I just finished The Brain that Changes Itself, by Dr. Norman Doidge. It had been a Chanukah present for my husband from my mother. He kept forgetting about it until finally I picked it up one day when I was suffering a head cold and had nothing else to read. It’s certainly not dry science and very readable.
Doidge describes the research of many colleagues who have discovered the following: the brain is able to grow and change throughout one’s life. This can be passive change or intentional. The whole book is fascinating and inspirational, full of hope and optimism.
The last chapter talks about how culture changes the brain’s actual structure, and I couldn’t help but ponder the ways an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle could affect the brain:
Developing impulse control and self-control (turning away from non-Kosher food or loshon hara, for example),
How to endure delayed gratification (as with waiting to do mitzvos at the right time, eating only after a bracha, waiting to eat dairy after eating meat),
Meditation through daily prayer.
It’s not just that middos development refines the personality in a psychological or spiritual sense…according to Doidge’s framework, it may actually change the physical structure of the brain. That’s pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me.