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More ABC news at midday. This Program is Captioned Live THEME MUSIC I'm Tony Jones. Welcome to Big Ideas Extended Mix. an update on our plastic brain. On the show today, The idea of neuroplasticity the world of brain science is one that's been lighting up in recent years. that the brain isn't hard-wired, It's the basic notion but can reshape and repair itself is pretty well limitless. and its potential is Norman Doidge, The lead evangelist of plasticity

a psychiatrist and researcher, The Brain that Changes Itself, whose book, became a worldwide bestseller. to Australia recently Well, Doidge has returned for the re-release of his book with Dr Greig Richardson and he shared some new case studies at the Brisbane Writers Festival. This discovery of brain plasticity really is the most important change of the human brain in 400 years. in our understanding

carefully. So I choose each of my words We've learned a lot about the brain, particularly in the last 50 years, but nothing that we've learned of the brain changes our understanding that the brain has a property as the discovery which we call neuroplasticity.

the nerve cells in the brain, "Neuro" is for neuron, and "plasticity" is plastic

modifiable. in the sense of changeable, that allows the brain And it's that property and its function to change its very structure through mental experience. And by mental experience, motor acts in the world I mean sensing and perceiving those motor acts or sensations. and thinking and even imagining So, we have a real range here. And when I say change structure, at all levels of the brain I mean structure on and off, from which genes are turned what connections are made, as they connect to each other. the very tendrils of the nerve cells in the brain, Even what goes on where can process its signals, how fast the brain in a particular person which hemisphere might be dominant at a particular time. that the brain is plastic, And when I say a theory about the brain, I'm not espousing I'm talking about fact. have been demonstrated now in labs, These facts at this point, and brain plasticity is, neurophysiological fact. a mainstream

a mainstrean clinical fact. However, it is not yet for better or for worse, All intellectual revolutions, take time to unfold. took 100 years to unfold, The Russian Revolution is still unfolding - the discovery of electricity

doing very important applications there are still people of electromagnetism, is really just begun. and brain plasticity My method in the book explain neuroplasticity, is to basically by showing it

concievable situations, in the most challenging successfully applied in people and that is where it's been already to have been incurable conditions. who had what were thought of writing the book And so, in the course I met with people who were blind, or who had sensory difficulties, for whom there were new techniques, who developed new ways of sensing, children with learning disorders how to not just work around them, who basically learned but actually overcome them. which was the standard approach, People with radiation damage, stroke. who had half a brain, who - I met with a woman just to demonstrate plasticity. is because for 400 years Now, the reason it's so revolutionary and brightest neuroscientists our best was best understood thought that the brain as like a machine with parts, performed a single mental function and each part in a single location, and that that couldn't be changed. of where that was processed The assignment was genetically predetermined. And in popular parlos, people summarise this idea are hard-wired, by saying the brain circuits formed and finalised in childhood. by which they meant And, this hard-wiring model gave rise a neurological fatalism, to what I've called or neurological nihilism, even, because it meant

with certain kinds of brain problems, that if you were born by definition, in all cases, that could be done to fix that. there was nothing Maybe you could work around it, and our concept of treatment was working around it. Now, I just have to clarify one thing going forward,

and that's this - what I've tried to do is correct an extreme view, which said that by definition, circuits are hard-wired, and there's nothing you can do about it if they're damaged with a view as to where I think things are. I've never said, and am not saying, and will not likely ever say that the solution to the problem of this utterly rigid brain is an infinitely malleable brain. I'm trying to come to a more sensible middle here. I've never said that all conditions can be fixed all the time. That would be saying more than I know and, you know, raising expectations which I don't raise. Nonetheless, there are many, many conditions which we thought there was nothing we could do about, which we can do things about, and they're wide spread conditions. So, um, so much for the clinical side of it. There's a whole cultural side to this discovery, because, basically, we use to think that the relationship between culture and the brain was very simple, and that is culture - our brains produce culture. But what I show over the course of the book is that actually our cultural practices, and the process of acculturation, actually wires up our brain. And each culture does so differently. And that's not a metaphor where I'm saying, you know, "Different people have different points of view in different cultures." I'm talking about

the microanatomy of the human brain in different cultures varies, and therefore, the specs of people's brains vary from culture to culture. And, ah, that's my summary.

