July 13, 2008

How it feels to have a stroke: "my consciousness soared into an all-knowingness, a 'being at one' with the universe..."

Wow! You've got to listen to this phenomenal episode of "Fresh Air," with Jill Bolte Taylor, the brain scientist who observed her own stroke and came through it all to tell the tale. Here's her book, "My Stroke of Insight."

The interview refers to a great YouTube clip that supposedly lots of people have seen, but I hadn't, so maybe you haven't. Here is is:



There's also a nice, long passage from the book at the "Fresh Air" link. Excerpt:
The harder I tried to concentrate, the more fleeting my ideas seemed to be. Instead of finding answers and information, I met a growing sense of peace. As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent, my consciousness soared into an all-knowingness, a "being at one" with the universe, if you will. In a compelling sort of way, it felt like the good road home and I liked it....

IN THE COMMENTS: Some serious questions about Taylor's brain science shake my faith in NPR.

77 comments:

Alan said...

It makes one wonder what really happened to individuals' minds when you hear about life after death experiences.

I still hope there's life after death.

amba said...

The Jill Bolte Taylor phenomenon, however sincere its source, is new-age pap. Have a stroke and come out of it singing kumbaya. It's feeding the whole world of people who are seeking a religion substitute in neurology. Ack.

vbspurs said...

Okay, Ann, I clicked and bought the Kindle version. Paperback's sold out, it's that good. This book had been queued to buy, but I had gotten this one first:

The Brain That Changes Itself

Not uncoincidentally, these "how the brain works or not" books are proliferating, as an enormous generation start worrying about strokes themselves.

(I think I could survive anything, and I have a living will to ensure that happens. But honestly, I wouldn't like to live if I get Alzheimer's. Toi toi toi...)

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

It's feeding the whole world of people who are seeking a religion substitute in neurology. Ack.

Oh, now Amba tells me! After I'm 10 dollars lighter.

Yes, okay, I figured it was one of those books and refrained from purchasing it.

It sounds like Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret" or anything ever written by that Eckhardt Tolle Oprah fella -- only for health.

The clincher is that I saw "The Doctor" starring William Hurt, when I was young, and it made a tremendous impression on me.

Topsy-turvy worlds appeal to me.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't get that, Amba. She's suggesting that oceanic, mystical perceptions originate in brain structures. That isn't a substitute for religion, that is science explaining phenomena that are normally associated with religion.

chuck b. said...

I've always believed near-death experiences and mystical visions and all that stuff were chemical events. You can't have an experience outside of your body. It's a cherished fantasy, desired by many.

The capacity to have these experiences and to find lessons in them or form personal conclusions is very human and worth further inquiry. And scrutiny.

Richard Dolan said...

Fascinating. And puzzling too.

Like Damasio, she is a neuroanatomist. And like him, she ricochets between lots of different, and contradictory, images about the brain as it relates to the person of which it is a part. Two such images really jumped out.

At times, she talks as if each hemisphere had the proverbial "little man" inside -- for her, the two hemispheres "think," "see," and even have different "personalities." The model of the brain/consciousness relationship for this part of her talk is mechanistic, even backed up with computer terminology and analogies. The problem is that if the brain is a machine, then (like any other machine including computers), it needs someone to run it, determine whether it is running right and ultimately use it for a purpose. Enter the "little man." It is amazing, really, that researchers as talented and learned as Dr. Taylor (also Dr. Damasio) keep falling back into that Cartesian way of viewing the brain/consciousness relationship. But mechanistic models always end up there. Two steps forward, and one step back.

But then (again like Damasio) she slips into a completely different metaphor -- it's now all about "spirit," and feelings of "nirvana," where the stroke becomes a "gift" to be shared with those less fortunate. In that vein, when summing up her view of the meaning of the experience, she talks about the brain/consciousness as the "life force power of the universe," where the left hemisphere thinks and feels in universals while the right hemisphere thinks and feels in terms of the subjective particular. While the religious roots of that stuff are obvious, it just comes out as "new age-y" goo.

The most interesting part of her talk was the description of the changes in her ability to perceive and interact on the morning of the stroke, as the hemorrhage progressed. Perhaps her book (which sounds well worth reading) may explore that aspect of her experience in greater detail. I have never heard anyone describe it before -- and I hope never to be in the position of being able to describe it myself. Then things fell apart a bit after that.

