Brain Plasticity and Free Will – Really!

Been reading  The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey M Schwartz and Sharon Begley, at the suggestion of an exchange between Dave Morey and Harvey Taylor on FB.

Other than the two title topics being part of any complete brain-mind story, the only real connection between Neuroplasticity and Mental Force is that they are both aspects of science denied by mainstream science for many decades for which common sense and less-reductionist open-minds would recognise much supporting evidence. Most of the book is the authors’ narrative of the battle to generate support for the evidence already out there, as well as their own neuro-psychological experience, in the face of political resistance to good science.

For me it’s another book I could have (wish I had) written. The line of argument and all the sources are those I’ve been marshalling on the blog for 15 years, so in practice I skim read it, but would recommend it for anyone for whom the lines of thought are novel.

After kicking off with Terry Bisson’s Thinking Meat, there are 3 or 4 solid chapters on 20th century demonstrations of brain (cortical neurone rewiring) plasticity. Tough in gory detail for anyone squeamish who finds vivisection distasteful or morally questionable, but the Silver Spring macaques and human stroke survivors suffered more for longer than strictly necessary for our knowledge to become accepted. Ramachandran is referenced, and I’ve used the likes of Damasio, Sacks, Zeman, and others to provide the same stories. Not only does the “mind” learn, the brain re-wires itself according to real life experience of the individual, not just in its early development. The authoritative body-scientific learns to rewire itself much more slowly than human individuals. (3 generations or 80 years is my typical estimate, after Kondratiev.)

The second half of the subject matter kicks off with my 3 favourite quantum physics quotes from Bohr, Born and Heisenberg. These provide a lead-in to the relationship between the writer(s) and Henry Stapp, and the long relationship between them and the Chalmers et al Arizona / Tucson Science of Consciousness and Quantum Consciousness movement(s) – a resource I’ve plundered for much material previously. I must have seen the Schwartz and Begley names before, but not registered.

Finally, they cover Libet’s Volitional Brain. Unlike so many in the mainstream, they do not misinterpret Libet as evidence that free-will is non-existent, an illusion. Like Libet (and myself) they recognise that it points to a free-won’t view of how free-will really operates. In closing they join up Jamesian and Buddhist world-views with the science presented so far. The “quantum Zeno effect” whereby the mental really does supply “downward causation” on the physical. A clear antidote to the objectively-physical greedy-reductionists; free-will really does wield mental force over the merely physical.

A great reference work from my perspective, and as I say, a recommended read for anyone to whom the subject matter is new or mysterious.

[Post Note : will come back and gradually add internal links to all the existing blog references.]

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