Neurologists Dunn NC
Medical School: Univ Of Cape Town, Fac Of Med, Cape Town, So Africa
Graduation Year: 1963
Medical School: Columbia Univ Coll Of Physicians And Surgeons, New York Ny 10032
Graduation Year: 1997
Medical School: Finch U Of Hs/Chicago Med Sch, North Chicago Il 60664
Graduation Year: 1979
Hospital: Carolinas Med Ctr, Charlotte, Nc
Group Practice: Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine
Neurology, Alzheimer's Specialist
Neurology, Pain Medicine
Medical School: Loyola Univ Of Chicago Stritch Sch Of Med, Maywood Il 60153
Graduation Year: 1963
The Flexible Brain
Modern scanning technology has shown that our brains can
by Lisa James
Susan Barry’s eyes crossed when she was three months old. When she looked at something with her left eye, her right eye would turn in, and vice versa. But after three childhood surgeries corrected her appearance “I assumed I had fine vision, even though I had a hard time learning how to drive,” says Barry, a professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. “Then I got into college and learned I didn’t have stereovision—I took all these 3D tests and didn’t pass them.” Barry had strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes that confuses the brain and causes loss of 3D vision.
What’s worse, “the same day I learned I didn’t have stereovision I learned I could never get it,” says Barry. That’s because the developing brain was thought to be like a vat of drying concrete: The flexibility that allowed a young child’s brain to acquire skills such as stereovision was simply lost by the time a person reached adulthood. Barry would even use herself as an example in passing along that conventional wisdom to her students.
Barry’s perspective changed, literally and figuratively, when she consulted a developmental optometrist, someone who specializes in problems with binocular vision. “She told me, ‘Your eyes don’t point at the same place in space at the same time,’” Barry recalls. Barry started doing vision exercises with aids such as a Brock string, a series of colored beads on a string that taught her eyes how to work in unison.
At age 48, Barry was finally able to perceive 3D images. “The first time you see in stereo is incredible,” says Barry, who has written about her experience in Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions (Basic Books). “You see that the leaves on a tree have layers of depth; before that the tree seemed sort of flat.”
Barry’s eyes remained the same, but her brain had changed. So had her beliefs about the brain’s limitations. Barry had experienced neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain is capable of renewing itself and remaining flexible no matter how old you are.
The brain contains about 100 billion neurons, which carry the electrical charges that make up nerve impulses. They do not touch each other directly. Instead, chemicals called neurotransmitters carry messages across small spaces known as synapses between neurons.
Over the past several decades, sophisticated brain scans such as functional MRI (fMRI) and PET have turned scientific thinking about the brain on its head. “They began to see that different areas of the brain build more synapses,” says Patt Lind-Kyle, leader of workshops in brain/mind exploration and author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain (Energy Psychology Press, www.healrewireyourbrain.com ). “In the areas that you use, brain cells grow and multiply.” Barry says that su...