Stroke of Insight

My wife, Merrilyn, read this book a couple of months ago, and given that we are both interested in neuroscience, I was intrigued enough to read it. Fascinating to say the least. The author is a neuroscientist who had a hemorrhagic stroke in the left part of her brain. All she had functioning was the right side for awhile. Being a neuroscientist, she was able to describe what it was like to experience this. It took her eight years to fully recover, rendering false the prevailing wisdom that whatever you don’t recover in the first six months you lose forever.

With her left brain silenced, at least for a short while, she was more keenly aware of what goes on in the right side of the brain. Part of this was a greater awareness of the “spiritual” part of the brain. She recounts a blissful state of feeling “one with the universe”, not unlike what occurs when people engage in deep meditation. (Hey, I’ve been there a few times when I have practiced contemplative prayer, although I would describe it as feeling “one with God”.)

The author asserts that it is possible to calm the left side of the brain, the part where all the “brain chatter” happens, in favor of experiencing the serenity of right side. This, in my opinion, is what meditation is all about, and it piques my curiosity about research of what happens in the brain when people have spiritual experiences. Fascinating stuff.

The prevailing question is this: Do people imagine spiritual experiences whenever the “God spot” in the brain is activated due to purely physiological causes? Those who would answer yes would say that this proves that there is no God and that religious/spiritual experience is all in the head. On the flip side: Does the “God spot” circuit in our brain become activated in response to encounters with a power greater than ourselves? I.e. is it an external supernatural (or perhaps extradimensional) force that lights up this part of the brain? I personally answer yes to this second question. I believe that we are “wired” for encounters with our higher power and this part of the brain exists for this purpose. And although this is my view, I certainly understand and have respect for anyone who holds the other view.

As with all things, no one can prove or disprove the existence of God or a higher power or whatever you would choose to call it. Faith is faith. Science is science. I have profound respect for both and see no inherent conflict between the two. Conflict occurs only when one co-opts the other to “prove” some kind of point. Good luck with that.

Leaving these lofty questions aside for now, I have a revived interest in contemplative prayer and am starting to practice it. I will write more about this in another post.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Stroke of Insight

  1. chris acker

    Hey Kelly, great post, thanks for sharing. I do keep tabs on you via your blog and hope you and Merrilyn are well!

    Jill also did a ted talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

  2. it has less to do with proof and more to do with the balance of probability.

    we exist in a natural universe and have thousands of years of documented human history – and in all that time – no one has demonstrated any evidence for anything other than natural things and forces in the universe

    so if there is a diety, it’s not one that actively participates, so it’s better to live as if there are none, be the best person we can all be and stop killing ourselves over magical clothes, foods, modes of worship or alleged sacred texts

    • I’m certainly not attempting to disrespect the author by engaging in an unsolicited debate; only offering another perspective. It seems to me that if “it” has much to do with the balance of probability then the balance is shifted greatly towards the evidence of God through the existence and origin of the universe. The evidence of a higher power is all around us and has been generally accepted by great thinkers such as Einstein and Rousseau, so the question which remains is where is the evidence against a higher power which swings the balance of probability back towards atheism?

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