You were going to, ah - in your book you talk about, for example, the differences in conceptualised thinking between, for example, Asian cultures and more western cultures in terms of when they were shown specific images, people from the Asian cultural regions

may look at it in a dynamically different way. Mm-hm, yeah. Um, so, most western philosophers and psychologists have, before the discovery of plasticity, had assumed the following kind of thing - that our developemental faculties unfold in a kind of fixed way, and that this is invariant across cultures. So, for instance, all the studies that had been done show that children learn to speak nouns before they learn to speak verbs. Um, and most of the western philosophers and psychologists assume that we all had what you might call standard-issue perceptual equipment And so, if an Asian person, and here, I mean someone who's grown up in a culture that in some way descends from -

and this is very important, when I say descends from - from ancient China, because there are all these cultural practices that would affect these people, that are deeply engrained. Um, if were to compare those people to people who descended, in some way or other, from ancient Greece, and all those cultural practices, and have them look at a still life, if we observe difference in their responses, we would just assume that those differences and responses were mental, and had to do with mental content, which had to do with what they were taught to emphasise.

But in fact, there are differences, and they're not simply based on what they've been consciously taught to emphasise. And we know this because the first - all the studies that were done that claimed that we all had standard-issue perceptual equipment, were done usually by western psychology profs on their students at unversities. And when the first studies were done in collaboration with westerners on Asian grad students, and so on, what we found was very different. So, if there was a still life here, and you flashed a still life picture

so that it could only register subliminally, very very rapidly, before one could consciously even say what one saw, the Asians were very, very good at picking out the relationships between the big object. Sorry, between all the objects, rather - relationships between all the objects. Or if they were looking at a fishbowl, a picture of a fishbowl.

Whereas they were quite weak at saying things, making observations about the large object. Westerners, on the other hand, were very good at making observations about the large object, but very poor, relatively, at the relationships between the objects. And this isn't something that was under conscious control and it's something that when someone immigrates to another culture, after several years, changes, without them being aware that it changes. That's a wiring issue. I have a more graphic example in the book where I talk about the Sea Gypsies, which are this wandering water tribe off the coast of Thailand that teach their children to see clearly under water. And they go to very great depths to pick up morsels of food, and hunt. And they've now been tested by European scientists, and they show then flashcards under water, and they can see clearly under water. And this is actually a teachable skill. And I just want to say that the various reflexes involved in adjusting the eye - the pupillary reflex, and so on and so forth, had been thought to be utterly involuntary, unmodifiable, hard-wired reflexes, and yet these things can be taught. So, one graphic example. And we're teaching ourselves cultural practices all the time and changing our brains in the process. Foregrounding certain things, backgrounding others, getting good at seeing certain things, getting not so good at seeing others. The implications probably, from that point of view, I think, are manifold in cultures like, perhaps, Australia, America and Canada where migration and integrated society is the goal of the government. So, could we see, in view of the fact of the capacity of the brain to change over time,

this process perhaps being accelerated through learning processes and specific facilities for new immigrants,

to assist them in making these changes and adapting without leading to what you described as a brain shock, like, a culture shock. So - Given that we know the brain can evolve,

through neuroplastic processes, to adapt? Mm-hm. In the course of my practice I treated a number of people who were immigrants to Canada, and just observed their cognitive processes. And as I started to understand more about plasticity, I began to reason that one of the reasons that culture shock is so difficult, is because it's brain shock. And it's brain shock because many of the adaptations that immigrants have to make

