As a physicist, the first chapter I turned to in this book was “Thinking, God, and the Quantum Physics Brain”. It was astoundingly bad, full of inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and downright errors, and a perfect example of why scientists had better be humble when discussing a field that is not their own.
Neuropsychology is not my field, and after reading this book I humbly submit that, while the quantum physics chapter is terrible, the parts of the book based on Dr. Leaf’s expertise, personal research, and clinical practice are most likely valid and, if so, very important. The other chapters on neuropsychology are similar to what one finds in secular books like Siegel’s Mindsight (link to my review) but with a very significant difference: Caroline Leaf’s goal is to take captive for Christ every thought in her field of cognitive neuroscience.
So, this book is very important in two ways:
- It is a valiant and heroic attempt to show how neuroscience is not at odds with God’s Word but can be understood in the light of God’s Word. I salute and admire Dr. Leaf for her tenacious commitment to God’s Word and her deep-seated but unexpressed belief that God is Lord over everything and that, therefore, truth is deeply and totally true, also in her field of research and expertise.
- It gives ordinary Christians practical tools to ‘renew their minds’, ‘take every thought captive for Christ’, and ‘be still and know that I am God’. It reminds them that they have a real, valid responsibility to obey God’s commands and that they are not helpless victims of their genes, past, and environment.
As I pointed out before, however, this book is not perfect. How could it be, seeing that it covers such a huge field and that Caroline Leaf is trying, single-handedly, to conquer a whole field of human endeavor for God? It is, however, a pioneering contribution to a Christian understanding of modern psychology, brain renewal, and human responsibility.
So, after all this, what is Switch On Your Brain about? This book is divided into two parts, a theoretical one (Point 1 above) and a practical one based on the theory (Point 2 above).
Caroline Leaf’s foundational message is that the mind influences and informs the brain; the chemistry of the brain does not control the mind. While, due to genetics, the past, or the environment, one may be predisposed to certain behaviors or weaknesses, one’s reactions can (and should) be under one’s control. This is because, throughout their entire lives, all people shape the physical structure of their own brains, in a physical sense, by their thoughts and imagination.
In other words, people are not helpless victims but have a real, valid responsibility to take every thought captive to Christ, to repent, and to renew their minds. Leaf explains how this happens in the brain and how, by thinking correctly according to God’s Word, one can actually change the structure of the brain to be what it should be. This occurs because thoughts affect the body to such an extent that they can affect which proteins are produced by one’s genes. When the genes produce different proteins, different physical events occur, and different physical structures are formed. By changing the structure of one’s brain in this way (and it is unavoidable), one is also affecting future responses in oneself and in others.
Sounds wild? It sure does, but this revolutionary concept of being able to change the physical structure of the brain throughout life, called neuroplasticity, has been repeatedly demonstrated in the last 4 or 5 decades and was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2000. There is also significant evidence scientific evidence for the idea that thoughts can cause such changes.
The practical part of this book, the 21-Day, 5-Step Brain Detox Plan makes sense. It’s based on the idea that thinking thoughts strengthens them and consciously rejecting thoughts, even long-ingrained ones, weakens them. That’s how we can renew our minds. Philippians 4:8 is one text that shows us what to replace toxic thoughts with.
Caroline Leaf shows that her program of taking wrong thoughts and replacing them with truth will physically erase that thought or memory—and its associated emotions—in the brain and will change the physical structure of the brain to accommodate the true replacement thought and emotion. This is not a time-consuming project, taking less than 10 minutes of directed effort a day. However, it does require concentration and deep commitment.
Practical take-home thoughts:
- Take the Bible seriously, memorize it, and obey it, for ‘as a man thinks, so he is’.
- Allow time for prayer and reflection.
- Remember that you are not a helpless victim but have a valid and real responsibility to think and act as God tells you to.
From a homeschooler’s perspective: Charlotte Mason’s ideas about will, duty, habit formation, and attention are all echoed by these ideas of neuropsychology.
Theologically: Although Caroline Leaf talks about free will and choice, this is not a contribution to the ‘can you choose to be saved?’ controversy. She is talking to Christians, already saved, about our responsibility, as Christians guided by the Holy Spirit, to choose to obey God in the practical everyday moments of life. She is countering the unbiblical idea that Christians are totally helpless victims of their genes, past, and circumstances and that any effort they make to obey the Savior and to abide in him is doomed to failure.
Switch On Your Brain is not an easy read, and as I mentioned before, it certainly has its issues. However, this book is an important contribution to the Christian understanding of neuroscience, It also shows us a simple but powerful method to obey God’s command to ‘take our thoughts captive to Christ’.
Recommended for those willing to do the work of understanding and evaluating this book. If you wish to change deep-seated toxic thoughts to be more in line with Biblical truth, the second half of this book can give you a practical guide to doing so even if you are confused by certain aspects of the first half of the book.
Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group.