I suspect that her scientific training helped make the descriptive part so compelling. But that same training may also explain why her effort to integrate the experience into a coherent account of personhood and spirit fell flat (at least for me).

Joe said...

Very interesting video. Haven't yet listened to the "Fresh Air."

Richard:
"... the left hemisphere thinks and feels in universals while the right hemisphere thinks and feels in terms of the subjective particular."

Should be the other way around. Left = subjective; Right = universal.

I agree with your conclusion: her story is interesting, but I don't see a "coherent account of personhood."

Zachary Paul Sire said...

Even if you pick this apart as "new-age" pap, the overall message is wonderful and worth thinking about, which, ironically, requires the left brain to do! I loved this...thank you.

Skyler said...

Un, yeah, sure, this is really good "science."

I think this is more evidence that science has abandoned, as a genre, the idea of being objective observers of fact.

This woman calls herself a "scientist" yet not a single bit of this speech is at all science based.

Personally, I wouldn't believe anything from anyone about brain functions unless they are an MD. And even then I would be skeptical.

This woman should be ignored as the non-thinking bozo that she is. Except that she's trying to make money teaching others to be bozos too.

Joe said...

Skyler:

Yes, she indulges in some dubious pontificating about the meaning of her experience, but her explanation of how the parts of the brain relate to personal identity and functioning is fascinating, and quite scientific, if not always expressed in scientific language. It's not true to say that "not a single bit of this speech is at all science based."

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P. Rich said...

Self-promotional drivel.

Larry said...

Thank you for the post, Ann.

I've gone through two heart attacks and this was especially powerful for me. It brought tears to my eyes, actually.

I'm sure it's all chemical but until you have a stroke or heart attack you'll never fully understand how your mind interacts with the "outside world".

I completely lost my fear of death. There is nothing to fear in death. It's peaceful. Enjoy life.

Bissage said...

The year was 1972 and I was ten years old when my father took me to see his sister, my Aunt Lillian. She was totally blind and partially paralyzed and lying on her back and I remember her sobbing uncontrollably as she reached out and squeezed my hand and said, “Sweetie, is that you?”

My Uncle Bill stood there in the background against a wall, mostly silent, with his hands clasped in front of him staring at the ground.

My father told me to go outside and play and then he came out about five minutes later and we drove home. I don’t remember if we talked about it but I do remember feeling as though something really big just happened that I didn’t understand.

A few days later my dad told me that my Aunt Lillian had died.

Years would pass before I realized her death was no accident.

I’m glad Dr.Taylor, the brain scientist, got something positive from her stroke.

William said...

I remember reading a book by a Holocaust survivor. Prior to incaceration the survivor had been some sort of social scientist. He observed the interactions between the prisoners and the guards and among the prisoners themselves. He claimed that this scientific distancing helped him to survive simply by giving him distance from the immediate horror: it wasn't a nightmare; it was an experiment of how people interacted under extreme conditions. Something similar seems to have happened to the good doctor. It seems that she brought back something good from the dark side of her experience and is eager to share it. Well, good for her, but I don't know if this is an example of the benignity of the universe or of the doctor's ability to make lemonade. Then, again, I'm left handed and laughing gas makes me laugh.

nansealinks said...

Ann,

I am done with my enlightenment lesson for the day. Baeutiful day here today. I come home to check your blog and you post this. I've already seen this video. By the way, I got high today to "within you without you" Beatles. The song is similar to the funeral music played at a Indian funeral I attended last year (not HIndu). Thank goodness they had a visual presentation on a lit display screen with the words (they were written in those Indian scribbles I can't understand), but I watched carefully and did figure out how to write all my numbers, the nine digits. I also figured out the word and symbol for one was the supreme being mode. (for the strict grammarians: I dont know if being is a strict noun there or a participle ad jectivial type thingie)

Donna B. said...

Wow, it sounds like such fun to have a stroke, I think I'll skip my blood pressure medicine today.

bearbee said...

It is her experience.

Her presentation is somewhat Amiee Semple McPherson ish

In this interview she says she no longer has the use of her left hemisphere.

It would be interesting to know the extent of personality change post-stroke.

