Monday, May 12, 2008

TEDTalks: Jill Bolte Taylor

"We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemisphere as one human family." - Jill Bolte Taylor summarizing how the right hemisphere of the brain interprets reality.

I'm just beginning to explore the TED Talks. I ran across them on a rabbit chase one day through the bloggy woods. TED, Technology, Entertainment and Design, has been around since 1984 but their videos have only been online since 2007. Their idea is to bring great thinkers and speakers in these three fields together to share what they are passionate about. The TED tag line is "Ideas Worth Spreading". I was thrilled today to start sorting through their Entertainment and Design themes and watched a juggler exploring rhythm and motion in what he calls "visual music in space".

"And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me "I am," I become separate. I become a single solid individual, separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you." - Taylor summarizing how the left hemisphere interprets our reality.

The first TEDTalk I linked to was Jill Bolte Taylor: "My stroke of insight" (link to video is below). Taylor is a neuroanatomist - she studies the brain and how it works. In all the years that she'd studied and researched, never did she learn as much as the day she experienced the shutdown of her left-brain from a stroke.

"Whoa! I'm a weird looking thing. It was if my consciousness had shifted away from my normal perception of reality where I'm the person on the [cardio] machine having the experience to some esoteric space where I'm witnessing myself having this experience." - Taylor's first observations when a blood vessel exploded in the left hemisphere of her brain.

Her talk is just under 19 minutes, a characteristic of TED talks, and it is absolutely fascinating to hear this scientist describe the physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of having a stroke. And you know there's nothing more thrilling to me than hearing these worlds described as interconnected. Believe me, it's well worth your time.

MyGeek and I were in complete disagreement after watching the video. He believes it was rehashed eastern mysticism, mumbo-jumbo (he can correct me here if I'm misrepresenting him.) I was absolutely fascinated to hear this intellectual describe in human and scientific terms what her perceptions of our reality and existence are through the most complex organ we posses and understand so little about.

"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." - Jill Bolte Taylor, "My Stroke of Insight"

You can't tell whether Taylor believes in the existence of a higher power or not but do you think that's what she's describing? Would you describe Yahweh as the "life-force of the universe"? Are we created in the image of Yahweh? And in our arrogance of intellect or of being "grown-ups", we must remember we are mere children in the eyes Yahweh. Isn't Taylor using the best of man-made terminology to describe what might possibly be the spiritual realm? What do you make of her use of the term "energy"?


Stephanie said...

I believer her talk would be a very good poem or piece of fiction but to present it as science is a bit puzzling. Here are some comments from around the blogosphere:

Anonymous said...

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!
Name: Ellen

rhon said...


I’m not sure why you're discrediting Taylor's experience to the degree that you call what she says fiction, at best, but by no means science.

TED is about creatively thinking of ways to improve the future of our global community. It pulls thinkers from the fringes and gives them the freedom, from judgment, to express their ideas. Are they all great? Probably not. Are they all valid? I don’t think that's the question. I think you simply take their ideas and see if it stretches your preconceived notions and opens a door to new ways for you to think about improving the world around you or maybe just yourself.

Taylor is talking as a scientist having a human experience. I can see how this might be perceived as fiction (that's a joke) but that's the wonder of Taylor's talk. It's not purely science and it's not purely supernatural. In fact, it's a bridge connecting the two and I think that's what is giving everyone such a fit.

Taylor is a scientist using scientific terminology poetically and for some people that makes her talk just too darn entertaining. It's as if Taylor can only be a scientist or only a poet but not both at the same time because then people might get confused. Really? Confused because science is not entertaining or confused because science isn't poetic? Confused because science can only be described using big words? Seriously? Science is not beautiful? Science is not romantic? Science is not fascinating?

A prejudice exists in the scientific world that utterly dismisses anything spiritual/supernatural associated with anything scientific. When did scientists stop testing, experimenting, and ideating everything we think we know in and out of the world? I'll tell you. When the community became a set of political elitists that pander to the blowing winds of government grants. Unless you have the popular answer you're wrong. That's political partisonism not science. Scientists operate on known scientific laws but should never be so arrogant as to think they have ever discovered the final answer. Everything should be in question. We're back to killing Galileo all over again.

I visited the link you provided and it was really a poor support for your point so I'm forced to address this. Based on all her references, Stephanie West Allen says Taylor is not a good scientist. This is quite a statement to make, especially based on those references.
· First she quotes "a professor". No credits, no links.
· The "professor" slanders Taylor several times, conjecturing that she must have gone to school in the 1970s and hasn't read anything relevant since, that she misleads her audience, and that she doesn't know brain physiology. Taylor actually got her undergrad in 1982 and her PhD in 1991. The "professor's" own references for contradicting Taylor predate her studies (1980). This took me only five minutes to find on the internet.
· I'm not going to take the time to parse through Chauncey Bell's long post regarding Taylor's talk. In part, his problem is what I've already stated. He objects to her moving from scientific speak to poetic. Taylor did change her viewpoint in the talk from one of a neuroanatomist to one of a woman having a stroke. I don't think there's a law against this. She wasn't giving a purely scientific talk! Again, bridge building.
· Again, Allen quotes a "brain scientist". No credits, no links.
· It's perfectly fine that Sue Blackmore hated Taylor's talk. I don't begrudge anyone their own opinion of like or dislike. But she based this on the exact prejudice I mentioned above. "I think, that scientific ideas must compete to be accepted. Within science, and at scientific conferences, the valid ones win by experiment and peer review, and the false ones are weeded out." One of Blackmore's favorite talks was Al Gore. There is as much division in the scientific community over global warming as there is on left brain/right brain science. But the elitist scientific community seems to have made the final word on both subjects. The arrogance! It's too early to close the books on either of these complex subjects. Disagree with her, fine. Censor her, no.
· Some seem to forget that Taylor only had 18 minutes. This is not quite enough time to completely explain left/right brain science (which wasn't her point) and definitely not to their level satisfaction. So Taylor's use of "simple" and "broad" statements was to quickly get across a general amount of knowledge on a complex, debated subject to a demographically broad audience so that she could move on across the bridge.

Everybody seems to have an opinion of what Taylor should have been talking about.

My point is not to defend Taylor's talk. Unlike Anon's comment, I am not a Taylor advocate, fan, or promoter. I simply found the connection, the bridge she suggested, interesting. But you brought it up, you brought into question her validity to even speak, and I had to address it, which was only to calm my own frustration that you didn't contemplate my questions at all, but were only out to slander Taylor.

Anonymous said...

Name: Scott

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.

rhon said...

It's a very good article, Scott. Thanks for pointing it out. It supports several of the points I made, including the support of her left brain/right brain descriptions.

My only concern the first time I heard the video was that she was downplaying left brain importance and emphasizing right. It wasn't clear so I didn't bring it up. In this article about battling and taming the left brain. I don't think you want to cut the right brain totally loose on the world, either.

rhon said...

Just found this cartoon today. It's appropriate.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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 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.