A stroke of insight

We’ve discussed the remarkable neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor before but I’ve finally got round to watching her engaging TED talk on her experience of having a stroke, which is now available to watch online.

It’s a bit poetic in places. You can almost hear the sound of a thousand cognitive scientists gritting their teeth as she describes the supposed functions of each cerebral hemisphere and probably the sound of some of them fainting when she describes the “deep inner peace circuitry” of the right hemisphere.

Neuroanatomists may notice that this is almost exactly the same sound that occurs when psychologists describe something as a ‘frontal’ function.

The talk is gripping, however, and the highlight is her description of the day she had her stroke which is both insightful and very funny.

Link to video of Jill Bolte Taylor TED talk (thanks Sandra!)
Link to previous post on Jill Bolte Taylor with links to interview.

7 Comments

  1. Posted March 17, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Vaughan, you’re right. A remarkable video, but as a neuropsychologist my teeth were indeed gritting and gnashing! I can see all the New Age fluffy bunnies (Dave Snowden’s term) lapping up the right hemisphere universal energy stuff. Jill Bolte Taylor, however, had a remarkable experience and I suppose her continued euphoria is understandable.

  2. gnatters
    Posted March 17, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Funny how a lot of what she describes sounds an aweful lot like a psilocybin trip.

  3. Posted March 18, 2008 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    One of the things that really strikes me about her description is how similar it is to other reported mystical experiences–she talks about an experienced loss of self, the sense of union/communion with the entire universe, and a particular type of peacefulness or euphoria, all of which are very common ways to describe mystical experiences.
    I don’t suppose anyone knows of any case studies where some particular brain damage or stimulus incited similar experiences? I don’t buy into her apparent reverence for the right brain as a conduit to nirvana, but I’m curious about whether there are other cases where left brain damage contributed to such mystical feelings.

  4. ellenst
    Posted May 17, 2008 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve been recommending a book by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My Stroke of Insight” to everyone I know. It’s an amazing story, both uplifting and powerful on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual, but the spiritual aspect alone makes this the best book I’ve read all year.
    How often do you get to hear a neuroscientist describe having a stroke, nearly dying and finding Nirvana, and then making a miraculous recovery so that she’s back to teaching medical students!?!
    I came away with a renewed sense of understanding, wonder and hopefulness about the capabilities of the human brain. I give “My Stroke of Insight” highest marks!
    You can get the book for just $16.47 with free shipping from Amazon!

  5. Stanild
    Posted May 29, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The New York Times Sunday Newspaper on May 25 had a great two page article on Jill Bolte Taylor and her book, “MY STROKE OF INSIGHT”. Her book is a must read and this NY Times article – called “A Superhighway to bliss” is worth checking out too.

  6. Jennika
    Posted May 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I read “My Stroke of Insight” in one sitting – I couldn’t put it down. I laughed. I cried. It was a fantastic book (I heard it’s a NYTimes Bestseller and I can see why!), but I also think it will be the start of a new, transformative Movement! No one wants to have a stroke as Jill Bolte Taylor did, but her experience can teach us all how to live better lives. Her TED.com speech was one of the most incredibly moving, stimulating, wonderful videos I’ve ever seen. Her Oprah Soul Series interviews were fascinating. They should make a movie of her life so everyone sees it. This is the Real Deal and gives me hope for humanity.

  7. zhan
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk is really remarkable.

    I am not a neuro-scientist. I just have a little bit of doubt. I used to work as a test engineer to find hardware failures of circuit boards with one CPU and some memories. I usually wrote some program to let the CPU to run to test the hardware. If the problem is from the peripheral circuitry, we can easily find the problem. However, if the problem is from the memory or the CPU, we can hardly get any useful conclusion from the testing results of the program. Testing results can not identify which piece of the memory stick went wrong, or it could even points the failure to the healthy peripheral circuitry. What i am trying to say is that, logically, a dis-functioned brain can not do a self-test and the test results could be just an illusion.


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