are unconscious things that no-one has pointed out like what I've just described are the differences between how Asians and westerners, broadly understood, which includes Australians, of course, perceive. Because no-one's even labelled these as problems or differences. There are all these very jarring things that happen when you come into another culture. Now, sure, brain plasticity is very relevant to understanding how to make acculturation a more humane process. But it also cautions you to - I'm not sure we're wise enough to bring this all off. It requires an immense amount of wisdom. But people, policy-makers, etcetera, should also be aware of really how difficult immigration is, and I think that should factor in to what we should expect of a nation, in terms of how fast it can integrate people, and what immigrants themselves should expect, because they're going through this unbelievable brain challenge. I mean, it also means that, and I talk about this a lot in the book, you know, the reason that it's so difficult, for instance, to learn a second language, according to the old view, was that we had a critical period for language development. Most people think it ends roughly with the onset of adolescence, when you'll notice that human speech deteriorates rapidly into "awesome this" and "awesome that". LAUGHTER And that the reason that we can't learn a new language is 'cause our brains are too rigid. But brain plasticity is a competitive process. Here's what I mean by that - when you learn to do something, and you train it up and do it well, such as learning how to speak English,

the networks for that, let's say, the pronounciation of each word - Canadian English - those networks fire very, very fast, clear, strong signals.

And any time you would try to say something with a slightly different pronounciation,

there'll be a competition in the brain and the more over-learned activity will always win. It's sort of like that kid in the first-year class, whose parents were basically very verbal at home, the teacher asks a question. He or she puts up his or her hand, answers it, get it right. And then, every question after that, basically all the way through public and high school, their hand goes up first. You know, they're feeling better about themselves, but they're learning, and the rich get richer. The same thing happens, in a way, in the networks in our brains. And so, it's very, very hard to learn a second language, not simply because the critical period of language learning is over, but because you're getting better and better and better at English, if you will, and so, true immersion actually will rememdy this. So, there's fake immersion and true immersion. Fake immersion is my wife and I decide we're gonna go to Paris to polish off our French, because we studied it in Canada,

Monday, Wednesday and Friday for an hour.

We never really learned how to speak French, like many Canadians. And so, we tell our friends we're gonna go to this immersion thing six hours a day in Paris, they say, "Wow, that's great! Can we come too?" LAUGHTER OK, so you already get the problem. And then they come along, and there are mirrors of us and our friends from South Africa and Australia and the UK, and...etcetera, etcetera. We're all English speakers looking at a book that's half in English and half in French. And you get the point, it's not really immersion. But true immersion is when you are - basically, a big hand from Heaven comes down, picks you up and puts you with, you know, a family that speaks, you know... A Massai tribe? ..a Massai language. And that's it for six weeks. And then, it starts to happen because you silence the tyranny of the mother tongue. So, I mean, all of this is just to say that if we think we're being kinder and gentler to immigrants by dragging out the learning of the language, I think we're making a very big mistake.

And, you know, this is - culture shock and brain shock go so hand in hand that immigrant populations very much want

to retain as much as they can of the old world, and, you know, develop newspapers in their language, and so on and so forth. And I'm not against that, but I really think the first thing should be that there should be government immersion courses for all these people. They can still have what they care about from the old country, but it'd be much better if they spoke English, for a million psycholigical reasons. You talk about the, um - Pascual-Leone, he's a specialist in America talking about the idea of us skiing down old ski tracks in our mind. In a sense, whilst neuroplasticity looks at the idea of brain change, it can also be a problem for us in terms of rigidity, can't it? Yeah, this is what I call the plastic paradox. And it follows directly from what I said about the competitive nature of plasticity. So, this example of developing and accent when you want to - You all have accents, you know? You're aware of that. And I don't. LAUGHTER But this is relevant to you. You learn to speak Australian English very, very well. Now, that's plasticity. The fact that you learn to speak it so well is because it's very over-learned, and those networks, you - let's go back a step. It turns out that the human infant brain can detect - you know, there are not just thousands of languages and dialects in the human family, it's over hundreds of thousands. And many of them are dying very quickly. And those sounds are very, very different. And we, as adults, can't even tell the difference of those. I mean, a famous example is Japanese people do not have a different mapping for Rs and Ls, which is why when they come to speak English, they mix them up a lot, or can't even bring it off. But the human infant brain can hear every single sound in every single dialect that has ever been tested. And we know that

