modulating activity in particular areas of the brain. It seems that we’ve always instinctually known that we are born to be highly adaptable—that we are gifted with extraordinary abilities to heal and change in the face of adversity—and now we are taking the pictures to prove it.

Cutting-edge imaging research also holds the promise of providing new diagnostic and therapeutic options for patients suffering from states of impaired awareness or—most harrowingly—from awareness without any ability to communicate with the outside world. A patient’s thoughts might be observed on-screen in ways that could be understood by others—an exciting possibility for families and friends who spend months or even years at the bedside of a loved one recovering from a brain injury. At one heartbreaking extreme, of course, are the patients who never recover any meaningful level of awareness. Stem-cell researchers are working hard to grow functioning neurons in the laboratory, but until such research bears therapeutic fruit, there are certain severe brain injuries—global neuronal loss due to prolonged oxygen deprivation, for example—that simply cannot be repaired.

Standard bedside tests for consciousness have remained largely unchanged for 30 years, as have the painful ambiguities that can accompany end-of-life decisions. Brain-imaging technologies may ease the agony of some of these complex choices by enhancing our understanding of the neural correlates of awareness. Pictures of the brain responding to the world may one day become a standard tool to clarify when medical interventions are working to extend meaningful life and when they are inappropriately and painfully prolonging death.

New imaging tools also mean new hope for age-related cognitive decline. Functional MRI, PET, and a revolutionary imaging substance called Pittsburgh Compound-B (PiB) have revealed that Alzheimer’s disease attacks different parts of the brain than those affected by normal aging, and that some brain systems, including some forms of memory, are left intact by Alzheimer’s. It is possible that these undamaged systems may be trained to help people afflicted with the disease to function better. And for those of us with a few million miles on the brain, there is more to be excited about: Research into new diagnostic methods may help catch the debilitating disease in its earliest stages (when drugs and other forms of therapy might be most effective), while other studies show that certain kinds of mental training can relieve the effects of “normal” age-related memory decline.

Tantalizing pictures of the brain are also emerging from the field of neurotheology, a branch of learning that seeks connections between spiritual experiences and mental activity. Neuroscientists have scanned the brains of spiritual practitioners as diverse as Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns, and have found striking similarities in their brain activity when they are in states of “higher consciousness”—states in which people stop sensing a separation between themselves and the world, in which their minds feel limitless, expansive, and in touch with God or spiritual insight. Researchers are also identifying neural pathways for spiritually significant mind states like empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, showing not only that prosocial emotions are skills that can be perfected through training, but that practicing them makes our brain circuitry more positive and responsive in ways that could be used to prevent depression and other mood disorders, bullying and violence, and even physical damage inflicted by our own negative internal states.

Pictures of the Mind looks at images across the full spectrum of consciousness—from impaired, to healthy, to “higher”—and what they tell us about the brain’s extraordinary capacity to heal after illness and injury, to adapt to new challenges, and to retrain itself in ways that can make us happier, healthier people, more attentive to our own needs and to the needs of others. This deepening knowledge about the organ of knowledge is transforming our basic understanding of the “self” from a static and limited entity to a vast and productive landscape—the ideal ground in which to cultivate conditions for well-being.

Meet the Author

For 15 years, Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald has published on a wide range of scientific topics geared to curious readers of all backgrounds. She believes in taking the boring out of “technical” so that we might all have ready access to knowledge that can help us lead happier, healthier, more fulfilling lives.

With a degree in physics from Swarthmore College, Ms. Boleyn-Fitzgerald is a former recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and the Ida M. Green Award for graduate studies in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has worked as a staff writer for President Clinton’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments and as an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ms. Boleyn-Fitzgerald lives and writes in Appleton, Wisconsin, with her husband Patrick and their son Aidan.

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Pictures of the Mind: What the New Neuroscience Tells Us About Who We Are 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
Learning how the brain works is fascinating. The possibility that humans can study the organ that, as is presently understood, makes possible the &ldquo;study&rdquo; itself is enough to boggle the &ldquo;mind,&rdquo; which is supposedly held in the brain. To glimpse a picture of the process of &ldquo;the mind&rdquo; holds the promise of mystery and wonder &ndash; how can one &ldquo;see&rdquo; what is immaterial (thoughts)? Because of technologies like functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, scientists can now &ldquo;glimpse&rdquo; what the brain looks like when the &ldquo;mind&rdquo; is in action. This book is not very long in pages, but is dense in content. The science discussed, hypotheses posed and the stunning progress being made toward an understanding of how the brain actually works holds those interested in such material as spellbound as a well-crafted novel. Those not as interested in such disciplines will not find this tome as intriguing, but will find the information they reap from reading it worth the time investment. There are literally pictures of the brain, taken by fMRI and three -dimensional PET scans, in &ldquo;motion&rdquo; (taken as the subject is given various tasks) contained in this book. It is from these scans and images that the understanding of how the brain actually works is being deepened and theories around how to retrain the brain after it has been harmed by almost any injury. To date, the only injuries not shown to be responsive to the treatments thus far developed have been those suffered from oxygen deprivation. The progress brought by the treatments and knowledge gained have given hope to those once thought to be injured beyond repair. It has been shown, in these scans that some individuals who would have once been considered as being in a &ldquo;sustained vegetative state&rdquo; (well defined in medicine and clearly explained within the book) are actually aware of their surroundings and are now being treated toward recovery rather than &ldquo;sustaining.&rdquo; This, were it the only benefit from this research, would be worth all the effort. The book ends with suggestions of how the reader can use the information gleaned from the research. The majority of the book is written using a lot of medical nomenclature but the &ldquo;how to&rdquo; section ending the book is written in with a &ldquo;non-professional&rdquo; reader in mind. Much of what is suggested is found in other literature dealing with the same subject (My Stroke of Insight, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, The Brain That Changes Itself). Exercises such as: mindfulness, breathing, meditation, eating well, the benefits of exercise, challenging one&rsquo;s self regularly, develop an attitude of thankfulness and meaningful, healthy relationships all have shown to add to mental clarity, protect against dementia (including Alzheimer&rsquo;s Disease) and keep the us &ldquo;young&rdquo; regardless of age. All of these exercises can be done easily, with minimal effort and can offer tremendous profits to one&rsquo;s well-being.
Lucy-from-PA More than 1 year ago
This wasn't quite what I was expecting and I found it not only very interesting but very informative. One I will read again.
stepup07 More than 1 year ago
This a great book I would recommend this book for anyone and any age.
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Seems to be repeating itself over and over.
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Cool picts
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is under free books this is not free ther for they need o ake this offfffff
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why would someone write a review, giving one star rating, and simply state that s/he hasn't read it yet? I haven't read it yet, either, but I'll give five stars to counter the one star.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not bangin