Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Human Brain: So Who Are We?

"Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. An astonishing story."

Note: I thought this post was already up on the Both Sides /  No Sides blog but when I went and looked for it, I couldn't find. That's because it was on my personal blog. I was looking for this interview for a practitioner who is studying with me--indeed, a person who has had an experience similar to Ms. Taylor's--and so I thought I'd add it here for future reference. Mike LaTorra, aka Gozen, a Zen priest and abbott at the Las Cruces Zen Center  sent the link out on his list way back in April 2008. The video went viral for a while and I've thought about it much since. I have some differences with with some of the conclusion, but that's cool. Her talk is most important. At the link, you can read and copy the text of her talk, but I highly recommend that you watch the 18 minute video. It's a most remarkable lecture--scientific very interesting, witty and wise.  
  / Bobby Kankin

Ms. Taylor, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain, and because of her expertise she was able to witness the separation of her right and left brain lobes and to understand precisely how they each see the world. The talk is eight-plus years after the stroke, the time it took for her to fully recover. She became, in her words, in those few hours before help arrived like a new born baby in a woman's body. She had no language, no skills, no baggage of her 37 years on the planet. Yet, it was euphoria, a leap into what she called nirvana. And she realized during the experience that was soon to be dead. Luckily for us, this last transition didn't happen. She awoke finally in a hospital, startled to be alive. Her talk brings up incredible questions for me as a citizen of all the different communities where I hang my hat, for my work as a poet and writer and for my practice as a Zen Buddhist, those nagging spiritual or religious (I hate both those words, so much baggage) interests I carry around in my heart.

She says toward the end of her talk--

So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are -- I am -- the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.

Coincidentally, about the time I first watched this video Lee and I were on a roadtrip back and forth to Dallas and were listening to an audible telling of War and Peace (those 1300 miles weren't nearly enough for that huge book). Tolstoi describes Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who when almost fatally wounded on the battlefield having an almost identical experience as the one Ms. Taylor describes.

Thank you, Jill Bolte Taylor.
And Peace.

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