Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#1878: Caroline Leaf

Oh, good grief!

Caroline Leaf is a religious fundamentalist who combines religious extremism with incoherent altmed pseudoscience, woo and fluffy new age word salads – it’s not just religious woo, but religious quantum woo. According to Leaf, “There is growing evidence that biological systems operate at the level of quantum physics. When applied to neuroscience, the Quantum Zeno Effect indicates that the brain becomes what you focus on [yeah: read that again]. Focus is directed attention and is a function of the mind. Thus, quantum physics supports the notion of mind over matter.” Calling this attempt at technobabble “not even wrong” would be an insult to incoherent nonsense. Leaf has managed to gain a relatively impressively sized audience, though, and is a staple on predatory shows targeted at the gullible and/or desperate, like Kenneth and Gloria Copeland’s Believer’s Voice of Victory and her own Dr. Leaf Show.

Leaf is the kind of person who says that thoughts can change your DNA. Indeed, according to Leaf, “… whatever reaction we have changes the DNA and the DNA then expresses and it builds either that which is what our bodies are wired for, so whether you’re Born Again or not, your body’s wired for love because that’s the design that God has made, and if we make a wrong choice, we build that.” Well, no, that’s not remotely how this works. But according to Leaf, not only does it work that way, but your current thoughts, by altering your DNA, are “affecting the future generations as well because the thoughts from your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather … and your mother has come through the sperm and the ova. So whatever thoughts we have as we go through life that we build into our heads basically passes through the sperm and the ova to the next four generations.” Just think about it, but keep in mind that Leaf probably assumes that you won’t; yes, your thoughts are “affecting the cells. It actually gets captured inside. Exactly … 75–100 trillion cells in our body are impacted by every single thought that we think. So it’s captured as a physical thing, it’s passed through the generations.” And yes, she is, indeed, alluding to epigenetics, which she doesn’t remotely understand but neither does her audience (so perhaps she might understand it,* which doesn’t really make any of this any better): “… we’re not bound by the sins of our fathers, We call that epigenetics. It’s actually called the science of epigenetics. Epi – over and above the genes – the fact that our mind controls genetic expression” (something that does sound suspiciously like it contradicts a rather central tenet of mainstream Christianity; better not think too hard about it – there’s no danger that Leaf ever did.) And for the grand finale, Leaf is going to tell us what thoughts are made of: “… we are speaking from physical thoughts made of proteins and all kinds of chemical structures inside of our brain that look like trees.”

Apparently Leaf has a degree in topics related to neuroscience; one imagines some interesting exchanges between her and her advisors. (Her website tells us that “The main coordinating center of the nervous system is the brain, which is located in the skull.” At least she got that part right – it’s more or less the only part she got right – and we can sort of imagine the aforementioned advisors breathing a sigh of relief.)

Leaf is the author of Switch On Your Brain and Think and Eat Yourself Smart, which you can safely pass over. Also, “[s]ince 1981, she has researched the science of thought as it relates to thinking, learning, renewing the mind, gifting, and potential,” which is an awfully strange way of putting it if you have been involved in, you know, actual scientific research on the brain or on psychology.

According to Leaf’s website (random capitalization abounds), “75% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life,” and if you wonder where she got those numbers you are probably not in the target audience for her website (she does have testimonials, though). Also, “[m]edical research increasingly points to the fact that thinking and consciously controlling your thought life is one of the best ways, if not the best way of detoxing your brain.” No, she doesn’t provide any references here either, for rather obvious reasons (“detoxing your brain” means removing “toxic thoughts and emotions”.) But it is indeed a fine example of “deepity”. We’ll grant her that, and wonder in dread what her books read like.

Her website has a “scientific FAQs” section (which must really be seen to be believed) and a “Scriptural FAQs” section, which are more or less interchangeable and have nothing to do with science (“Man is a triune being consisting of a spirit, soul and body. The mind is synonymous to the soul. The mind operates in the spirit and, by extension, in the spiritual realm” – that’s the Science section). The “Scientific FAQs” section does, however, push anti-GMO conspiracies and complementarianism (“Mankind is created in the image of God – both male and female. The male and the female are different from, and yet complementary to, one another. God’s image is reflected in both men and women” – yes, that’s also from the Science section), and contains a substantial section on how speaking in tongues is good for your mental health as well as the general health benefits of prayer and worship (“Interestingly a number of scientific studies indicate that we are wired for God, that is, our brains have been designed to commune with God,” says Leaf, and cites this one; the part after “that is” is what we might call her “interpretation” of the research discussed in said article). There is a very tentative critique of some of her claims here.

Diagnosis: If you fall for this idiocy, you are really, really stupid. There’s really no way around it. No, seriously: this is among the dumbest New Age fluff we’ve yet encountered, and we’ve encountered a fair amount.

*She doesn’t. Here’s what her website says: “The mind thinks and produces thoughts. Thinking epigenetically affects DNA and gene expression. Thinking therefore lies within the sphere of epigenetics.” That’s … not a classically valid inference, and words fail to describe the premises. She does cite Dawson Church, but we are not sure even a loon like Church would endorse Leaf’s argument. 


  1. I've been thinking "sultry and blonde" for decades. For some reason my DNA refuses to act epigenetically.

  2. Thanks for your very entertaining and exceptionally accurate write up of Dr Leaf. Thanks also for the link to my site. The particular post you linked to is very tentative compared to yours, but it was still early on in my research of Dr Leaf and I’ve since written a lot more on Dr Leaf including more in-depth reviews of her work (https://goo.gl/2DFofH and https://goo.gl/bBfTgw) and a book (http://www.debunkingdrleaf.com/hold-that-thought/).

    You wrote, “Apparently Leaf has a degree in topics related to neuroscience; one imagines some interesting exchanges between her and her advisors.” Dr Leaf doesn’t have a degree directly related to neuroscience. She has a twenty year old PhD in Communication Pathology (a combination of Audiology and Speech Pathology) and her PhD subject related to an educational program that showed negligible effect. She’s not held any academic positions since. So there are no advisors to have any interesting exchanges with.

    Indeed, Dr Leaf has thrived in a vacuum of accountability and critical thinking within the environment of the western Christian church. Dissent or critique is either actively shut down by Dr Leaf or ignored by the church leadership. So again, many thanks for your acerbic and penetrating critique. Please continue to spread the word.

    Dr C. Edward Pitt