TED 2008: Conference Afterglow: Jill Bolte Taylor and the Brain

Who Are We


In light of the enthusiastic conference response, Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk at TED 2008 has been posted on TED Talks! (see link above.) Sitting in the audience at Aspen, I can attest to the applause and sea of tears that filled the room — matching the wet eyes shown on satellite screen from Monterey.

Moved and excited by Taylor’s “outing” of a whole-brain picture of human experience, I thus find the comments to follow on TED Talks, a fascinating read on the struggle we continue to have in the “descriptive” stage of human experience.

By that I mean Taylor describes her “split-brain” experience during a stroke, distinguishing between right and left brain modes of meaning making. She herself refers to the serial and parallel processing modes which our brains exhibit in perceiving and organizing the stuff of the reality. And… she also distinguishes the experience of the split as a distinction between consciously feeling ourselves as the “life force power” of the universe, connected to everything, and the “‘cognitive … single, solid, separate being” that has identity, “the me” sense of being alive in the world.

My question to everyone: Which “mode” of description appeals to you or resonates more with your sense of the world: the metaphorical language of information processing or the metaphorical language of psychology? The language that speaks to an analytic, sequenced sense of pattern recognition and memory or a language that denotes a synthetic, “webbed” network of pattern recognition and memory?

Here again is the link to Taylor’s TED Talk and the comments that follow: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229

I’ll be curious to hear your comments regarding your viewing and consideration of how we can speak of the “dual neural processors” of meaning in our world.

May the Breath Be With You!


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10 Responses to “TED 2008: Conference Afterglow: Jill Bolte Taylor and the Brain”

  1. David Scott Lynn Says:

    Hello — thank you for posting the TED video on Jills left/right disconnect, or however you’d like to characterize it. (BTW, I found you via a Google Alert set to “yoga.”)

    I watched the very interesting video and my answer to your question is that I feel more comfortable in one sense of the word in my more rational mind. Yet in another sense, the non-rational (I refuse to call it irrational) is comfortable too. Non-rational is much more relaxing, pleasant and stress-less — or at least less stress. But I cannot sustain it as long as I would like, most of the time. It is much EASIER for me to be in rational mode. They are two different kinds of pleasures and satisfactions.

    I started doing martial arts and Buddhist meditations when I was 14; that was 1968. But although my life has revolved around physical/mental yoga, bodywork, wholistic health and such things since I as 19, I have not spent anywhere near as much time in meditation as I would like.

    Frankly, I get a lot of pleasure out of reading, studying, thinking about new ideas, making discoveries, etc. I look at the two sides as vitally important. The non-rational is how everything new gets in, the rational side is how I know its there and what to do with it.

    As a professional yoga/bodywork therapist and occasional trainer of my work, for 26 years, I find I need both the meditative, sensitive side while actually doing the yoga and hands-on technique. but I need the rational mind to figure out where best to work. The rational mind has also served me in those many days over the years in medical libraries studying the anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, pathology and other sciences that explain how yoga and bodywork work. that way, when I sit down with a neurologist or orthopedist, or a chiropractor, I can usually within about two minutes let them know I know what I am talking about, and give them perfectly rational explanation of how they work.

    So I would LIKE to spend more time in the non-rational. I even think I should, and would feel better and all that good stuff. However I do not feel like it’s a terrible breakdown for me. I will ay that I am not prone to flowery or metaphorical language. Yet those who study with me say I explain how yoga and meditation work better than anyone they had ever heard or read. So I guess that is a good thing. I wish I could write it as easily. (That’s why I’ve been recording my talks so I can get them transcribed!)

    I also have one VERY rational Client, and we discuss these matters. He says that for him, addressing his rational mind in the right way is like turning the key to his non-rational mind. He is far more comfortable going into the non-rational when the rational is taken seriously and accounted for. We start with the linear, and progress toward the non-linear. I like that approach, and it works well for me, too. Yet with my being around the touchy-feely yoga and bodywork crowds so much, I know many people are very frustrated with people like me who cannot, or just don’t, just go straight into the non-rational. So I guess my niche market is those who are okay going into the non-linear, but need to check in at the linear gate-keeper, first.

    And doctors are more comfortable working with therapists who can present in their terminology anyway. So it’s nice to be able to give them some insight they can relate to. Especially when you can explain everything in rational terms, and do not rely on any woo-woo.

    Well, I could go on forever, but its really late, so I will check back and see if anyone else posts here. I should figure out how that trackback things works to, as I have a blog/website on these matters, too.

    Thanks and Take Care,
    David Scott Lynn

  2. M. A. from L. A. a.k.a. Dr. G. Says:

    David, thanks for your reply.

    Regarding the dualism of right/left, rational and non-rational thinking: I have found a systems approach bypasses old 19th century models of cognitive functioning. Thinking in a systems way allows me speak to all kinds of language users! That said, I can well appreciate the frustration of using sequential, analytic thinking in the context of body inquiries and finding resistance to anything that seems “dry” and “intellectual.” I suspect that is why Taylor’s talk is so appealing to so many — she offers a dualistic picture that can allow for the poetical (felt thought) and the scientific (object thought).

    With this in mind, this blog and my institute — the GGI — is dedicated to whole brain, whole system’s conversation. I should soon have the forum up and running but in the meantime, your comments and thoughts are appreciated! And do send your website link my way!

    May the Breath Be With You!!

  3. Ellen Says:

    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!
    Url: http://www.amazon.com/My-Stroke-Insight-Scientists-Personal/dp/0670020745/ref=pd_bbs_sr_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210709205&sr=8-4

  4. Rogers Says:

    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.

