Her left brain is nuked and she glimpses something of her spirit

I have described my own loss of mental functioning (here) and have explored the deep physicality of our brain/mind interface in this blog. In a recent book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor writes about a brain hemorrhage in which she loses the left side of her brain due to a massive stroke. As a neuroscientist she watches the desolation of the brain’s functioning with a knowledgeable observer’s keen sense of what’s being lost. One by one she looses all the features we typically think associated with intentional thought (note: intentional here does not mean ‘an act of will’ or ‘on purpose’ like it does in common discourse. Here it means the ability of the brain to form categories, and parse the sensual input into chunks that are ‘about’ something.) As things like time–before and after–disappear, as the visual things in the world blend into meaningless splashes, as color itself loses gist, as numbers become devoid of all denotation, as the boundaries of self and non-self start to dissolve, there is still something there. She writes:

    In the wisdom of my dementia, I understood that my body was, by the magnificence of its biological design, a precious and fragile gift. It was clear to me that this body functioned like a portal through which the energy of who I am can be beamed into a three-dimensional external space. This cellular mass of my body had provided me with a marvelous temporary home.

Since this experience, she as starting sharing the deep spirituality she has gained from this experience. This video is worth watching as she explores the meaning behind this rare glimpse of a different reality in an event that seems to have parsed out some the connections between the spirit and body. Even as a skeptical 21st Century scientist she interprets it that way. At the end she speaks about some of the choices we are given for the use of our mortal coil. Why is it that peace and kindness seem reoccurring themes in these sorts of experiences rather than justice and rightness?

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11 comments to Her left brain is nuked and she glimpses something of her spirit

  • Steve,

    Thanks for the tip, that is a very interesting TED talk. I had missed your story about going crazy the first time around and enjoyed that as well. Maybe if she had the hemorrhage in the right hemisphere of her brain the experience would have been about justice and rightness?

  • Howard

    Shutting down our mental data processing is the goal of all meditation. As we quiet the brain our mind begins to act as a receiver.

    For all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.

  • That was interesting, I’m glad you shared it.

  • I think that when people are suffering under extreme conditions, they don’t want justice, they want the peace that comes from love. Of course, peace and love are a right-brain function, so perhaps Jacob is right about her wanting justice if her right-brain wasn’t working.

  • SteveP

    Very interesting idea about a right brain stroke creating a judgemental / focus on right world. That might be worth a little investigation!

  • The

    Re your final question: I’m guessing that an awareness of justice requires more cognitive ability, whereas even a pet can understand kindness.

  • Cap

    Wow! Very interesting. I agree with what Howard had said regarding meditation, and the peace from that. Quieting the Left Side of the brain will bring peace. However the idea of individuality given from the left side is also interesting. I still think both is required, but the real trick is balancing the two equally. To gain that peace, while remaining aware of individuality. I hope that made sense.

  • SteveP

    cap you always make sense!

    The #6, but can a pet act kindly?

  • Howard

    Why is it that peace and kindness seem reoccurring themes in these sorts of experiences rather than justice and rightness?

    When it a spiritual experience I suspect it is because peace and kindness are a higher law, they transcend justice and rightness.

  • re #8: A dog can — at least, it can act out of sympathetic regard for another. But, to my knowledge, a dog can’t act from a knowledge of justice or fairness; that’s just too far beyond its cognitive skills.

  • I agree that this is an interesting insight from a scientist, and I also think it’s interesting that she seems to interpret things in terms of a duality of some sort. I think the major advance of this talk, and of course it isn’t meant for a scientific audience but it is from a scientist’s point of view, is that it allows the importance of what it feels like to be the person having the stroke. Subjectivity is usually excluded from scientific analysis of any sort, because the rules of the game up front state that we’re only talking and hypothesizing about things that everyone can experience equally. This is a major bend of those rules in a direction that I think can be quite fruitful. I really enjoyed the video, and the things she said sounded very Mormon to me, surprisingly. I think an approach to teaching scientists about the benefits and fruitfulness of a mystical (in the philosophical sense) worldview must necessarily proceed from this sort of starting point, and in this direction.

    Luckily, you don’t have to have a left-brain stroke to get this insight. It’s available through meditation and prayer, also music and art of all kinds, as well as exercise and exposure to nature, love, and extreme physical situations such as childbirth.

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