Sunday, March 23, 2008

Right Brain Nirvana

In a comment to my diary below titled "Questions on good and evil," tampopo provided a link to an amazing video that I wanted to highlight here. The speaker is Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine. After years of studying the brain and its chemistry, she had a stoke, and learned some amazing things from the experience. She recently gave a speech titled "Stroke of Insight" at a TED conference where it is summarized like this:

This is a powerful story of recovery and awareness -- of how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

(The speech is about 18 minutes. But its well worth the time)


  1. I'm so pleased you also found this awesome.

    Another source (though I must qualify this as I have no idea if the person is "reputable") describes people living with "integrative empathy and rapport" - right brain nirvana:

    The preconquest type of consciousness detailed below survives today only in a few, now rapidly vanishing, isolated enclaves. Although those we contacted were widely dispersed, they shared a distinctive type of consciousness - one very different from the postconquest type that dominates the world today. It emerged from a type of child and infant nurture common to that era but shunned in ours.

    The outstanding demographic condition required for such a life is small populations surrounded by tracts of open territory into which anyone can diffuse virtually at will. This allows those discomfited by local circumstance, or attracted by conditions further on, to move as they wish with whoever might be similarly inclined. This was the case even in the smallest of all the preconquest enclaves seen. The outstanding social condition is a sociosensual type of infant and child nurture that spawns an intuitive group rapport and unites people without need for formal rules. The outstanding psychological condition is heart-felt rapprochement based on integrated trust. This provides remarkable efficiency in securing needs and responding to nature's challenges while dispensing ongoing delight with people and surroundings.

    The outstanding economic condition is absence of private property, which allows constant cooperative usage of the implements and materials of life for collective benefit. The human ecology engendered by the interaction of these outstanding conditions makes the forcing of others (including children) to one's will a disruptive and unwholesome practice. It was not seen.

    Any form of subjugation, even those barriers to freedom imposed by private property, are the kiss of death to this type of life. Though durable and self-repairing in isolation, the unconditional open trust this way of life requires shrivels with alarming speed when faced with harsh emotions or coercion. Deceit, hostility, and selfishness when only episodic temporarily benumb intuitive rapport. When such conditions come to stay and no escape is possible, intuitive rapport disintegrates within a brutally disorienting period of existential trauma and anomie. With no other models about except those of conquerors, a `savage-savage' emerges from the wreckage of a once 'noble-savage'. These more brutal beings adjust to the postconquest milieu by adopting formal group identities. First they internalize various abstract ideas of space, boundary and kinship introduced by their conquerors. They then use them to anchor claims of their own to turf. They devise rules and customs that clearly identify them as a distinct people with formal rights. From this process different kinds of cultural elaboration emerge in separated regions - until a harsher level of conquest presses their uniqueness to extinction.

    Perhaps this is another way to describe "living in the right brain:"

    Most of us know about subliminal awareness - the type of awareness lurking below actual consciousness that powerfully influences behavior. Freud brought it into the mainstream of Western thought through exhaustively detailed revelations of its effects on behavior. But few, including Freud, have spoken of liminal consciousness, which is therefore rarely recognized in modern scholarship as a separate type of awareness. Nonetheless, liminal awareness was the principal focus of mentality in the preconquest cultures contacted, whereas a supraliminal type that focuses logic on symbolic entities is the dominant form in postconquest societies.(5)

    Liminally focused consciousness is very different from the supraliminal type that has almost entirely replaced it. Within the preconquest cultures observed basic sensibilities (such as of identity, number, space, and truth) shape up in unexpected ways. So does human integration. Preconquest groups are simultaneously individualistic and collective - traits immiscible and incompatible in modern thought and languages. This fusion of individuality and solidarity is another of the profound cognitive disparities that separate the preconquest and postconquest eras. It in part explains why even fundamental preconquest cultural traits are sometimes difficult to perceive, much less to appreciate, by postconquest peoples.

    From the Latin language underlying our Western heritage we can understand that liminal awareness, by definition, occurs on the threshold of consciousness. This concept, though abstract, provides a useful term. In the real life of these preconquest people, feeling and awareness are focused on at-the-moment, point-blank sensory experience - as if the nub of life lay within that complex flux of collective sentient immediacy. Into that flux individuals thrust their inner thoughts and aspirations for all to see, appreciate, and relate to. This unabashed open honesty is the foundation on which their highly honed integrative empathy and rapport become possible. When that openness gives way, empathy and rapport shrivel. Where deceit becomes a common practice, they disintegrate.

    From: Preconquest Consciousness - E Richard Sorenson (extracted from "Tribal Epistemologies: Essays of Anthropologies) and the link:

    You wrote a while ago about our entering a time of choice - maybe our choice is whether to return to our right brains perhaps to integrate, rather than continue on the path we are now on.

  2. Thanks again tampopo. I'm going to take a look at that article.

    It also reminds me of an article Cook Ting linked to over at ECFS a while ago that stuck with me. Its by Barbara Ehrenreich and titled How we learned to stop having fun. She posits the lack of joy and an increase in depression to the 1600's when we stopped having community celebrations. But I think of the advent of written material and its influence on left brain development. Have you read the book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess? He chronicles the development of written language with the emphasis on left brain thinking. Very interesting threads to weave together!!

  3. I enjoy weaving threads together, puzzling out how humans become who we are. Rereading what I wrote to you from the anthropoligist's observations and experiences, I wonder if Jung's "collective unconscious" is related to this "liminal" level of experience. I recollect some brain research on Bhuddists meditating - now I wonder which side of the brain was more involved, if either.

    Just like the conclusion to most research papers: More study is needed!

    I will get the book you mentioned. Thanks.


The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...