because the brain gives off something called the "recognition wave", which you can see in EEG-kinds of windows into the brain. We can tell when a brain is saying, "I got that." Now, after exposure to the mother tongue, only the circuits for the mother tongue sounds are reinforced, and the rest of them wither away. And then, when we hit adolescence, there's a big pruning back. And, um, so, I mean - This is the concept of "use it or lose it". Yeah. Those that are not prumed back are the ones that are competitively reinforced, and they get very, very good. So, an accent is a function of plasticity, a sort of dominance of your brain, by these particular circuits. Now, there ar emany things that are like accents. Years ago,

I started to re-conceive of neurosis as a kind of an accent, if you will, where you can hear certain things

in interpersonal behaviour, interpersonal interactions, but you can't hear other things. And you have you're own accent, neurotic accent, that you bring to it. Bad habits, just like good habits, are a function of plasticity. Your brain learns to do something, it' gets very good at it. So, um, and when things go wrong plastically, and we have what we might call "negative plasticity" - and I put that in quotes because it's not negative or positive, it's just plasticity - and we develop chronic pain, our nervous system is getting too good for our own good at amplifying the pain signal. And again, I'm not speaking metaphorically here. We can demonstrate how the pain signal gets wound up in chronic pain, and the nerves that process it grow new connections. So, all of these things we like to count as negative. They're certainly rigid. So, brain plasticity gives rise to both negative and flexible behaviours. And the ski metaphor is just this - that when you want to ski down a hill, if it's a virgin hill, you can take many different paths down that hill. And that's because the snow is plastic and plyable. It's not an infinite number of paths. There's rocks and trees, but many paths. And if you have a good run down the first time, you'll probably want to take a run very close to that first run the second and third time. And because the snow was plastic and plyable, you start to get tracks in there. And you keep it up, and you get ruts. Now, what human beings do is they look at that rigid behaviour, always taking the same path, and they project that back on to the brain,

and they confuse behavioural rigidity with brain rigidity, and they say, "That person's brain is rigid," or, "My brain is rigid," or, "The brains of human beings are rigid." And that is an error. And that's why I call it "the plastic paradox". And for 2,000 years, I would say, humanity has made that error, particularly in the last 400 years, for reasons I explained in the book. And probably each of us, in our own lives, are very prone to that error.

Yes, I think the idea of the ski run is an interesting one. In the work that I do, having taken on board some of these things, my metaphor has always been - for those who live in Brisbane, the Exhibition train track that runs from Roma Street to the Exhibition, which is a show week we have here once a week.

And that track is unused, usually, for 360 days of the year, and when the Exhibition is on, those track become quite shiny. Now, if we regard those as new ways we wish for people to think, we have the analogy that we need to de-emphasise, or move away,

from the prominently-used pathological pathways that underpin our thinking, in favour of trying to stimulate these new ones.

A bit like, you can always - and I guess that comes to our next point about the idea of the ageing brain, in that this concept of neuroplasticity that we previously thought of as belonging perhaps to that critical period of childhood,

in fact, does go on all throughout life, doesn't it? Yeah. There are these different epochs of plasticity. We've talked about the critical period, the pruning period. After the critical period we refine our maps, but we have to use mental effort. In the critical period plasticity, you can soak up words and learn new things without furrowing your brow or making an effort.

But after that closes, you have to pay special attention. And if you pay special attention, you strengthen a part of the brain called the nucleus basalis, which reinforces plastic connections. And most of us work pretty hard at that in high school if we're not goofing off completely, and even then, we might be like my son, who's not goofing off, but memorises aspects of football doing a lot of serious memory work. And if you go to university, the same thing goes on. Once you hit middle age, most of your life is a kind of a replay of already mastered skills. So, reading the newspaper is not as demanding as studying for a French test. And you probably - you may well have the same job. You may well have the same spouse. And you might be divorced, but if you are especially nuerotic you probably have remarried the same kind of spouse over and over again without knowing it... LAUGHTER ..and live in the place and so on and so forth. So, this replay of mastered skills leads to a gradual weakening of the nucleus basalis.

