The neuroanatomist’s stroke of insight

Thanks to Natasha Dantzig for drawing my attention to this talk from last month’s TED Conference in Monterey, California:

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened – as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding – she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Taylor describes her experience in terms of unlocking the hidden potential of the right hemisphere. Her talk contains some New Age-type language – there’s mention of “the deep inner peace circuitry” of the right hemisphere – but it is nevertheless interesting.


  1. #1 Anibal
    March 13, 2008

    This post reminds me the principle of direct introspection of neural states as neural states rather than the phenomenological feautres of our subjective experience, that somehow boldly, Paul M. Churchland introduced during the 80īs.
    As it seems, the principle is not totally misguided after all!

  2. #2 Anibal
    March 13, 2008

    A brilliant, brilliant talk! She really moves me.

  3. #3 Henrik
    March 13, 2008

    Interesting how similar her experience is to that of psychedelic drugs. Also of religious experiences, but I guess a scientist’s words are truer than a priest’s..

    Great talk though, she’s a gifted speaker.

  4. #4 Ellen
    May 17, 2008

    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!

  5. #5 Dennis
    May 29, 2008

    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.

  6. #6 Mo
    May 29, 2008

    Here’s the NY Times article:

    A Superhighway to Bliss, by Leslie Kaufman.

  7. #7 James
    May 30, 2008

    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.

  8. #8 Truc
    July 20, 2008

    Left hemisphere serial processor vs. right hemisphere parallel processor? Please! Yes western folk psychology is mostly simple minded mythology, but is this an improvement? Anibel I don’t think this is what the Churchland’s had in mind but after watching Pat’s interview of E.O. Wilson and her endorsement of emergent properties you could be right. I prefer to think that after we abandon the gene = behavior or the gene did it not god simple minded hypotheses we may focus on learning as a species rather than as traditional divisive folk entities. Plasticity and the brain! After eight years Jill made quite a recovery! In addition to her angelic mother, I am sure she had a proficient team of therapists. When we have the wisdom to change our teacher to student ratios from fractions to something resembling her recovery team I think we will gain a new respect for even the lowest human being and diminish our respect for elitist financial pyramid products. Getting them to invest in all of us so that we may choose to develop and confidently experience a wide range of neural net proficiencies may be a tough sell. Anyone proficient at rapid eye hand coordination (i.e. table tennis) is aware of experience after the fact as a type of bliss that contradicts folk consciousness.

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