The Experience of Split Brain

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who remembers every moment of her life-altering stroke. I first listened to this podcast before falling asleep. Knowing I hadn’t done it justice, and realizing its significance, I listened to it at least three times after that. The third time, I documented my reaction to it, contrasting it with my personal experiences. This post is that account.

Why is it that we seem to, deliberately or otherwise, decide to not go back to investigate pain? I feel that I have personally lived with myself as a mystery for a long time. During this, there was always a consciousness of experience in the present, however, akin to the sensitivity of an open wound, so to speak. I was conscious of my reaction, but little consciousness of the procedure of perception, and the mechanism of its processing existed. Once I had acquainted myself with me, there was a flood of pain. Fusing always requires tremendous energy and causes a temporary rupture that mends through the union.

During the first three months of 2014, I mostly remained locked up in my room in my parents’ house, listening to audio books, paying attention to the influence music had on me, writing blog posts, lifting weights, doing yoga, and crying. There was plenty of crying- entirely therapeutic, as opposed to painful. I haunted my own room, sometimes talking to my best friends during the late hours, but mostly recognizing my inner demons. There was no battle.

Then, there were a few months out there- studying theories, working in far-flung pockets of the country, and living with the locals- an exposure to kindness and hospitality, that seemed so alien to a city-bred like me. These experiences acquainted me with my demons. I empathized with them. Delved deep into the experiences that birthed them. They were the unexamined memories that I acted from and, in a sense, re-lived, when my reactions centered wholly around my own sensitivity and the needs which were its byproduct. During this time, I feel that my study of astrology and the strength of my relationships with family and friends, helped me on a meaningful level.

Today, I have a stronger sense of identity that manifests as courage, which allows me to experience myself more wholly. I suppose that experiences don’t necessarily lie outside of yourself- it is not merely the world, but the self, the sensations, the emotional quagmire that sometimes leads to apathy… that’s a different sort of experience. It felt like I had unlocked a new level of existence. That seems to be exactly what Dr. Taylor is saying: that she lost the capacity to retain a sense of identity with the stroke that impacted her left side of the brain. She also comments on how she does not want to explore certain memories from her past. One part of me understands; a detachment from the past, we tell ourselves, will let us deal with the present, and build the future. But I finally understand what it means to have history repeat itself in a personal context when we are ignorant to it. It is like how it is in Wuthering Heights: Cathy Linton’s and Hareton’s relationship immediately after Linton Heathcliff’s death seems to mirror the wretchedness and destructive nature of Catherine Earnshaw’s and Heathcliff’s relationship. Had there not been an intervention in the form of Linton Heathcliff’s death and Nelly Dean’s transfer to the household, the struggle could have played out over and over, with simply the agents and periods changing.

There is another part of me that is surprised by her decision and is capable of snide. Without the full experience of the self, it is a life partially-lived! Especially with her enhanced faculty that allows her to view her past as as a researcher would for a posthumous biographical portrait! But undeniably, what an uncommon, complex life path Jill has, mapped out for her.

I raise questions, slightly more academic in nature, here.


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