And because of that you can't really hold on to names of people that you meet at parties and so on, and you walk into rooms to get something and say, "Why did I just do this? What am I looking for?" And that is all completely reversible - that's called age-related cognitive decline, and various brain exercise programs I describe in the book can turn that back so that 80-year-olds can function

they way they did when they were 70 or 60 or even younger. In order for these programs to be effective again, they require effort. Yeah, they still require mental effort. and it's really the far side of brain plasticity that people are experimenting with - re-opening the critical period. That actually may be doable. There have actually been some papers that have come out on this in the visual system. And it would take us far afield to explain why this might be possible. But to reopen the critical period, it would be very important, for instance, for people who are blind, and we wanted to teach to see in new ways. And, of course, some people would like to get a leg up on someone else when trying to get into professional school and study better. But you don't have to - if you just apply yourself you don't necessarily have to re-open the critical period. There is some evidence that if we directly stimulate the nuleaus basalis,

this may, in fact, re-stimulate and activate this critical period, if you like, in terms of opening up a lot more nueronal conections. I guess - you've mentioned in the book, for example, students that stay up all night might take No-Doz or amphetamines, or whatever - not that we are suggesting that's the case - but it allows for a degree of focussing. But maybe there are more specific treatments down the track that activate, or look specifically, at the nucleus basalis. Yeah. And this is called an update. So I did want to give you a few updates, I'm, in general, more interested in non-pharmaceutical interventions for plasticity. There's a number of reasons for that. Just put simply, the easiest way, nature's way, of activating the brain circuit you want to work on is just actually thinking about it. So, when the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, got tired of practicing using his fingers and he also had dystonias develop, he just practiced mentally.

I used to think this was

some kind of, I don't know, wishful thinking, but it's not. Because we now know that he was actually activating - all of us would be doing so - you are actually activating the same circuits. It shouldn't be 100% substitute for actually physical practice but if you're really good,

you can make a tremendous amount of progress just imagining it. You look at me now,

and if you close your eyes and imagine me, or remember me you are activating the very same circuits. Now, one of the things that intrigues me the most these days

is neurofeedback. Neurofeedback, bascially... ..the shortest way of describing it - is you have senses, which are just little pieces of metal that touch your scalp - you might have three of them at any given time, or four, that magnify your brainwaves. So, we all have brainwaves throughout the course of the day. They're generated by different parts of our brains.

We know which parts of the brains tends to generate them, and we know what brainwaves should be like, when you're listening attentively to me. You should all be in "beta" right now, but I can see a few of you are slipping into "theta," and... LAUGHTER ..but now the laughter has put a few of you back into "high-alert beta." LAUGHTER OK. So, things like focus, it turns out, can be trained, because these brain waves are in millivolts. They are in the order of - OK, so, you know, you might have a nine-volt or a 1.5-volt battery - well, a brainwave might be something like six millivolts - so, a thousandth of a volt. So, these sensors can actually pick it up with the help of an amplifier, and we put it on an oscilloscope, we can actually see - or some kind of computer display - we can actually see what those brainwaves are and differentiate them. And then, you can hook that up to a game, so that - let's say there is a game where there are three boats racing, where we decide Norman Doidge has too much "alpha" going on. His brain spends too much time in the idling mode. So, we're gonna lower his alpha and raise his beta. And we set it up so that whenever the middle boat goes ahead, that's a moment that I'm slipping into high-beta, and when the alpha, which I don't need as much of falls behind, the outside boat falls back. And then I'm just instructed, "Get that middle boat to win the race." And by doing that, over the course of that, I actually train myself to do that.

Now, neurofeedback now has been shown to be very effective in ADD. I won't bore you with numbers but it's definitely something to think about instead of going directly to medication. It's helped to control certain kinds of epilepsy. But it goes way, way beyond that. It's very helpful for peak performance.

