Create a Better Brain Through Neuroplasticity – Chapter One – Misunderstandings Misdefinitions

Create a Better Brain Through Neuroplasticity – Chapter One – Misunderstandings Misdefinitions October 26, 2019
Screen cap from YouTube of Terry Crews brain escaping from an Old Spice commercial. My brain is trying to leave reading this silly book. Avoid this book unless you are eager to lose brain cells.

Today we start a new series, looking at Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy’s newest book “Create a Better Brain Through Neuroplasticity”

We have already covered five bits Debi Pearl has published through her magazine No Greater Joy. It’s a horror show of misinformation, misunderstandings, misdefinitions, and the book merely continues on with this ‘Mis’ theme.

Even before the foreword Debi Pearl starts yammering on about her husband Michael. She says this:

“It bears my name as the author, but it is loaded with his wisdom, creative play on words, and divine Biblical knowledge.”

Oh Debi! Even from the first words of this book she has to downplay what has happened to Mike that created the interest in the subject. Michael’s stroke. Or perhaps to make it seem like Michael is still an active vital part of the ministry when it’s much more likely he’s struggling to recover from his stroke.

Then Debi moves on to that same set of scriptures from Titus 2 that acolyte Lori Alexander loves to pound on to justify her ministry. “….the aged woman likewise, that they be …. teachers of good things…”

Debi starts the the chapter with the same simple, yet not entirely true words about changing a few habits just to change your brain. She’s trying, and failing, to explain what neuroplasticity is. She fails to note it’s an emerging field without much hard and fast knowledge yet. According to Debi it’s already been mapped out years ago.

And then we get to the stroke. Here is Debi’s stroke definition:

“Stroke – A sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by the interruption in the flow of blood to the brain, especially through thrombosis”

This must be what happened to Michael. Sadly it’s not a good definition of a stroke either. My definition comes from the Stroke Foundation’s website and links.

A stroke is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. Both result in parts of the brain not functioning properly.

I had a stroke in September of 2018 and also relentlessly researched it afterward. I had a tiny hemorrhagic stoke where the only symptom was a small white spot in the vision of one eye. I felt perfectly fine during the entire thing, right up until they put me on blood pressure meds. The meds to prevent a second one were the only awful parts. I faithfully take my meds and my blood pressure now.

If Mike lost consciousness it was pretty bad. Brain damage bad. Recovery bad. Lots of physical therapy bad. Having stem cells injected into his brain will not do a darn thing bad. Not writing any more articles or books bad.

Debi seems completely unaware that many people have TIA (transient ischemic attack) or as they are also known as mini-strokes without even realizing it. Sometimes you have a pile of them before the bad one hits. Debi does not delve into the warning signs of strokes, or any of the prevention tips, or how to go about preventing a second one. She jumps to an apocryphal story of Pedro, Paul and George Bach-y-Rita and the stroke.

First Debi even gets the dates on this story quite wrong, before fudging many of the details of how George worked with his father Pedro to recover from the stroke, using what sounds like ‘Tough Love’ techniques that took Pedro from drooling vegetable status to mountain climbing in less than six years. The neighbors all thought that the methods used by psychiatrist George were cruel.

Six years later when Pedro died of a heart attack the two doctor sons attended the autopsy to see what the stroke damage to daddy’s brain was. According to Debi, there was only 3% of alive undamaged brain stem in Pedro’s brain at that autopsy.

I’m seeing some version of these stories online, but not the percentage numbers of what portions were damaged. Every does seem to agree that Paul Bach-y-Rita is the father of neuroplasticity after his father’s stroke interests him into investigating why some folks recover function and some people do not.

Debi ends the chapter by citing experiments of seeing with your tongue and other brain daring-do that is at best experimental.  Blind men mountain climbing by this miraculous device and other tales straight off of YouTube. Yes, she cited YouTube as a credible source.

Moving on to rewiring the brain. Debi misses all the fascinating research that has been done on animals that have the ability to rewire their brains in minutes post-stroke. She speaks about positive thinking versus negative thinking rewiring your brain, making the claim that negative thoughts  merely create deeper grooves in the brain and you stay stuck if you entertain them. She has absolutely zero studies or scientific evidence of this.

She ends the chapter with ordering you to become informed and educated while citing a few older books she got her info from and a literal pile of the first links that pull up on Google if you run a search on Pedro.  She also says that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

What a confused mish-mash of poorly researched ideas this book is!

