My wife read this book a while back and suggested I read it, so it has been on my list of books to read for a while. I finally got around to it. I’m glad that I did. I found it interesting from a scientific and a spiritual perspective.
The book is an autobiography written by a Harvard brain researcher who suffered a massive stroke that affected her left hemisphere, thereby disabling the analytical region of her brain. As a result, her consciousness shifted to right-brain dominance and she experienced enlightenment, for lack of a better term. Dr. Taylor analyzes her shift in consciousness and explains scientifically how the bio-chemical and neurological rewiring of her brain impacted her view of and connection to the world around her.
When Dr. Taylor describes what it was like to experience the stroke, I was amazed at the similarities between a stroke and a psychedelic drug experience (yes, I was around in the 70’s). She describes the feeling as waves of clarity and distortion. Here is how she expresses what it was like trying to read a phone number on a card to call for help: “My brain could no longer distinguish writing as writing, or symbols as symbols, or even background as background. Instead, the card looked like an abstract tapestry of pixels. The entire picture was a uniform blend of all its constituent pieces. The dots that formed the symbols of language blended in smoothly with the dots of the background. The distinctions of color and edge no longer registered to my brain.” (p. 59)
With the loss of her left-brain functionality, Dr. Taylor experienced spiritual bliss and a feeling of oneness, which she associates to the neurological function of the right hemisphere. This is consistent with the accounts of spiritual experiences and enlightenment resulting from prayer and meditation, the goal of which is to silence the brain chatter from the ego center of the left hemisphere. She is then faced with the dilemma that faces so many mystics who have experienced spiritual bliss: “Although I rejoiced in my perception of connection to all that is, I shuddered at the awareness that I was no longer a normal human being. How on earth would I exist as a member of the human race with this heightened perception that we are each a part of it all, and that the life force energy within each of us contains the power of the universe?” (p. 73)
The truly remarkable part of this woman’s story is that she recovered and is again teaching at the university level. She describes how she retrained her brain to function “normally” again, exercising her brain and training neurons to reconfigure their networks to that the left hemisphere could again process information. I found it fascinating and promising. We have been conditioned to accept that memory loss and decreased mental functioning is a normal part of the aging process, but now I think that this may be off. I think the key to keeping your mental ability is exercising your brain and training it to find new ways of retrieving information. I’m going to keep doing those puzzles in the paper every morning.
I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, very interesting, and spiritually uplifting.