I've just been in Australia studying its use in helping torture victims get over PTSD.

It's very, very powerful. Sometimes in learning disorders,

the problem is this part of my brain isn't talking to this part, so basically, I set up a game where if these two things ever, by accident, fire at the same time the boat lurches ahead, and that teaches me to do that. And sometimes parts of my brain that shouldn't be talking to each other, talk to each other.

Actually, that happens alot in me.

And, um, it's is called hyper-coherence. So, we can get those parts to stop yapping all at the same time, because it is very inefficient. And this actually is an issue I am going to be working on next - it's too many parts of the brain are going like this all the time, and its not very efficient if I just want to do one thing. So I need a teacher in my brain to basically tell those other parts of the brain to put their hands down and let the other part speak. I did want to just say - Well, I was just thinking that there've been some wonderful examples in your book of this idea of concentration and focussing. You talked about a political prisoner who was imprisoned for nine years in Russia, who played mental chess in his mind every day. Because within sensory deprivation, without the external stimulation, to keep us, our brains alert, we can become involute and become extremely mentally unwell. I'm sorry I've forgotten his name. Anatoly Sharansky Yes. Was a Jewish refusenik and human rights activist. And he ended up after being release, able to beat Garry Kasparov the world champion. I think he took him to a tie, but what I think happened was um... No need to exaggerate ... LAUGHTER .. It's a problem of mine I need to work on ...

..the plasticity of the brain is wonderful enough.

Um, So basically what happened is, The day after he got married, he was arrested on trumped up charges and was accused of being a CIA spy. Which was complete and utter nonsense. It was an attempt to kill the human rights movement His wife was allowed to go to Israel. And he was allowed to go to the Gulag. And he shrunk down to something like 75 pounds and there are two things he did. He kept himself alert and able to function by really re-perceiving the people he loved so that he created them in his mind, because he was in sensory deprivation. There's either no light. There is certainly no humman contact. or sometimes there is a glaring light, that drives you crazy. And he just imagined, he summoned up his pleasent memories and really focussed on them.

Now this may seem trivial and very Hallmark Cards but I mean this got him through an extraordinary persecution and he played mental chess. So mental chess involves not only imagining the board - many chess teachers do that. But when you are in solitary confinement when you play mental chess, you have to play both sides of the board. So imagine that. I want to say one thing her because this is an update and sensory deprivation reminds me of it. You know, the last time I was here at the Brisbane Writers Festival - it was a very intense experience. And when I gave one of the talks, at the end of the talk there was a woman who came up to me and her name is Jane Gap and she said to me that she had just torn herself away from her daughter's bedside

and her daughter was 21, so it was probably in September that we had this, and she'd just had a stroke, but this was no ordinary stroke, her daughter was locked-in. Maybe you've heard of locked-in syndrome. The book and film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are about it. I remember when I went first to medical school, you know, we all get medical student diseases - when we hear about syndromes, we kind of get these psychosomatic reactions and identifications with them and get afraid, but I don't think there was anything that was as chilling to me and most of the medical students sitting there, than hearing about locked-in syndrome, because when that happens you have an infarct - a clot or a bleed or some damage that occurs in your brain stem. Now, your brain stem is this totally neglected part of the brain. It's brain - if you take off the rest of the brain off a cat it'll walk around and to most of us look like a normal cat and if you get a model of the brain it's usually missing the brain stem, which is the little bottom part that comes off the brain and it's almost like a small funnel and in that brain stem, All the fibres that move all of your body come together, it's a little thicker than the size of your thumb, and so if you have damaged your brain stem,

