Sunday, December 6, 2015

Stroke of insight

I watched a TED talk called "My Stroke of Insight". It was about a woman psychologist named Jill Bolte Taylor,  who dedicated her whole life to studying the brain. One day she woke up and was experiencing a gripping pain in the left side of her head. She said the pain was very intense, then the pain would release. All of the sudden she felt as though her arms and legs looked like strange appendages, protruding from her body. She was having trouble controlling her body like she normally does. All of the sudden she felt a strange sense of disembodiment. She felt as though she was observing herself from afar. Jill decided to get into the shower and try to start her day. While in the shower her symptoms worsened. She could no longer stand and she started to notice that she could no longer differentiate between her own body and the atoms around her that made up her bathroom. Then all of the sudden a "wave of clarity" overcame her and she realized she was having a Stroke.
These periods of severe impairment where happening because of a blood clot in Jill's left hemisphere.

The stroke was happening in the left hemisphere of Jill's brain. As you know the two hemispheres "think" or operate in very different ways. Jill described it like this. The Right Hemisphere is mostly concerned with the present moment. It thinks in pictures and takes in all its surrounding physical senses. The job of the Left Hemisphere is to make sense of all this data and process it into rational thought. The left Hemisphere thinks in Words and language and is aware of the Past and Future.

Since the stroke occurred in the Left Hemisphere of Jill's brain, she was loosing control of her ability to reason and think like an average human. She soon realized while in the shower that she was having a stroke. It's funny because she took having a stroke as a great opportunity to study her own brain.
She would periodically loose functionality in her left brain, leaving her right brain completely dominant. She could not identify herself, and lost control of her body, she felt as though she was one among all the atoms in her bathroom. It didn't even matter that she was in a place as familiar and boring as her bathroom. She was completely free of any social construct.
Then all of the sudden her left brain would kick in and she would realize that she was in great danger and that she needed to get help.

Jill said the feelings of loosing functionality in her left brain was Euphoric. She referred to these periods of right brain isolation as "la la land". For once she didn't have to think about the outside world and society and rules of language and social norms, and emotion, and stress for the future, and her job, and money, that had been constructed in her left hemisphere for years.

This story does a great job of explains the perception differences in our own Brain. The two hemispheres are very different in the way they process information. However, the two hemispheres are both very important and it would be very strange to live without the functionality of one side of your brain.

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