With the uninhibited right hemisphere has she become flamboyant Amiee and less staid scientist?

In a universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies, collective we have the intellect less that a speck of nano-dust. Can we say anything with certainty?

Methadras said...

Look, I'm a Christian and I have zero problems with science. I'm a Mechanical Engineer so therefore science, mathematics, engineering, biology, neurology, medicine, et al. are playgrounds of my domain with respect to what I design and I engineer. I am fully capable of reconciling scientific endeavors and study as a means to discover the wondrous creations that make up everything in the universe, seen and unseen and I thank God daily that he gave me a brain and the free will to choose this line of work/love to pursue my goals and enhance my life for the better for it.

However, this woman lost me at 4:45 or so when she treaded the workings of the brain as a metaphysical construct that under certain circumstance will plow you through the unknowable mysteries of the universe. This is utter bullshit and clap trap. Tell me stroke lady, why is it required then when one drops acid that they then see or talk to God? Why are multiple personality disorder like schizophrenia relegated to the human brain only and not lesser beings. Also, notwithstanding why those experiences are only limited to one individual at only one time. Why can't two or more peoples with the same conditions experience the same things if the brain displays this capabilities under certain circumstances.

This woman would have us believe that each body/brain connection and what it experiences, especially in her case, is all done in an exclusive conduit unto yourself that no one can experience with their 5 senses. I could literally be standing next to someone talking to God or experiencing the oneness with the universe and never know it because somehow these manifestation occur exclusively as unique individual experience and this woman calls herself a scientist? Really?

Why the hell is it that as I'm watching this video I'm substituting this woman for say, I don't know, Andrew Weil. You know who he is, he had a series of infomercials a few years ago touting his new-age wellness schtik. This fat, bloated overweight, doctor who is telling everyone else that his cool theories on wellness should compel you to buy his crap even though he is the picture of health. Cheery smile, jovialness, and white beard and all. The only thing that this video demonstrates is the sheer gullibility for people to believe in anything that is remotely bigger than themselves because they yearn for more meaning than they can attain with what they already have. I don't begrudge them that, but there are already facilities in place and have been for a long time to meet those needs. Sorry, I forgot. It's all about choices. Yip-fucking-yee.

Methadras said...

bearbee said...

In a universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies, collective we have the intellect less that a speck of nano-dust. Can we say anything with certainty?


This is bullshit nonsense. Assuming we are the only ball of life in the darkness of the universe, my dog has more intellectual power than the entire universe combined. The universe is stupid. It isn't a sentient being. Deal with it.

bearbee said...

I wasn't counting dogs.

XWL said...

Methadras above, "Why are multiple personality disorder like schizophrenia relegated to the human brain only and not lesser beings."

Not to get into anything else in your discussion, but I suspect that nearly every domestic house cat suffers from one form of multiple personality, or another.

(Dogs, not so much)

Stephanie said...

Links to some critical thoughts and observations about this Bolte Taylor phenomenon here:

http://westallen.typepad.com/brains_on_purpose/2008/07/more-words-of-caution.html

Ann Althouse said...

You know I have to confess that I was uncritical of the science here because Terry Gross never challenged her about it. If there are questions about the science, why didn't the interview include them? This is undermining my faith in NPR.

XWL said...

This is undermining my faith in NPR.

Now that's funny!

(still having 'faith' in NPR, that is . . .)

Their pieces can be entertaining, but it's best to approach them from the standpoint that all information being conveyed has been filtered heavily for your protection.

Methadras said...

XWL said...

Methadras above, "Why are multiple personality disorder like schizophrenia relegated to the human brain only and not lesser beings."

Not to get into anything else in your discussion, but I suspect that nearly every domestic house cat suffers from one form of multiple personality, or another.