even if the damage is like this big, which in brain terms is millions and millions of neurons, it can take out your entire body so people with locked-in syndrome are perfectly consciously aware, but they cannot move any of their body, except, they can blink their eyes, because the nerves that are involved in that come off a different part of the brain. So, people with locked-in syndrome are buried alive inside their own bodies and they look like they're dead almost, except their heat is beating, but they're non-responsive, but they can process everything and anything, so this is completely horrifying and everytime it's raised, it's horrifying and I can see from the looks on your faces how horrifying it is. And this woman, who'd not read my book, asked me, "do you know of any applications of neuroplasticity in locked-in syndrome?" That was a very unpleasant moment, because I had to tell her the truth - I didn't, so I blinked, "no". I think I scrambled to say something to the effect of, what I usually say in these situations, "Just because I don't know it doesn't mean it's not possible. Take a look at the book and see if there are any applications." Well, this woman went back to her daughter, she'd already intuited -

and there's a defiant streak in Jane Gap, that this idea - what happens in hospitals is you talk about sensory deprivation, is people start backing off patients, they don't want to touch them,

because they're very infirm, they're often told not to touch them, because they could get infections. They don't want to move them, because they could break a limb and so these people start to get no input whatsoever and it's a use it or lose it brain and... OK - You go to the

National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke website, which comes out of the National Institute of Health in Washington DC, or practically any major neurological textbook

and look up locked-in syndrome and look up treatment and under treatment you will see the statement - some kind of statement like this - "There is no treatment. There is no known cure." Well, remember I said at the beginning of this talk, that it's mental experience that changes brain structure. I said, there's sensing and percieving and moving and thinking and so on and so forth - you know in psychology 101 and biology 101 we think sensing is over here and percieving is over here, but it's not that case functionally in the brain.

In other words, if you want to move your limbs,

you've got to know where they are in space. We think of sensing as passive, but in fact, your eyes are constantly moving back and forth 70 times a second and if you were to freeze your eyes you would see absolutely nothing. We see with our eyes the way we see in the dark when we're trying to pick up our glasses and they've fallen over. So one of the many things that Jane started to do, was just stroke her daughter Sarah's body with all sorts of different textures, over and over and over again. No response, nothing much happening. She tried to move her limbs passively. Now let me give you another statistic. 90% of people who have locked-in syndrome and live as long as four months die by that period of time, so you have two options with locked-in syndrome, you might die or you might live locked in for the rest of your life. 'Till very, very recently I had heard of no cases of someone emerging from locked-in syndrome. Now, to get a sense of the damage of the damage in Sarah's brain, not only did she have a stroke in her brain stem, but the clot had blocked off adjacent structures, so that one half of her cerebellum was completely destroyed, dead, and a good part of the other half. So - brain stem, cerebellum, one half, and another part of the a cerebellum. Well, at three and a half months of this constant stimulation, which is neuroplastic stimulation and turning on of the brain, Sarah began to emerge from locked-in syndrome. And she gradually got more and more of her movement back - nodding her head - and at this point she can speak. Sarah still has a way to go, there's still more rehab that she can do and both Sarah and Jane have exactly the right attitude to deal with one of these overwhelming traumas and they're here today, so Jane, if you could stand up and say hello. APPLAUSE So this is a tremendous Brisbane story of, you know, very great courage and if any of you would like to spread this story or help out in any way, cause there's still work to be done, just go to the website, the developing foundation, look up Sarah and Jane Gap family,

but plasticity is real and this is the only case I know of where a person - basically what happened is Jane went off and she read The Brain that Changes Itself, which has a lot of stories in there, which I think were both necessary - it was important to be - have sufficient inspiration, because going up this mountain is not easy,

and see that it's been doable in many situations. I don't say all situations, but there are principles all the way through there, so these things about use it or lose it or the competitive nature of plasticity or the wholistic functioning of the brain, such that sensory and motor things have to be understood together and a number of others, you know, they're not just jingoistic things - "We're all getting better every way in every day." It's not simply the power of positive thinking. It's understanding plasticity

