Left brains are useful, but…

Jill Bolte Taylor gave a most moving 19-minute presentation at the recent TED conference. It was all about the brain and about how we choose to use it. I defy you not to be gripped by her performance.

She’s a neuroanatomist by profession. Her brother is schizophrenic. And she had her very own stroke which slowly shut down the left hemisphere of her brain. This experience gave her a profound and intimate insight to the workings of the brain.

We all know that the two sides of the brain do different things. People often declare themselves as ’left-brained’ or ’right-brained’. Some people are adept at switching from one side to the other. Others struggle.

The right side is the bit that deals with ’now’, with movement, with senses, with grabbing, in parallel, everything that’s going on at the moment.

The left side is serial in nature and deals with past memories and future plans. It extracts, from the messages being passed from the right brain, those which it feels might come in handy or need a reaction.

When Ms Taylor had a stroke in the left side of her brain, she was able to keep functioning, after a fashion. But, over the course of a few hours, she lost just about everything. She reached a point where she literally curled up to die.

Throughout this process, the left brain flashed into life spasmodically, enabling her to seek help. It also meant that she could store memories of the process she was going through.

When her left brain was dormant, she found herself stress-free, memory-free, baggage-free and euphoric. She felt at one with the universe. By contrast, she describes the left brain as where we are individual, isolated, and separate from others.

She says much more during her talk and she believes that we can learn from her insights to make the world a better place. I’ll not steal her punchlines. But she has shone a torch into the darkness of my rather left-brained computer-centric life. And explained why my happiness increases the further away from computing I get.

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