(Dogs, not so much)


You know what? You might be right. Ugh!!! True story. A very good friend of mine, who still is by the way, is/was a big time pot smoker. When he was single he owned a cat that was (im)properly called Sketch. I never thought about why he called it Sketch until one day I came over to his house and he happened to be really high that day and he was toking up a storm and blowing it into the face of the cat. Now I'm not a cat lover, but I am an animal friend and I got really mad at him for doing this to the cat. I was yelling at him to stop doing that and that he was damaging the poor cats brain with his disgusting habit. Right then and there the cat totally flipped out and started running around the room spinning around itself the whole time. Running into everything and bouncing off and then it sat next to his owner waiting for another installment of smoke in it's face. He obliged. I got really livid and told him to stop it. I swear as God is my witness, the cat sat straight up, turned itself around to face me, sat down and looked at me with those yellow eyes and started to meow-talk to me as if we were having a conversation. From the tone and inflection it was basically telling me that I needed to back off and let it have it's fun. I stopped and realized that either I was going nuts or I spent to much time in his apartment inhaling second hand THC.

Theo Boehm said...

I don't get that, Amba. She's suggesting that oceanic, mystical perceptions originate in brain structures. That isn't a substitute for religion, that is science explaining phenomena that are normally associated with religion.

First of all, this isn't terribly good science, as others have mentioned, because it is neither falsifiable nor reproducible, and it seems to be based on extrapolations of a single personal observation. That isn't to say this may not be a valid observation or include excellent insights, it's just that this sort of thing does not meet the usual tests of what is science.

We feel the need, however, to call everything "science" or "scientific" in order to lend validity to it.  This habit sprang from the 17th century, and marks the break of modern, Western thought from other philosophical systems and much that came before it.

Since God said, "Let there be Newton," and some say all was Light, and even earlier in the 17th century back to the days of Locke and Hobbes and before, the notion of the universe being a vast, clockwork thing became the metaphysical basis of serious thought in the West.  Hobbes explains the heart as a Spring, and the workings of the brain, and so the mind, as the functioning of a calculating Machine. One of the reasons Leibnitz was so upset with Newton's law of gravity was because Leibnitz was correctly able to make the chain of inferences that Newton's view implies that matter can move of itself, without the need for any mindlike principle of activity. From this it follows that matter might acquire the force of thought, and this conclusion, ipso facto, would destroy the immortality of the soul.

Is the mind corporeal?  Is God simply a chimera of our making to explain the vast and complex corporeality of everything?  If you grant that there is such a thing as consciousness, does it spring naturally from the essentially material nature of the Universe?  If that is true, then we indeed are brief candles, destined to be snuffed out without memory or purpose.

Much more can be said, but this is essentially the materialist view of our empty, mindless, clockwork Universe, in which we are reduced to odd phenomena on a small planet in the vastness of cold and purposeless Space.  Spinoza, even before Newton, saw where materialism was taking us, and attempted to embed God in the physical Universe and derive morality from pure logic.  Einstein, for example, famously believed in God, but by his own words made it plain that it was the God of Spinoza.

This clockwork universe has been the source of our existential anxiety for over 300 years.  There have been various philosophical and even scientific reactions to it, such as that of Einstein, but, oddly enough, some would find in recent scientific cosmology a few inklings that the universe resembles not so much a vast thing as a vast mind.  Our consciousness may not simply be a byproduct of material laws, but a mirror of what lies behind this apparent materiality.  Viewed from the ground of this once and perhaps future metaphysics, the notion that mental, or more properly, spiritual phenomena are "explained" by a science of physical causes is to profoundly beg the question.  The physical "causes" would often seem to be deeply entailed with the phenomena with which they're associated.

Science is a powerful and profound way of understanding and manipulating the physical world, and it is not to be denigrated in any way.  We must be careful, however, to never let Science become yet another belief system, filling the God-shaped hole in our consciousness.  We may, indeed, live in the WYSIWYG universe of the materialists.  But there are enough inklings of something different, some occasional hints, both from religious and non-religious sources, including modern cosmology, that to ignore them is to not live up to our potential as rational and effective observers of both ourselves and our surroundings.

Since having written the above, I see that bearbee and Methadras have presented, in ways I would expect, something of the classic arguments on both sides of this metaphysical debate.  I'm not saying that I approve of the way this particular woman is hawking her story, but her story does raise real questions that cannot be dismissed by simply asserting that what she says is new-age clap trap.  This debate has been around a long time.

