Caroline Leaf. Switch on Your Brain. Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2013. Print.
Switch on Your Brain is subtitled The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. The author is a doctor who specializes in communication pathology. The first two thirds of the book make a case for what she calls neuroplasticity, that the nerve cells in our brains can be made to work differently depending on our thoughts. Politically, theologically, practically, and scientifically, she would assert that people have free will.
The book could be seen as a kind of Pangloss or Norman Vincent Peale positive thinking book. To some degree it is. The author makes a case, however, that while we may not be able to do much to change our circumstances, we can choose to react to them in a positive way. A consistent attitude—whether positive or negative—begins to make a regular road in the neural pathways of the brain. In effect, Switch on Your Brain makes a scientific case for positive thinking. You might as well get those pathways headed in a positive directions.
One striking assertion of this presentation is how it parallels the experience of Dr. Eben Alexander in his Proof of Heaven, reviewed in this blog. That book is a testimony, not a how-to or self-help book. However, the author is a brain surgeon. He shares how he was brain-dead for a week and then revived. Even though his EEG was flatlined the entire time, he was conscious. Prior to that experience, he had always assumed that the mind and the brain were the same. He realized from this experience that that is not the case.
Dr. Leaf’s experience counseling and treating people has led her to the same conclusion—that the mind is not exactly the same as the brain. The brain is the physical manifestation of the mind. She notes, though, that they are not independent. She makes a case, as did Dr. Alexander, that there is a lot we do not know about the mind.
She notes that the scientific and mathematical models in recent years indicate that there are at least eleven dimensions to physical existence, and frankly, we know little about most of them. She notes that quantum leaps of subatomic particles like electrons are instantaneous. She notes that some subatomic particles seem to react to the manner in which they are being observed. In all this, and especially in her discussion of brain anatomy, she makes a case that there is much we do not know but that free will exists. To quote the title of a book from a generation ago on the psychology of happiness, this means that happiness is a choice.
The second section of Switch on Your Mind, approximately the last third of the book, covers five steps to renew the mind (see Romans 12:2), or as the author puts it, to “switch on” the brain. Those five steps do appear to be helpful and do make this a true self-help book.
That section might be a bit weaker simply because it does involve self-help. Dr. Leaf has devoted her life to helping others, and gives some fascinating case histories illustrating her steps and showing how they have helped her clients and patients. Still, it one thing to be led through therapy by a skilled expert and another thing to “do it yourself,” even if the directions were written by an expert.
Does it work? Well it worked, she tells us, for some very disadvantaged school students in a Johannesburg, South Africa, slum. It certainly cannot hurt. If nothing else, this book is a good reminder that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)