Don’t miss Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, talking about her stroke at TED. She’s dynamic and what she has to say is fascinating for anyone with a brain, literally.
I love her distinctions between the left and right hemispheres, which are quite different from and more succinct than anything I had read or heard before about their differences. She describes the left hemisphere of the brain as working like a serial port, linear and methodical, and the right side as working like a parallel port, experiencing everything as a sort of sensory energy collage. Then (here’s where it gets interesting), she says that the right side is ‘in the moment’ all the time, and thus in the flow of what is happening now, in flow with all other energy on the planet, so that there are no boundaries, no separation between things, and everything is present tense, sensory, elemental, energy. The left side takes this energy collage it’s presented with and immediately begins a process of categorising and organising the data, relating it to the experience of the past and the potential of the future.
She also says that the left brain is where the sense of “I” originates, the ego, the idea that “I” am separate from other things: The left side is “that little voice that says to me, ‘I am. I am.’ And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me ‘I am,’ I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.” From the right brain’s perspective, ‘I’m’ in the flow with all other energy, not a separate entity with boundaries.
(I can’t help but consider this from a Girardian perspective, from the very basic rivalry/mimesis of self and other that Girard posits and which feels true to my experience and observation — why does the left brain have so much authority for most of us, for culture? Her comments also make me think of G-d’s “I am that I am” or “I shall be that I shall be” when Moses asks G-d’s name — is that a separation-making statement or is it an expansion of self into all things?)
Jill’s stroke affected her left side, shutting it down, so that even in the early minutes of it she couldn’t see where her arm ended and the wall began, because there weren’t boundaries between the two: “Because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy.” She couldn’t read her business card because she could only see the pixels that make up the lettering and numbers, and she couldn’t make meaning of the pixels. She spent a lot of time trying to match the shape of the squiggles she could see on the card to the shape of the squiggles on the telephone dial (so she could call her office for help). This reminds me of dreams I’ve had, with episodes exactly like this.
Her description of finding nirvana in the hospital — a huge feeling of expansiveness, an overwhelming sense of peace — reminds me of how people sometimes talk about the psychosis that is mania; and it also reminds me of how I have felt near the ocean, on the beach sifting sand through my hands, watching birds, in gardens, meditating, dreaming, writing (even though it’s using language, that left-brain tool), looking at art (there was a modern painting on the lower level of the National Gallery’s East Wing that affected me this way in February, and I don’t know what it was called or who painted it), listening to music, watching movies, in conversation with someone, making love. It’s how I almost always feel when travelling on the train, like I am big and don’t know or care where I end.
Jill’s talk ends this way:
“So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the ‘we’ inside of me.
“Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.”
A powerful message.
The transcript is here but the video is better.
Jill’s website is here.
(For ‘Six Feet Under’ fans: Jill had the same kind of stroke that Nate Fisher had, due to an AVM)