A Stroke of Insight

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At the age of 37, at the height of her career, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke. She witnessed the functions in her left brain hemisphere shutting down until she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any part of her life. She says, “How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?” While it was happening she was thinking to herself, “This is cool, but I’m a very busy woman! I don’t have time for this.” Time? It took her eight years to recover. As she recounts the experience of living in her right brain, she stresses that being reduced in this way was in fact a liberation from left brain thinking, with its ongoing chatter, to a more connected way of being.


left-brain <-> right brain
sequence <-> context

serial processor <-> parallel processor
I/ separate <-> we/connected
strategy <-> empathy
analysis <-> synthesis
chatter/language <-> silence/sensing
literalness <-> emotional expression

She says that we need to focus on the strengths of our right brain to connect with the world and the people around us. This is why, in her moving and gripping account at TED, she calls the hemorrhage her “stroke of insight.” The experience itself, frankly, sounds like a psychedelic trip – but her reflections and perceptions are science at work.

While left brain thinking is still the type most promoted at school, our “Conceptual Age” will need more and more right brain thinking. For as Daniel H. Pink said way back in 2005, “In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere – artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.”

  • Video: Jill Bolte Taylor, A stroke of insight, TED, Feb. 2008, 18 minutes. Unforgettable!
  • Picture & reading: Dan Pink, Revenge of the Right Brain, Wired 13 February 2005.
  • “The great pleasure and feeling in my right brain is more than my left brain can find the words to tell you.” Roger Sperry (1913-1994) won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work on the functional specialization of the right and left brain hemispheres. Find out more here: Split Brain Experiments Game at nobelprize.org.
  • Good teachers help you get your left and right brain together when you learn English vocabulary. Picture cards, acting things out, laughing about silly rhymes… A tip for right here, right now? Post-it-notes! Miss Verständnis shows you how to have fun with stationery:

Learning the ropes – Vokabeltraining mit Post-its

at the height of her career – auf dem Höhepunkt ihres Berufslebens
have a stroke – einen Schlaganfall haben
to witness – erleben, beiwohnen
right/ left hemisphere – linke/rechte Hälfte
to shut down – abschalten
to recall – sich erinnern an
to recover – sich erholen
to recount – erzählen
to stress – betonen
chatter – Geplapper
serial – seriell, hintereinander
literalness – Wortwörtlichkeit
moving – bewegend
gripping – spannend
account – Erzählung
hemorrhage – Gehirnblutung
a stroke of insight – play on words, compare:
a stroke of luck – ein Glücksfall
a stroke of genius – ein Geniestreich
insight – Einsicht
frankly – ehrlich gesagt
reflections – Überlegungen
perceptions – Erkenntnisse
upended – auf den Kopf gestellt
deluged – überflutet
choked – erstickt
abilities – Fähigkeiten
artistry – Künstlertum
pursue – verfolgen
transcendent – transzendent, das Selbst überschreitend
stationery – Schreibwaren

Learning English tip of the week

Just try it: Where could you stick the above words?


2 Responses

  1. The New York Times Sunday Newspaper on May 25 had a great two page article on Jill Bolte Taylor and her book, “MY STROKE OF INSIGHT”. Her book is a must read and this NY Times article – called “A Superhighway to bliss” is worth checking out too.

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