Friday, July 15, 2011

the brain: our two cognitive minds (part ii)

mind shattering...

When you hear a person proclaim the following, what do you think:
And it was as though my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality, where I'm the person [...] having the experience, to some esoteric space where I'm witnessing myself having this experience.
I can no longer define the boundaries of my body - I can't define where I begin and where I end.
And in that moment my brain chatter [...] went totally silent [...]. And at first I was shocked to find myself inside a silent mind. But then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. [...] I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.
I felt this sense of peacefulness. And imagine what it would feel like to loose 37 years of emotional baggage. I felt euphoria.

A drug induced psychedelic experience? A religious revelation? A state of mind achieved by years of mediation practice? A manifestation of a manic or psychotic episode? No. This is what happens when a golf-ball sized blood-clot is messing with your brain circuitry...

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist. The above quotes are her recollection of the reality she experienced while suffering a stroke:
A blood vessel exploded in the left half of my brain. In the course of four hours I watched my brain completely deteriorate.
And then I realize, oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke. And then the next thing my brain says to me is: 'Wow, this is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?'

The stroke nearly killed her, and it took eight years to recover from:
I curled up into a little fetal-ball, and, just like a balloon with the last bit of air just out of the balloon, I just felt my energy lift and just felt my spirit surrender.

Jill wrote a book about her life-changing experience: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. In 2008, she gave a very personal and moving account of the stroke during a talk at the TED conference (see embedded video below).

She describes the brain as follows: The two hemispheres of the brain are two independent cognitive minds. The right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while the left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. As a result, the right brain focuses on the present moment, the here and now. It thinks in pictures and constructs an enormous collage of this eternal moment; how it looks, smells, tastes, feels and sounds like. We are all connected through the consciousness of the right hemisphere.

The left brain is into linear thinking, methodical, focused on the past and future. It takes the collage of the present moment, picks out details, which it categorizes and organizes, and associates them with everything learned in the past to project all possibilities into the future. It thinks in language, creating the ongoing brain chatter. It is responsible for creating the sense of self, the "I am", which lets us become separate.

The experience of this day in 1996 transformed Jill, giving her rational outlook on life a distinct spiritual spin, a generic spirituality which could be argued to be inherent in our brain circuitry:
But then i realized: but I'm still alive. I'm still alive and I have found nirvana. Then everyone who is alive can find nirvana. And then I pictured a world with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew they could come to this space at any time. And that they purposely can choose to step to the right of their left hemisphere and find this peace.
I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemisphere, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be.
What a stroke of insight this could be.

See part i: the brain: alien processes running under the hood.

1 comment:

jbg said...

RSA Animate - The Divided Brain
Iain McGilchrist