Monday, June 30, 2008

Scientist Tastes Silence

Jill Bolte Taylor is a distinguished neuroscientist who had a severe stroke, which temporarily suppressed her brain's left side - the nattering, analyzing half. The result was exactly what meditators spend decades seeking: an absolutely quiet mind. She found it blissful, fully recovered, can reenter that same state at will, didn't go all "woo-woo", wearing lots of jade jewelry (she's still in science) and wrote a book about the experience ("My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey").

It's amazing stuff, and I could rattle on for pages about the unfortunate chasm between science and spirituality, and how fantastic it is to have a neuroscientist directly experience this stuff from a standpoint that needn't bring down the whole paradigm. But, really, it's better to hear it from her. So....listen to her interview on
Fresh Air, and read an excerpt from the book on that same page.

UPDATE: I forgot to link to this great video of her talk at this year's TED Conference


rajeev joshi said...

there's also a fascinating interview on ted - if you google "jill bolte taylor" it'll come up.

and dont miss the outstanding 2003 reith lectures given by dr ramachandran, director of brain and cognition at uc san diego.

Jim Leff said...

woops, I'd meant to link to the TED video, I'll add it now.

I don't know about Ramachandran, though with a name like that, I'd be surprised that he had any interest at all in this stuff (Indian scientists tend to be more rationalist than anyone...something like the way ex-smokers are usually extra militant).

rajeev joshi said...

there goes your left brain again - listen to the man, will you? the most interesting is the last lecture in the series, but you really have to listen to them all.

Jim Leff said...

Sorry, my punctuation was overly subtle. "I don't know about Ramachandran" meant I'd not heard of him. But I'll definitely check out his talks. Thanks!

rajeev joshi said...

i just listened to the npr interview; its an even more wonderful story than i thought.

jill's mother is amazing - one more hurrah for the mathematicians of this world.

Anonymous said...

Did you catch the NY Times cover article on Dr. Taylor a few weeks ago (it was a Sunday is all I remember) and the Nightline piece on Friday. Not to mention the 4 Oprah interveiws. She's everywhere!!

I gotta say tho I read her book- my Stroke of Insight - and it's an Amazing story. makes you almost wish for a left brain freeze urself.

That's the key for me: using what Dr. Taylor teaches to quiet that left brain chatter and turn on the pictures and peace and joy in the right brain.

You go Girl!

Pat said...

I've ordered the book and look forward to reading it. I haven't listened to the Fresh Air interview, but did watch the video. Parts of it literally gave me vertigo. Fascinating stuff, the brain!

I'm never sure what "spiritual" means, and suspect it means different things to different people. I'd love to hear Oliver Sacks talk about this.

I'm going to listen to Ramachandran next.

Jim Leff said...

"That's the key for me: using what Dr. Taylor teaches to quiet that left brain chatter and turn on the pictures and peace and joy in the right brain."

You might want to consider, instead, some of the ancient, amply time-tested techniques developed and refined by sages working from the same starting point as you and I - i.e. with fully functional brains.

Hopefully Dr. Taylor's experience and accounting will spur some real research into a matters which science had previously been spurned as religious mumbo jumbo. Perhaps if the gap can be bridged, we'll finally improve on those ancient methods, or at least strip off a lot of the extraneous dogma and superstition.

That's really the limit of her (extremely useful) place in all this: she is, due to an extraordinarily unlikely series of coincidences, in a unique position to finally motivate mainstream science to take seriously what's been said forever by a series of figures who've chosen means of expression that appeal, somewhat circularly, to those already right-brain oriented to begin with. She's saying it for left-brained people, and that's fresh and will spur surprising results.

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