Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book-clubbing on the brain

My two book clubs, unbeknownst to each other, picked complementary titles on the theme of memory, identity and the brain.

BPYC book club chose Before I Go to Sleep, a work of fiction and suspense about a woman who suffers from amnesia so severe she wakes every morning with a blank slate.  To help herself heal and progress, she keeps a journal.  On the first page she writes, "Don't trust Ted"... who happens to be her husband and caretaker.  We read her journal as the stories and the days unfold.  Interesting premise.  Great suspense!  And optioned by none other than Ridley Scott.  The story was deeply flawed in many places, but a fun romp that led to a great discussion.  Are we our memories?  When we lose our memories, do we lose our identity?

My 'other' book club, the Book Babes selection, was discussed a few weeks later.  My Stroke of Insight is the memoir of a neuroanatomist who suffers a stroke that ultimately leads to her enlightenment.  37 at the time of the incident, she loses language, speech, and motor control.  Love and patience fully return her to health after eight years, but she never regains her workaholic, left-brain-driven self.

The prose in the book is very uneven, (where was her editor?) but listening to her story,  Bolte Taylor is riveting.   This Ted Talk went viral in 2008 and led in part to her appearance on Oprah's Soul Series. That same year she was named by Time as one of their top 100, most influential people. 

The morning the neuroanatomist loses touch with her left hemisphere, the right brain dominates, linking her to the 'present' moment, strengthening the connection to life force.  Obviously, not all strokes bring enlightenment, but this particular stroke attacked a certain area of her brain and brought an entirely new perspective.

I first heard Jill Bolte Taylor interviewed by Mary Hynes in this edition of Tapestry.

"Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment. It's all about "right here, right now." Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information, in the form of energy, streams in simultaneouslythrough all of our sensory systems and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy-being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy-beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family." (Jill Bolte Taylor, Ted Talk, 2008)

Hallucination?  Delusion?  Perception is reality.

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