Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stroke of Insight

I have mentioned before that migraines seem to give me insight into brain function.
It seems that I can actually perceive how information brought in through my eyes is processed by the brain in a stepwise manner.

You’re not supposed to be able to do this:
i.e. “observe the brain from the inside,” as neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor has said.
But, Dr Taylor has done exactly this, while having a stroke,
when she was 37 and a researcher at Harvard.
Her “stroke of insight” she calls it.

In neurophysiology way back when, I was taught that every sense discards information as it collects input from the world.
The signals that do get through to the brain are then integrated together, step after step, layer after layer, by the sensory cortex.

Beyond the step of collecting light, there are the next tasks:
images are constructed, images are interpreted,
interpretation is linked with memory and the greater context.
It seems that with my migraines, a layer of this processing simply drops out.
And “seeing” no longer works the way it use to.

Seeing no longer feels like seeing.
Seeing doesn’t make the sense it should.
(Senses should make sense? Oh! I would demand that, yes.)
And I am left pawing at my face to remove glasses that I am not wearing, as I scream inside, “I cannot see!”

All this is by way of an introduction to a talk by Jill Bolte Taylor at a recent TED Conference.
She tells quite a moving story… for a scientist and mystic.

And just so you won’t miss it, I excerpt here a comment left by Saeed Dyanatkar in the TED Comments Section:

This is not the first time a scientist is talking the same way as a mystic.
In Persian literature there is a famous story about an occasion in which a mystic (Abu Saeed Abel-kheir) met a scientist (ave Sina) and after a very long exchange of ideas they conclude their experiences for their students:

Ave-Sina: Whatever I know he sees.
Abel-Kheir: Whatever I see he knows.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that. Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight is one of the most incredible stories I've heard in a long time. Her TEDTalk video blew my mind wide open to new possibilities. On the one hand, there's what she went through and how she emerged from it. On the other hand, there's what she can teach all of us.
I saw the 4 part Oprah interview on Oprah dot com Soul Series and I did learn a lot from that, but I'd like to find our more of how to do what Dr. Taylor did, without having a stroke of course!
Thin how many of us are living too much in the head, and not the heart. And of course, you can't get more left brain than a Harvard Brain Scientist. Isn't it ironic that she should be the one to have the stroke and transform from the quintessential left brainer into this ""seen the light"" disciple of finding inner peace?
I hope this movement keeps going. Maybe there will be My Stroke of Insight classes where we can practice what Jill Bolte Taylor is preaching.