Stroke of insight

Stroke of insight

In the 18 minute clip on the below link, Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor talks at the TED conference about her personal experience of a stroke.

She had a blood vessel burst in her left brain causing her to gradually lose functions. Because of her background, she was able to monitor the shift and explore the consequences as a scientist. The experience also gave her a spiritual epiphany. She describes the experience and her discoveries. A remarkable story.

In the clip, she describes (and shows) the 2 hemispheres of the brain. She goes over how the hemispheres differ, that the left brain (controlling the right side) is the serial processor, the mathematician and organizer. The right brain is the parallel processor, the creative and spatial side.

Because the impairment was in her left hemisphere and she evidently carries the common viewpoint of neurobiologists that consciousness is an effect of the brain, she concludes that spiritual experiences are a function of the right hemisphere and the ego of the left.

That is where I think she is incorrect. Firstly, as well as being hemispheric, the brain has vertical variation in function. What is commonly called Triune. Secondly, consciousness itself has gradations of expression.

The ego is actually sustained in the mid-brain, know as the paleo-mammalian or limbic. If the upper brain is impaired, the stories of the ego may go off-line, thus impairing its function. This would open her up to more expanded states of awareness, as she described. This is what techniques such as meditation hope to achieve in transcending the mind. The right brain contributes to the ego but is not its actual seat in physiology. (not that the ego has a reality or “place”. We’re talking about how the mind sustains a concept of self) Its also true that the right brains more open and spatial properties contribute to expanded awareness but is not itself the seat of that. Its better to think of the brain as a liaison with consciousness.

As I have commented here prior, we are consciousness itself. That consciousness expresses itself through form, through our physiology, and creates effects we experience as thoughts, emotions, and physical responses. The 2 hemispheres process different values of consciousness but do not create it. Consciousness is causal rather than an effect.

In the clip, Jill speaks of now being able to shift her attention from hemisphere to hemisphere. While there may indeed be mental activity evidence that that is what she is doing, in fact she is actually shifting conscious perspectives or viewpoints. She is shifting from localized mind to unlocalized non-mind, which will have its corresponding physiological symptoms. The liaison or interface will respond to the shift in awareness.

I don’t say this as a competing theory or idea but rather as the experience. When you open yourself up to consciousness through systematic exploration, you discover this as a deeper reality than that of being ego-mind or physical body. Its not that ego-mind is an invalid perspective, but as Jill observed, being purely in who you are leads to a much more satisfying life.


Last Updated on November 11, 2017 by Davidya

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  2. I did watch the video a couple of times, and it seemed to me that while Dr. Taylor was experiencing flooding of the left hemisphere she was cut off from the process that controls or manages the self in physical life. That didn’t necessarily either suppress or encourage the ego, I think, but simply allowed what is always present to be heard.

  3. Davidya

    Her experience did allow what was always present to be heard, yes. But she was describing a different value of consciousness, not simply left brain functioning. As a brain scientist, she related her experience to what she knew. But as a studier of consciousness, I understand her experience from a different place. And she experienced more than just half-brain functioning. The left brain may support expansive states but does not create the expansive state. Indeed, its the other way around – the consciousness creates the brain functioning.
    Certainly its a feedback loop, so a physical impairment affects the expression of consciousness. And this is fine example of that.

  4. “The left brain may support expansive states but does not create the expansive state. Indeed, its the other way around – the consciousness creates the brain functioning.”
    Agree completely. As a scientist she may not, but the physical changes allowed her awareness to touch the infinite. She did report moments of transcendence which bordered on the mystical. These experiences bring to mind Bruce Lipton’s work, especially where he postulates that our physical selves are download receptors for information.
    I very much enjoy the TED lectures.

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  6. Davidya

    Last night I was at a Deepak Chopra talk and he showed this video. He briefly at the end made comments similar to mine and said he’d had several long discussions with her about this. There are some advantages to fame 😉

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  12. Jewellene Hawkins

    I always assumed Jill believed she had a spiritual experience, but she had to present it through a materialist lens so she could be heard. She was on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.

    I’ve been searching your site for your views on psychopaths after watching a clip on Joe Rogan about “why psychopath’s exist.”

    I’m sure you’ve heard there is a genetic and environmental component to what turns that gene on. From a spiritual perspective, why are there psychopaths?

    1. Hi Jewellene
      What you suggest is possible. However, she’s been immersed in the approach for a long time and seemed to make the assumption that consciousness is an effect of the brain. It’s possible her take has evolved. I mentioned Chopra discussing it with her in a comment above.

      I don’t think I’ve ever written on psychopaths. I don’t have any expertise on the subject. There are environmental and ancestral influences on gene expression, yes. But also choices we make. For example, we may have a tendency to anger easily. Some will try to suppress that, then occasionally explode. Some will learn anger management. And some will find advantage in anger, like fear and control over others, and amplify it to an extreme.

      The term itself is not a formal term for a mental illness but rather a popular term for someone antisocial and lacking empathy. It’s often used pretty loosely. From a spiritual perspective, it’s an imbalance in the sense of self leading to a distorted view of the world.

      In essence, they exist because humans have free will. And may not have good stress-management skills.

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