Monday, December 3, 2018


The second book I read about the brain was "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge, MD.  It is a fine book and very worth reading. We all know that lifting weights, practicing the piano and other sorts of experience improve our skills and strength.  It all relates to the brain but so does blood pressure and gait and breathing. So does remembering where your socks are and thawing something for dinner.

Our habits and our senses, including knowing where the parts of our bodies are and which way gravity pulls and noticing the beauty of a snowfall all relate to brain inputs and outputs.  I thought of all this when I read that the basic taste ability to detect bitterness basically seems to have evolved as a protective signal to warn us against poisons and substances that would harm us.  Yet, coffee and kale are both bitter.

As the page linked mentions, so are cranberries, an important central Wisconsin crop.  My daughter mentioned that Ocean Spray is aware of the basic push against added sugar but in the case of cranberries, we must have at least some added sugar or we can't stand them.

Current articles on coffee mention that it is people with the most sensitive abilities to detect a bitter taste that drink the most coffee.  What? They like to torture themselves? No, the idea is that humans can and do reprogram themselves. Once they associate coffee and kale and cranberries and arugula and dark chocolate with pleasure and wants, they can enjoy the taste.  No wonder humans are difficult to figure out: they change themselves!

[At first, I wrote that the Norman Doidge book was our first brain book but my best audience member pointed out that long before our Doidge reading came along, we read "The 3 Lb. Universe" by Hooper and Teresi.  More recently, we read "Incognito" by Eagleman, about the parts of the brain other than the conscious mind. That book is very valuable.]

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