April 22, 2009

Scientific Consensus and the Brain

An interesting review of the book "The Brain That Changes Itself" which is about training the brain to find alternate pathways after being damaged.  In addition to this being an interesting article in itself, it brings to light the dangers of scientific consensus:

The idea of brain plasticity has been discovered and forgotten many times over the centuries. The ancient Greeks accepted the idea, with Socrates believing that people could train their brains the way gymnasts train their bodies. Around the time of Galileo, the idea fell out of favour, as scientists began to see the world mechanistically, with each object, organ and even parts of an organ being attributed well-defined, unchanging roles. It was these ideas that led to the notion of our brains being "hardwired", an idea that today is steadily being overturned.

Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Brain That Changes Itself, says our ongoing belief that our brains are hardwired has held up medical progress. "Our best and brightest neuroscientists thought our brains were structured like complex machines, with each part performing one function in one location, and that had implications. If you were born with a part that was defective, and say it gave you a learning disorder, it meant there was nothing you could do, you had to learn to live with it. If you sustained a brain injury or had a stroke and part of your brain broke down, there was nothing you could do.

Not only did the best and brightest scientists believe our brains were hardwired, but they attacked those who disagreed with them and made sure those who weren't down with the consensus, didn't receive awards or recognition or grants or protection.

Makes you wonder about the current consensus on global warming...

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