Also, if one is a Christian, but not a fundamentalist, there is nothing in the essence of this metaphysical debate that contradicts the Christian idea of God.  That was my point at the beginning.  17th century thinkers saw in the new materialism, and the denigration of traditionally spiritual experiences, the beginnings of atheism. Leibnitz, in fact, postulated all too well exactly what has happened in the modern de-Christianization of Europe.  In whatever religious terms you would cast this disagreement, the question here is between those who see the universe essentially as a matter of spirit, and those who can find no God in the clockwork.

Methadras said...

Ann Althouse said...

You know I have to confess that I was uncritical of the science here because Terry Gross never challenged her about it. If there are questions about the science, why didn't the interview include them? This is undermining my faith in NPR.


Sorry. I'm a little confused about how you characterized your thinking on this. Are you saying that you weren't critical of this womans science because if Terry Gross never challenged her about it then neither should you? The sentence infers that you took it at face value and because Terry never said anything then it was sort of out of sight out of mind? Is that correct?

Florida Gator said...

A hi-resolution video and and downloadable version is available on TED.COM. Jill Bolte Taylor:
My stroke of insight
. I would also recommend Vilayanur Ramachandran:
A journey to the center of your mind
.

nansealinks said...

if animals need or want to get high I am sure they don't need human help or hinderance.

over 11 years with my dog and i only had to take him once to the vet for an ailment at 10 years. All his problems he went to the woods and rolled in grass by his own knowledge or ate some particular leafy grass to regurgitate what was in him bothering him or whatever. He would sniff out the places in the open fields where the kids used to get high and scratch the ground like crazy but never partake in any of the left overs. I'm thinking he may have been a bit smarter about his own welfare than what a human would tell him.

learned lots from that dog.

walter neff said...

These three little old ladies were sitting on a park bench one day when a guy walks up wearing a raincoat. He opens the coat and is totally naked.

The first little old lady had a stroke.

The second little old lady had a stroke.

But the third little old lady did not have a stroke.

Her arm was too short

walter neff said...

Bernie Mac told me that joke.

He just called them ho's and bitches.

He's very talented.

nansealinks said...

oh, and as for the second hand thc and petting?

I've begun to think that letting the students have their fun has led me to be paranoid that they are secretive operatives consulting for and from the brain science lab together with the iu/pu doctor/teacher who seems to think i need help.

Paul Zrimsek said...

People who've had strokes often find themselves believing in NPR.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"As my left brain shut down, I felt the cosmic clock slowing to the point where 'This American Life' becaome fast-paced and interesting."

Sissy Willis said...

Oh, yah. Try this one on for size:

The three faces of SIssy

Paddy O. said...

That isn't a substitute for religion, that is science explaining phenomena that are normally associated with religion.

Absolutely agree. We are physical beings, with physical realities. These kinds of experiences should be shown to have a physical root. Religion, most of them anyhow, doesn't make these mystical moments the point. They tell you what to do, how to respond, to such moments.

Christian mysticism, for instance, demands these not be left for personal enlightenment, but instead must be translated into love, into a deeper formation of community that expresses love for God and love for others. The experiences provoke action.

That such experiences can be caused by a stroke, or a mental misfire, or "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato", or whatever merely grounds these experiences as realities within our brain.

What science does not do is explain how she defines her knowing, or being at one, or her expressions of the experience as transcending. Religion and science coincide wonderfully, each able to add a part of their own special knowledge. The trouble comes when one side overreaches, or discounts the other entirely, leaving understanding diminished.

Religion also suggests that one doesn't need a stroke to experience such consciousness. Instead, it argues that we have been designed with this part of us in place to discover and enjoy and value as we enter into a path of deeper awareness of the broad reality.

rhhardin said...

I saw this some time ago and made it part way through.

She needs an editor.

Joe said...

Yeah, but that would interfere with the flow of universal life-energy.

ROLLAND BANKER said...

For me personally, it's the FAR-FROM DEATH experiences that are transcendent, sweet, spiritual and worth remembering. NEAR DEATH sucks, when they report empirically from the I'M ALIVE AFTER DEATH camps, I'll listen.

And there is no pun intended in this very quibbling piece of serious comment.

Have a nice day,
JT Bleu

amba said...

She's suggesting that oceanic, mystical perceptions originate in brain structures. That isn't a substitute for religion, that is science explaining phenomena that are normally associated with religion.

