Thursday, July 26, 2007

Once again: How much brain do you need?

Regular readers of this space will know that I've been running comments from Dr. Mike Egnor, who - like Dr. Jeff Schwartz - has said kind things about The Spiritual Brain, on the subject of how people who have very little brain often manage to cope quite well:
I have many patients with surprisingly little brain tissue who are quite normal or even bright people. Conversely, I have many patients who are quite disabled who have brains that look pretty normal on MRI scans.
One of the best examples of excellent neurological function with diminished brain volume is a little girl who I've been caring for since birth. She is one of identical twins, and she was born with a huge fluid cavity that has replaced at least a third of her brain. I had the option to drain the fluid surgically, which might have helped her brain function. Yet since birth, she has been normal neurologically, and we have an excellent control- her twin sister (with a structurally normal brain). I've never drained the fluid because I couldn't find any evidence that she was impaired.
The little girl with the 2/3 brain is 6 years old now, and she is exceptionally bright, excelling in school, and cognitively doing better than her sister. She isn't quite as coordinated as her sister, but her motor function is well within the range of normal for her age.
I've cared for hundreds of patients with significantly diminished brain mass who are normal. In fact, it is well established that brain weight has no correlation with intelligence over quite a broad range- from about 1200 grams to about 1700 hundred grams (normal is about 1500 grams for an adult).

That's really encouraging for small people like me and people with impaired brain function. Don't let life get you down.

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Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz on the importance of The Spiritual Brain

The Spiritual Brain is a very important book. It clearly explains non-materialist neuroscience in simple terms appropriate for the lay reader, while building on and extending work that Sharon Begley and I began in The Mind and The Brain, and work that Mario and I collaborated on in academic publications.

Of utmost importance is the fact that The Spiritual Brain clearly shows that non-materialist neuroscience is not simply a controversial view held by some neuroscientists. It is a coherent and theoretically very well-grounded perspective that can play a critical role in developing more effective treatments for many medical and psychological disorders. Further, it creates natural links between physical and spiritual health by stressing the need for the active participation of people in their own treatment planning and implementation.

The Spiritual Brain greatly contributes to the on-going paradigm shift that is revolutionizing our understanding of the relationship of the spirit, the mind, and the brain in the 21st Century.

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD
Research Psychiatrist, UCLA
Author of Brain Lock and The Mind and The Brain

I love the way Dr. Schwartz focuses on the positive developments that Mario and I discuss. Many fine books trash materialism. But so what? Where do you go if you are not a materialist? We provide examples of non-materialist neuroscience in action, as he notes, and those examples may have key implications for treatment of currently intractable or difficult disorders.

Here are some articles and interviews with him:

Articles co-authored by Stephanie and Jeff:
"Brain Management . . . Law Firm Leadership on the Neuro Frontier" (article excerpt is found here)
"Lead Your Brain Instead of It Leading You" (article excerpt is found here)
"Law Students: Create A Well-rounded Life"

Interview of Jeff Schwartz about his work with Leonardo DiCaprio on the movie The Aviator
Interview of Jeff Schwartz about his book The Mind and the Brain
Jeffrey M. Schwartz — Wikipedia
NPR interview of Jeff Schwartz about The Mind and the Brain

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn on death

In a recent interview with Germany's Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn, 88, was
SPIEGEL: Are you afraid of death?

Solzhenitsyn: No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me -- he died at the age of 27 -- and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one's existence.

My favourite life-changing Solzhenitsyn quote:
It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

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