Friday, 30 May 2008

The layers of an onion

This is remarkable and very emotional.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, USA. One morning, some years ago, she awoke to realize she was having a stroke; a brain hemorrhage. She recounts her experience with great honesty, candor and comedy. In her own words:

"How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?"

The story she tells is full of imagery familiar from religion, psychedelia, near death experiences etc. Ideas which blur the distinction between self, non-self and the meaning of 'now'. What blows my mind is that intense experience like this is coupled to the brain's structure. When certain cognitive functions are disabled whether by trauma, drugs or ritual, people often report feelings of 'the interconnection of all things' and 'universal love' (I would love to hear V.S. Ramachandran's take on this).

Jill is absolutely right about La-La Land though, we have to be careful. As the late, great Richard Feynman said:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that."

Jill passes both these tests. A 'Stroke of Insight' indeed.

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