and when people are put in a sensory deprivation experience, after a brain injury, I think we're making a terrible mistake and we're under-stimulating people and we have to also understand how development works as well. Dr Norman Doidge with his update on the neuroplasticity revolution at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Well the Doidge roadshow also made it to Melbourne where the good doctor explains why knowing you're on firm ground is critical for being comfortably human. He shares the story of Sheryl at the Melbourne Writers Festival session, Eight Ways to be Human. joins with pt 4 I begin The Brain That Changes Itself writing about a woman who literally has no idea where she stands. Sheryl was given an antibiotic that detroyed 97% of her vestibular apparatus. And so, she has no balance whatsoever. She's like Jimmy Stewart at the begining of the movie Vertigo when he's in a spinning fall, only she has been like this for five years. And I describe how she is cured, and how her brain is rewired through thought alone. Neurologically, as my brilliant friend, Jordan Peterson, points out, there are only two places that we can be. We can be in a state of mind where we are in explored territory, and know where we stand. Or we can be in a state of mind where we are in unexplored territory, and do not. The first place is home.

The second, in myth, is the wilderness, the forest, the underworld or outer space. This auditorium is explored territory until, say, some rogues or worse break in and start shooting people. Then, though the place is literally the same, neurologically and psychologically, it is different. Psychoanalysts have an annoying habit of reading every story or dream as about what it purports to be about, and about the mind that tells the tale. Thet's very Freudian. We have an even more annoying habit in sometimes saying that every story worth remembering is about every mind, and I would add, every brain, that's ever lived. That's very Jungian. Now, a bit of Cheryl's story - a woman perpetually falling.

Cheryl Schiltz feels like she's perpetually falling. And because she feels like she's falling, she falls. When she stands up without support, she looks, within moments, as if she was standing on a precipice about to plummet. First, her head wobbles and tilts to one side,

her arms reach out to try to stabilise her stance. Soon her whole body is moving chaotically back and forth and she looks like a person walking a tightrope, in that frantic seesaw moment before losing his balance, except that both her feet are firmly planted on the ground, wide apart. She doesn't look like she is only afraid of falling,

more like she is afraid of being pushed. "You look like a person teetering on a bridge," I say. "Yeah, I feel like I am going to jump even though I don't want to." Watching her more closely, I can see that as she tries to stand still, she jerks, as though an invisible gang of hoodlums were pushing and shoving her, first from one side, then from another, cruelly trying to knock her over, only this gang is actually inside her and has been doing this for five years. When she tries to walk, she has to hold on to a wall, and still, she staggers, like a drunk.

For Cheryl, there is no peace, even after she's fallen to the floor. "What do you feel when you've fallen," I ask her. "Does the sense of falling go away once you've landed?"

"There have been times," says Cheryl,

"when I literally lose the sense of the feeling of the floor, and an imaginary trapdoor opens up and swallows me." Even when she has fallen, she feels she is still falling perpetually into an infinite abyss. An unspoken, and yet profound aspect of our well-being is based on having a normally functioning sense of balance. In the 1930s, the psychiatrist, Paul Schilder, studied how a healthy sense of being and a stable body-image are related to the verstibular sense. The rest of the story I tell about her

and the rest of the stories in The Brain That Changes Itself, are about how we turn these horrific conditions of living locked in unexplored territory into explored territory - how to map what has not been mapped. But I think that all literature, going back to the Hebrew Bible, is a story of how we map the world, learn what is up - heaven, symbolically - and down. Genesis is also about how minds are formed. It is the story of how conciousness creates and differentiates or maps the world, by naming its parts. It, like many primal myths, is about moving from terror, the terror of chaos, to order. And Cheryl reminds us that to have no map is truly terrifying, which is why we hold on to maps even when we know they are wrong. And if you think about it Genesis is also a story of neuroplasticity - "And God said let there be light, and there was light." It is the story of immaterial consciousness or thought changing material reality.

It too is about maps and about the brain that made it. We all always mapped unexplored territory from birth to death. And in this sense, there is really only one way to be human. APPLAUSE Dr Norman Doidge at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. And that's all for today. Don't forget, for more of the best talks, from the world's brainiest thinkers, head to our website - where you'll find a top notch selection of chat from at home and around the globe. I'm Tony Jones. Till next time. Closed Captions by CSI

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