Next Saturday will be chapter 2 and it’s a doozy, all about manipulating your childrens brains to be obedient and smart. She starts with a story about baby # 13 from the Rodrigues family, Janessa. Janessa’s parents are David and Jill Rodrigues, prone to have kids that look sickly unfed all the time, with all 13 children and parents living a large part of the year in an RV as they go around the country singing. *rolls eyes* just the sorts of people you want to be taking parenting advice from. Jill is SEVERELY excited to be in the book.

We’ve written about the Rodrigues clan here a few times. They are Quiverfull to the extreme, live by what looks like a grifting scheme involving ministering from church to church. CPS has visited the family a number of times now and Jill seems addicted to social media.

Ugh. I cannot even! Debi is breaking my sarcasm meter, and I might just end up with my eyes stuck in a permanent rolling position if this keeps up.

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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichtermann

13:24 A Dark Thriller by M Dolon Hickmon

About Suzanne Titkemeyer
Suzanne Titkemeyer went from a childhood in Louisiana to a life lived in the shadow of Washington D.C. For many years she worked in the field of social work, from national licensure to working hands on in a children's residential treatment center. Suzanne has been involved with helping the plights of women and children' in religious bondage. She is a ordained Stephen's Minister with many years of counseling experience. Now she's retired to be a full time beach bum in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the monkeys and iguanas. She is also a thalassophile. She also left behind years in a Quiverfull church and loves to chronicle the worst abuses of that particular theology. She has been happily married to her best friend for the last 33 years. You can read more about the author here.

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  • SAO

    Maybe I should write my own book with some sciencey buzz words and get my PhD in Google University. How about “Quantum Theory — how you become rich beyond your wildest dreams using the power of modern science.” It would probably have more science in it than Debi’s.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    This book reads almost like Debi was running around screaming “Oh my God! Oh my God! Mike had a stroke and how will we get paid now?? I’ll write a book!”

  • Jennny

    And for your research, may I recommend ‘Quantum Physics for Babies’…it’s a board book with one word per page. There’s others too, like ‘Bayesian Probability for Babies’ and ‘Astrophysics for Babies’. Grandson had them as birth-presents, much appreciated by scientist parents….Debi might learn a lot more than she already knows about science by studying them.

  • persephone

    I think that’s an assumption well supported by evidence. Debi knows that Mike dying means she’s going to lose her audience and income. Congratulations to Debi on a future destroyed by buying into complementarianism and patriarchy.

    Maybe if Debi hadn’t been so cruel and hateful to other people, she wouldn’t need to be so worried.

  • AFo

    This is like me writing a book about thyroid cancer because my dad had his removed, but not bothering to actually research anything about it. The scary part is Debi’s followers are going to take this as gospel and not understand that a person can’t just will their brain to rewire itself.

  • persephone

    If their brains don’t recover, it will be all their fault, because if they had faith and worked on it, they’d be healed. Typically destructive fundagelicalism.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    What makes that especially dangerous is in brain issues there seems to be little rhyme or reason on who recovers and who does not. Science is still trying to figure out so many things that thinking faith alone will do it is extra crazy.

  • Nea

    After all these years, though, I bet she can fake his bombast easily; she’s already claiming he wrote this and mentioned “many” books he had in the pipeline.

    Yeah, if she hadn’t spent her whole career saying women are useless maybe she could simply pick up his work on her own, but she really went out of her way to shut and lock the door in her own face.

  • Nea

    Faith alone has such a poor track record that already relying on it is ridiculous.

  • Nea

    $5 says that the child rearing advice could be (and maybe was) lifted wholesale from all their earlier books with a new neurobabble gloss for the same abusive actions.

  • Nea

    ETA: and, as we all know, there’s no room for “regret girls” in the Pearl ministry.

  • TLC

    So, here is a very good article on neuroplasticity from a psychotherapist:

    Of course, none of this would work for Debi because Michael would make damn69 sure she isn’t kind to herself. Then she’d see how cruel he is.

    And Debi would never teach her followers these techniques, because then they’d see how cruel she is.

  • Friend

    Well, and she is completely right. My few experiences of being spanked1 as a child most certainly did reshape my brain, causing it to realize that the grownups in my life were fine with hitting1 very small children.

  • Saraquill

    I can “see” with my tongue, though it’s has nothing to do with Debi’s rambling. She’d say my brain is plastic in the wrong way or something.

  • Mel

    Three percent alive, functioning brain stem at time of autopsy sounds extremely suspect to me unless his father had been on advanced life support measures.

    The brainstem is pretty much in charge of extremely basic but critical jobs like controlling blood pressure, unconscious breathing and regulating heart rate.

