If you’re looking to change in the new year, take heart! Brain chemistry is on your side.
I recently interviewed Dr. Caroline Leaf, a Zimbabwe-born, South African-raised neuroscientist. Holding a PhD in communication pathology with a specialization in neurology, she has spent decades serving clients suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), learning disabilities, and emotional trauma. Many continue to debate the relation of faith and science, yet Dr. Leaf has pioneered research investigating the mind-brain connection and explains how our beliefs can actually change our brain chemistry. Her interest is particularly the science of thought and helping others use their brains properly, recognizing the toxicity of their thoughts. I asked Dr. Leaf a bit more about these ideas.
JM: Would you please share about the relationship you, as a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, see between spirituality and science?
CL: It is a simple relationship: God made everything, and science is a description of that everything. We see in all scientific research how we as humans are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and how magnificently God has created this earth, so I see God in everything and science as a way of understanding this. The research in quantum physics, neuroscience, and quantum biology is showing that the effect of the mind on the brain and body is very real. When I do my research, my spirituality and connection with God deepens.
JM: How did you personally come to see faith and science as compatible?
CL: I did not struggle with their compatibility. No conflict exists because God created science. When people do not understand something, they fear it. We will find God in science as much as we will find science in God. My scientific research has been informed by my spiritual walk, so it made perfect sense thirty years ago when I began my undergraduate research to show that how we use our mind would impact and change our lives. Essentially, I was showing scientifically that when we capture our thoughts, we can change them, that we have free will and that when we intentionally direct our attention, we will change our brain. The mind and the brain are separate, and the mind uses the brain as a physical substrate; thus, the brain is dependent on the mind. This is scriptural, which we see in verses like Deuteronomy 30:19, Philippians 4:8, Romans 12:2, and so on.
JM: Please tell us a bit about your work, that is, thirty years of research! What have been your main pursuits and/or findings?
CL: I set out to study the science of thought and memory formation specifically to show that when we direct our attention, we learn and change our behaviors, and, as a result, our brain changes. I worked with different populations such as those with a traumatic brain injury, the learning disabled, cerebral palsy, stroke and heart attack victims, autism, and, of course, toxic thinking, attitude and emotional issues. I also did twenty-five years of work in education, training underprivileged teachers and students in some of the worst areas of South Africa, many of whom were starving, abused, and had suffered numerous indignities at the hands of the then apartheid government. I saw extreme changes in educational results and behavior once people understood how to think and use their mind.
I am currently entering into a series of clinical trials with endocrinologists and neurosurgeons showing the power of the mind in physical healing. My programs and books are based on my research and clinical application over the past thirty years. This research has shown that when we intentionally and deliberately direct our mind, we stimulate neuroplasticity in the brain and improve our functioning between 35-75%.
JM: How does our mind change our brain and body?
CL: As we think, we generate a quantum signal through the physical substrate of the brain influencing genetic expression, which in turn produces amino proteins. Our thinking is literally built into physical protein structures in our brains, and the physical thoughts influence every one of the 75-100 trillion cells of the body.
JM: Can you point us to a few of your publications for those interested in further reading?
CL: For further reading of the main concepts of my work, I suggest Switch on Your Brain; Switch on Your Brain with the 5-Step Learning Process; Who Switched off My Brain?: Toxic Thoughts and Emotions; Who Switched off Your Brain; Think and Eat Yourself Smart. Follow her on Twitter @DrCarolineLeaf
Many thanks to Dr. Caroline Leaf for this interview. May her diligent research encourage you that change is possible this new year.