15 November 2012

My Stroke of Insight - J.B. Taylor (2008)

My Stroke of Insight is the personal story of Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who suffered a left-hemisphere stroke and eventually recovered over eight years.  The book starts with some background on the brain, and then tells of her experience during and immediately after the stroke, which basically damaged areas of the brain that manage math and language.  Her experience of this situation was a kind of immersion in the right hemisphere consciousness, where wholeness and intuition and 'vibe' became foremost, and it was a long struggle (at times not even desired) to regain a more analytical/rational view of the world.  Today Taylor believes that the right-brain consciousness gives a feeling of oneness with the world that is easily torn down by the brain-chatter of the left-brain, and she attempts to consciously control that process.

From a NY Times story on Taylor, "A Superhighway to Bliss" by Leslie Kaufman, goes into this topic:

Dr. Taylor makes no excuses or apologies, or even explanations. She says instead that she continues to battle her left brain for the better. She gently offers tips on how it might be done. 
“As the child of divorced parents and a mentally ill brother, I was angry,” she said. Now when she feels anger rising, she trumps it with a thought of a person or activity that brings her pleasure. No meditation necessary, she says, just the belief that the left brain can be tamed. 
Her newfound connection to other living beings means that she is no longer interested in performing experiments on live rat brains, which she did as a researcher.
She is committed to making time for passions — physical and visual — that she believes exercise her right brain, including water-skiing, guitar playing and stained-glass making. A picture of one of her intricate stained-glass pieces — of a brain — graces the cover of her book.
I found this story interesting as a way of thinking about how babies begin to develop analytical skills - writing, reading and arithmetic take plenty of brain work to master, but we rarely have any sense of what that actually feels like.  This book tells that story, of an adult working through that effort a second time.

Some have been disappointed by this book because they feel it veers off into pseudo-science, and that's fair - this is a subjective account of one person's experience.  I note that no one in the neuroscience community appears to have provided a blurb for the book.  I think it's critical though to build up more knowledge of the subjective experience of mind, and how conscious thought may be used to guide/control one's own experience, informed by some knowledge of the underlying workings of the brain.

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