    Like most parts of the brain, there seems to be some plasticity there – but loss of 97% in an adult sounds catastrophic.

    I wonder if Debi managed to confuse it with some other part of the brain – because I remember her getting the cerebrum and cerebellum all twisted up at one point.

    ETA: Figured it out in 15 minutes using Google and a college education in biology. The autopsy found that 97% of the nerves that connected the cerebral cortex (e.g., the part of the brain that controls consciousness and some parts of movement) to the spinal cord were dead. That….is not the brainstem. The death of those nerves explains why Pedro Bach-y-Rita had such a good outcome: the portions of his brain that let him crawl, walk, speak and all the skills he needed to live independently within two years were still intact in his cerebral cortex. He just needed time to figure out how to reroute the information through the remaining intact nerves.

    This is gonna be a long slog if Debi can’t differentiate between nerves and the brainstem, people……

  • Mel

    I hate being that person – but Janessa Rodrigues is WAY too young to be out of the woods yet. I’m glad she was hitting the basic gross motor, fine motor and proto-speech skills of an infant – but a whole lot of kids with major issues stay roughly on track during year one. It’s in years 2+ that the milestones get much harder to hit.

    I speak from lots of personal experience on this one.

    My kiddo was on or ahead for most of his infant milestones, then dropped like a rock between 12-18 months in everything except socio-emotional and total communication. At nearly three, he’s back on track for speech (which feels miraculous since he was at 5 spoken words in April and is now at around 105 spoken words as of yesterday), doing ok with fine motor skills and still really delayed with gross motor skills. Spawn was diagnosed with hypotonic CP – which is the same type my twin has – which has made getting services for him a lot easier.

    I worry about kids like Janessa in huge, poor families. Getting Spawn to and from outpatient pediatric rehab for speech and PT along with managing the quirks of in-home infant special education has taken a 5h1t-ton of work on my part – and I’m a college-educated woman with lots of experience in education!

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I figured that Debi had that information all wrong because of the importance of the brain stem. Not surprised at all. The next part is going to take forever to unpack because it’s all about children and it takes so many strange twists and turns it’s going to have to be a three part piece to start making sense of her nonsense.

    Didn’t put in the article but everything I’ve read about having the type of stroke that makes you lose consciousness is that the outcomes and recoveries aren’t very good or likely. Rereading all the Michael Pearl pieces in this month’s issue its pretty clear that none came from Michael. The syntax is all wrong.

    Glad your son is doing so well! The speech thing was a problem with my son. He barely spoke until three. He had some developmental delays we never did figure out, the speaking and later reading, but when it clicked it happened suddenly.

  • Jennny

    So pleased your little one is receiving good care and hitting developmental targets. I think about the Janessas in QF families, as I worked with disabled children. I used to read fundy adoption blogs where moms boasted how well their disabled child/ren were doing, (Usually through prayer they said) but clearly they never got professional help, had little knowledge, nor the money, nor the inclination to do so. One who homeschooled her umpteen adoptees, had a rota for the autistic blind boy. Each other sibling took a day off from their schooling to buddy with him. From photos, it seemed they just followed him round all day and, as the toys, equipment etc in the home, weren’t geared for his needs, just made sure he avoided danger. That seemed like abuse of both of them. And Mrs Rod is never going to do other than praise the lord for Janessa’s wonderful progress, most of which is just her typical, sometimes untruthful, positive jesusy-spin on all of her family’s life.

  • B.E. Miller

    She’s like Serena Joy…

  • Jennifer

    “before fudging many of the details of how George worked with his father Pedro to recover from the stroke2, using what sounds like ‘Tough Love’ techniques that took Pedro from drooling vegetable status to mountain climbing in less than six years.”

    And theere it is, the subtle introduction to “smack your kids into being smarter.” Classic Pearl.

  • Mel

    I don’t know a ton about what Paul and his brother did – but some of the claim of “tough love” had to do with cultural expectations. Bluntly, good families put severely disabled people into institutions where they would be cared for. Yeah, we know now that there were lots of problems with institutionalization – but that wasn’t as clear at the time. On the flip side, rehabilitative services were in their infancy – so we had no cultural understanding that people could recover from severe strokes though repeatedly relearning skills.

    In that context, Paul Bach-y-Rita’s choice to encourage his father to crawl around in garden of their shared house sounds barbaric – when an equally realistic narrative was that Pedro loved gardening and being outside so once his arms were strong enough that he didn’t need the support of a wall to crawl, his sons moved him outside for a change of scenery.