Monday, March 17, 2008

Stroke of Insight



In this video from this year's Ted Talks, neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor discusses the experience of having an ischemic stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and what it taught her about consciousness and the human condition. It's an incredibly moving video, and one of the best TED Talks I've ever seen; that says quite a lot.

4 comments:

Stephen Dedalus said...

That was a great video. I wonder, though, does this fall under Wittgenstein's private language argument Re: sensation S?

Michael said...

I couldn't get the video to play in place, which is lucky for me since I wound up joining TED after chasing it down. My mother had a stroke in 2002. Watching her recover, even in the first few days, was an incredible lesson that the brain is a bunch of functioning black boxes, and more to the point, that it seems none of these individual boxes is "you." The most astonishing and reassuring experience was when my mother first started talking and listening again (day 2). She was having trouble saying what she wanted to say, she paused, and said "I'm aphasic." I cannot express the joy I felt to realize that the light was on, but the door was sticking.

Jon said...

Stephen - Interesting. If I recall correctly, the "sensation S" part of the private language discussion revolved mostly around the question 'How can I know that I'm accurately remembering what sensation S was like at t1 when I ascribe the same label to a sensation at t2?' That is, how can I be sure each token use of "Sensation S" is representing the same mental state? My glib answer (and this is a blog after all) would be that in Dr. Taylor's case, only the left hemisphere was affected by the stroke, where as "sensational" or "episodic" memories are usually stored in the right hemisphere (the right hippocampus, I think). So, from a strictly neurobiological point of view, it seems that we can trust her recollection of the experience. I suppose it's another question entirely if we can trust her vocalization of that experience, though, as delcarative memory is more associated with the left hippocampus and the left hemisphere in general. Hmmm...

Mike - Glad you're supporting TED! They're really fantastic lectures, and the fact that they make them freely available online is even more fantastic! Interesting about your mother, too (and glad to hear she recovered!). I'm inclined to agree that there's no real part of the brain that's "you," just as there's no part of the brain responsible for consciousness; it's all an emergent property arising from the harmonious working of the whole system, which is why I'm skeptical of the possibility of finding an NCC.

I don't think I've ever heard of anyone self-describing as being aphasic before--almost a contradiction in terms! :)

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