Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

I am sorry for the break in posts. I think we all go through periods of time in which we ingest and digest alternating with times in which we turn our attention outward to the world to share our perspectives. I have been in a period of ingestion sparked by the mind and body medicine module of the fellowship at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine that I am enrolled in. The fellowship entails a significant time commitment over a 2 year period, 1000 contact hours in all. But in my case it also triggers ever expanding circles of inquiry and intellectual and emotional growth. Inspired by this program I am now reading 5 books simultaneously including Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics by Henry Stapp, Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life by Eva Jablonska and Anna Zeligowski, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Tich Nhat Hahn,Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and Mindsight, The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel Siegal.

These are each wonderful and important books. I mention them partly to explain my absence from this blog, but partly to place into context comments I will make now about an amazing work that I have recently finished: The Mind and Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley. Jeffrey Schwartz is a research psychiatrist at UCLA and Sharon Begley, his co-aothor, is the chief science correspondent for Reuters and one of the leading science journalists in the world. This book details Schwartz work with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) a relatively common neuropsychiatric disorder that can be profoundly disabling. Severely affected individuals may wash their hands until they bleed or be unable to work because they must repeatedly return to check that the door is locked or the stove is off. Schwartz and other researchers at UCLA have shown that an abnormal level of activity is present between the orbitofrontal cortex and caudate nucleus on PET scans which measure the uptake of radioactively labeled glucose in the brain.

Schwartz has gone another step further in teaching a mindfulness technique “Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus and Revalue” in which they train the mind to turn away from the obsessive thought script. In doing so he has shown that this technique results in the area of abnormal metabolic activity seen on PET scan is gradually turned off. Mind controlling matter (brain).

This seemingly simple intervention and its result are profound in its implications, both for how we understand the ability of our brains to adapt to experience including self-directed mental force, and our concept of consciousness and the very nature of reality. Along the way Schwartz and Begley offer a breathtaking review of the progress in neuroplasticity. Hebbe’s law states that “neurons that fire together wire together”. Classical Newtonian physics and materialist reductionism has no room for consciousness. Our every thought and feeling is reducing to ion fluxes over charged, semi-permeable membranes. Only after a consideration of quantum physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Einsteins General Theory of Relativity do we finally stand on an firm understanding how the “firing and wiring” can be the result of the force of consciousness that exists outside of those ion fluxes without resorting to the Cartesian dualism that has plagued our view of “mind and body” for the last 300 years.

NOT an easy read, but well worth the effort.

Thanks for reading


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