This body of research, which now includes the study of Buddhist monks, opens up intriguing possibilities. Some studies Begley cites have shown that with the right kind of training, not only dyslexic children but also the elderly can beef up certain brain functoins and overcome their language deficits. The monks demonstrate the other end of the spectrum. Placed in the MRI machine and told to meditate on compassion, their brains showed intense activity in the areas associated with happiness. In-between the two extremes, ordinary people were found to be more compassionate when asked to recall memories of being cared for.
Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain is an excellent popular overview of brain science, and also a joy to read. Begley never uses more technical jargon then necessary and regularly reminds the reader of seminal findings discussed earlier in the book. Her use of metaphors and similes is both helpful and entertaining. For instance, she reports that in the case of deaf people, neurons in the brain's auditory area were expected to wither and die from lack of use, "making it as quiet as a butcher shop on an island of vegetarians" (Naturally this turned out not to be the case.)
Does the book have something practical to offer? Maybe. One scientist suggested a mental fitness culture might arise from this research, just as the culture of physical fitness emerged from studies of the heart. There's a catch, however. Begley does not dwell on the issue, but it is clear that sustained training in attentiveness is required to rewire the brain. The Buddhist monks who agreed to be tested did show remarkable abilities. They had dedicated years of their lives to meditation to get to that point, though.
Considering the aging baby boom generation and the demands this group has created in every phase of life, if a culture of metal fitness develops, it won't surprise me. Being a boomer myself, I'm all for it. I just hope I don't have to become a bodhisattva to reap the benefits. (For a Western take on mental training, see Scientific American, "The Science of Lasting Happiness", April 2007.)