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Your Brain Can Change

June 19, 2012

Imagine a girl born with the left side of her brain missing. Yet, as she grows into womanhood, she suffers from almost no missing abilities. Imagine a man whose left arm is severed. The pain in his missing limb (called “Phantom Pain”) is so excruciating, he can neither sleep nor concentrate. Yet, with a box consisting of $12 worth of materials, a helper can scratch his other arm and the pain is gone forever. Imagine a first-grade girl who has been labeled by 10 different doctors as severely mentally retarded. Yet, by the time she is 30 years old, she has earned her first doctorate in Child Developmental Psychology.

All of these people, and many more, are examples of the innate ability of the brain to change itself. A recent ground-breaking book by Dr. Norman Doidge called “The Brain that Changes Itself” has collated the work of over 500 scientists, doctors, counselors and researchers all dedicated to the field of neuroplasticity.

It has long been believed that the brain is incapable of significant change of any amount or degree. In technical terms this is called the immutability of the brain. The implications of this system of belief are staggering: it means that once our brain has developed in a particular way it is unlikely that we can ever change it. This has far-reaching effects on so many different disciplines – psychology, theology, medicine, child development, education, entertainment, sports, language studies, etc. If indeed the brain cannot change and is virtually locked into its original position or close to it, then most of what we are doing in church, counseling offices and schools is helping people adapt to who they already are.

However, the most recent discoveries about the brain conclusively tell us that the brain not only can change itself, but wants to do so on a regular basis. In fact, we already have much evidence of the brain is able to adapt to markedly changing situations. Our ability to learn anything is ample proof of that. A child’s ability to pick up a new language seemingly at will has always astounded adults. But now we are finding that with the right tools, and the desire, adults are able to accomplish this almost as ever easily as children can.

For the rest of this week and next, I’m going to be presenting many the implications of what this plastic brain can mean to all of us. I suggest up front that a plastic brain model helps us to begin rethinking the commonly held assumptions about addictive behavior. We’re also going to look at things like heterosexuality, homosexuality and other sexual preferences. In addition, we’ll study the biblical principles that are apropos to brain plasticity.

The conclusion we will derive by the end of this study is that changing our brains is extremely difficult – but it can be done. Our beginning point will be very similar to that of most 12-step programs: we need God to set us on the right road of renewing our minds. 

Brain plasticity is another way of saying “renewing your mind”. It can and is being done. But will you allow yourself to do it?

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