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Summer Reading and Some New Baby Brain Findings

Can’t wait to get through all the student research papers so I can finish up my community college teaching and live this new life public speaking, teaching medical humanities, and writing in earnest. I’ve got a full line-up of books and articles to read and re-read this summer. Here are a few of the titles: Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror by Dr. Judith Herman; the latest issue of the Bellevue Literary Review: a journal of humanity and human experience published by the Department of Medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center; the latest issue of the journal of The Examined Life: A Literary Journal of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine; and Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider.

Two books that I can’t wait to finish are Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction and The Brain that Changes Itself  by Dr. Norman Doidge. Three articles that beckon re-reading are Pain and its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus by Dr. K.J.S Anand at al.; The Impact of Neonatal Circumcision: Implications for Doctors of Men’s Experiences in Regressive Therapy by Robert Clover Johnson; and Living Out the Past: Infant Surgery Prior to 1987  by Terry Monell.

I mention these works not merely to excite myself about the months ahead but to bring these titles to your attention as remarkable readings that exponentially increase our understanding of the effects of lack of pain control or adequate pain control for neonates and infants who have undergone invasive medical procedures. Another article comes to mind — Inside the Baby Mind  by Jonah Lehrer–which discusses the latest scientific findings about a baby’s brain.

Here’s some fascinating material from Lehrer’s article to reflect upon: “. . . scientists have begun to dramatically revise their concept of a baby’s mind. By using new research techniques and tools, they’ve revealed that the baby brain is abuzz with activity, capable of learning astonishing amounts of information in a relatively short time . . . [babies] are, in an important sense, more aware of the world than we are (1).

One of the most surprising implications of this new research concerns baby consciousness, or what babies actually experience as they interact with the outside world. While scientists and doctors have traditionally assumed that babies are much less conscious than adults–this is why, until the 1970s, many infants underwent surgery without anesthesia–that view is being overturned. . . . Gopnik* argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults (2).

Here’s the real kicker: “. . . the newborn brain isn’t just denser and more malleable: it’s also constructed differently, with far fewer inhibitory neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals that prevent neurons from firing. . . . While adults automatically block out irrelevant information . . . babies take everything in: their reality arrives without a filter. As a result, it typically takes significantly  higher concentrations of anesthesia to render babies unconscious, since there’s more cellular activity to silence (3-4).

We still have so much to learn, change, and heal from, don’t we?

*Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley author of a book The Philosophical Baby.

0 Responses to Summer Reading and Some New Baby Brain Findings

  1. I’m excited too when I think of what lies ahead, Wendy! Roll on end-of-school-year!
    If you’ve found this wealth of books and articles while managing your current pressures, imagine what’s waiting out there when you can focus on your new life.
    Love those quotes of Jonah Lehrer also! I’m so grateful for the fruitful work that’s being done to understand the brain and emotions of babies. There is indeed so much still to learn and assimilate into our self-understanding and medical practice.

  2. I’m excited too when I think of what lies ahead, Wendy! Roll on end-of-school-year!
    If you’ve found this wealth of books and articles while managing your current pressures, imagine what’s waiting out there when you can focus on your new life.
    Love those quotes of Jonah Lehrer also! I’m so grateful for the fruitful work that’s being done to understand the brain and emotions of babies. There is indeed so much still to learn and assimilate into our self-understanding and medical practice.

  3. Thanks for reminding me, Fred. I’m buried in student papers right now, buy your words help me find the excitement for what’s coming! I hope we can stay better in touch!

  4. Thanks for reminding me, Fred. I’m buried in student papers right now, buy your words help me find the excitement for what’s coming! I hope we can stay better in touch!

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