  5. Scudder Says:

    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.

  6. Michelle Says:

    MY STROKE OF INSIGHT was ranked #5 in all books sold on Amazon today and #1 in Memoirs above even Barbara Walters’ memoir. Babs had been promoting her book for months in advance and Dr. Taylor’s book was self-published.

    Then Oprah recommended it. There’s the Power of Now, and then there’s the Power of Oprah!!

    “My Stroke of Insight” is out in Hardcover now for less than the old paperback edition. Amazon has it for 40% off.

  7. karen brazeau Says:

    I would like to share my neurobrain/mental “illness”/with someone in the research field who has time/ability to listen in a face to face situation. Ten years ago, while in a military training exercise, I was left in the field to basically “boil” in temps above 105 degrees. Over the years much has happened. Jill Bolte Taylor’s video is greatly appreciated in the linear/non linear approach. It is refreshing and validating to hear a scientist speak energetically. It is hard for me to write, harder to concentrate on a book, but with the right person I know I could contribute greatly to this arena. I identified a lot with the summary above by David Scott Lynn. It is very frustrating to try to explain some of my behaviors to friends, family, neighbors and to be treated like a “short-bus “kid. Or to be dismissed as a pot head and attribute behavior always to that. Sometimes people think i have low intelligence because even though i understand what i hear sometimes, i just don’t have the words to respond, or get overwhelmed when people use a lot of words for something. Circuit overload.I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder which looking back probably had all my life, and as many, finally got correct diagnosis later on. My mother, who passed not long after my birth, had grand mal seizures during pregnancy (no meds in the 1950’s) which to me makes sense as a conributing factor.For one thing that depokote is used for bipolar and epilepsy. Sometimes I think I have had temporal epileptic seizures, more often I think I have great spiritual experiences/healing abilities…there goes the psyc/spirituality dilemma, although Jill’s video hit it on the head in some ways from what i could understand. My smell is heightened, I “feel” with my eyes, my intuition is strong, but not always trusted by myself. I also have been treated for PTSD and other things.After the heat incident, i lost speech, bodily functions, ability to figure out simple things like how to get on a bus, basic check book skills and so forth. I was able to drive after awhile and would give my son a ride to his friends house if he told me how to get there but i didn’t know how to get back home.Sometimes people would say something to me and it would take me three days to finally figure out the words that could have been used to respond.Part of my life has also been in the aviation electronics and mechanical arena, both navy and civilian,which seemed very natural for me. That was before the heat injury. I also know those skills helped me to make sense of a lot of the brain and nervous system functions to the point where my survival after injury, once i became more stable, was to “step outside” and view myself as a research experiment. Sometimes I felt like the shutter speed on a camera going too fast, sometimes like it shut down half way through the picture taking. I used to feel most “at home” with moderate to highly functioning autistic people. Sometimes it seemed my functioning mirrored the behavior of my father during certain stages of Alzheimers when I cared for him and could see him struggling to try to organize and perform basic things. Although I have used many, many, MANY different prescription meds, I have also used marijuana. The marijuana gave me a sense like my nerves had relief in that i would feel like they were receiving a mylien sheath that felt to be missing. It also didn’t give me the “removed” feeling like zanex or the sometimes “flat line” feeling of other meds, or the anxiety/rage of antidepressents. I have been involved in much integrated health care which helps a lot. Thank you for listening and I will remain hopeful that somebody will contact me to be able to listen and probably categorize my experiences in a way that will be useful in aiding my most curious and analytical self and benefit and reduce the suffering of others.I would even like to work in science and research somehow but I also know I could not be in an environment with animal testing. So i guess that is a huge barrier. Maybe somebody has a suggestion along those lines. Thanks again and thanks Jill for caring about your brother and for sharing your experience with us.

  8. Regina Parton Says:

    Dear sweet Jill,
    I’m just a simple human being that found your video talking about your very personal experience of having a stroke, so very very beautiful in many ways. What I walked away with after I gathered myself together was that you now know as I do that there is so much more to this thing we call life, and then some more. I’m one of those people who checks with the gate-keeper first,(Poetical,left thought) before I do most anything important during my day. I know to put one foot in front of the other without much thought, but it’s having the smile on my face that’s the important thing. I try to be a living example of love to all people. I try to walk in the light so that people can see a difference in my life, and therefore may share my love for humanity.
    I just wanted to take a moment in time to say, I see you as my sister, in love, with a common bond. Thank you so very much for your insight, and a willingness to share it with others.



  9. Drug and Alcohol Info Says:

    I really loved the video and in past came into this more from the language of eastern philosphers speaking about the One and dualistic consciousness. There are rich discussions in Hinduism and Buddhism about the nature of delusions, attachment to our thoughts and the movement from the One, Emptiness and Silence into our mental tape loops. I preferthat language to the one about circuitry etc as I think I can watch the monkey mind more when I think about delusions rather than circuitry.


    • spacesuityoga Says:

      Deb, thanks for noting your metaphoric preference. It seems language and images have much to do with determining what we understand about our brain/minds.
      I suspect that one’s attraction to Buddhist and Hindu systems of psychology and cosmology may be in part contingent on the pairing of existential claims with actual meditative practices — a pairing avoided in the
      mechanistic and materialistc language of modern science.

      That said, I find the vanguard field of neuroscience most exciting as it approaches the study of Buddhist and other meditation with new curiosity. The work of organizations like the Mind and Life Institute and The Maharishi University supporting university research has been helpful in this regard. For more info on using meditation applied to every day living and for restoring health, please write me or continue to log on to this blog.

      Synaptically yours,

      Dr. G.

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