Yes, but there's enormous lostness and emotional need in the surge of interest in it. It's like the appeal of the Dalai Lama -- the notion that the secret to world peace lies in a part or a state of the brain. Really, peace and strife need each other. With a surfeit of strife, we crave peace, but with a surfeit of peace, we crave strife, too. In fact strife is creative as well as destructive -- that's why the search for a sort of pop nirvana can seem so cloying.

It's not Jill Bolte Taylor's raw experience that repels me -- that's got to be fascinating -- but the fact that it is being interpreted and packaged as feel-good enlightenment.

Ann Althouse said...

Amba, it seems to me that the enlightenment she brings is the debunking of enlightenment. We have two halves to the brain, and this enlightenment touted by Buddhists and such is just the impoverished dwelling in only one half. So we learn that it's not something to be sought after, and we can move on to a life of wonderfully interacting halves, which we understand make for a human life. I can understand the ecstasy of having only the right half, but I'm also horrified by what it apparently is: the loss of identity and real placement in the world. Enlightenment will come in the end, as death. If she'd given in to the beauty of the ecstasy she tasted, she would have died.

Theo Boehm said...

Amba, why don't you put something about this up on your blog? I would be very interested in your take on it in a little more depth, and I think this lends itself to a slightly more extended discussion in any event.

I've more than used my minutes here with my view of what the 17th century might have thought.

amba said...

Here's a live link to Stephanie West Allen's excellent compilation of links to and quotes from thoughtful, critical responses to the Taylor craze.

Joe said...

Thanks, amba. It's funny: the link talks about the left-brain/right-brain distinction as something from the 70's, but it was still being taught pretty close to the way Dr. Taylor describes it when I was in high school--3 years ago.

That's discomforting.

One more reason to distrust the public education system ...

amba said...

Yes, the point of a lot of the comments at West Allen's blog -- from scientists -- was that in fact we DON'T have two yin-yang halves to our brain.

What's happening is that discoveries in neuroscience are being seized on in vastly oversimplified form as metaphors and pop explanations. This is shaping up to be the "religion" of our time.

Theo, I don't know if I have the strength, especially since I'd have to watch the Taylor video again, and maybe read her book, to feel that I was doing it justice. I'm reacting to the eager response to it, more than anything else.

Theo Boehm said...

Thanks anyway, amba.  I don't want to foist an assignment off on you, but Taylor's presentation, the reaction to it, and the underlying metaphysical and spiritual questions her experiences raise are, to me at least, fascinating and at the core of much of what I'm wrestling with.  As we get older, we are increasingly aware of those little intimations of mortality that creep on us unawares.  Jill Bolte Taylor was visited by perhaps the one next to death itself, and so, in my human way looking forward to the next big thing in life, all those abstract metaphysical discussions and religious speculations about death have become very real and urgent to me.

But for who among us, at this age, are they not urgent?

Ann Althouse said...

"in fact we DON'T have two yin-yang halves to our brain"

Thanks. I've never found that very believable, but, as presented on NPR, it seemed to be scientific fact. The structure of "Fresh Air" is to interview one person and to create a really warm feeling of bonding with that one person. They don't bring in a critic to poke holes in it, and I guess Terry Gross just isn't inclined to grill the guest.

memomachine said...

Hmmm.

Have a stroke, become one with the universe?

The only thing I felt when I experienced a mild stroke was a very loud snapping sound inside my skull.

I turned to a friend lunching with me, asked him "Did you hear that?" and promptly fell over and collapsed.

memomachine said...

Hmmm.

@ alan

"I still hope there's life after death."

There is and I've seen it three times in near death experiences.

It's a beautiful endless sky of colors indescribable where flocks of souls soar. Vast clouds float to give souls a playground.

And amidst them all are giant smiling faces gazing with love upon everyone, the faces I couldn't possibly describe or identify.

Sounds like a Christian Heaven doesn't it? Funny thing, I'm not Christian.

Joe said...

memo:

You do realize that that's nothing at all like any serious conception of Christian heaven, don't you?

If you want to throw around shallow mockery (as I assume your comment was intended), pick a target that doesn't have 2000 years of serious and brilliant thinkers on its side.

And no, if you're wondering, I'm not a Christian myself.

memomachine said...

Hmmm.

@ Chuck B

"I've always believed near-death experiences and mystical visions and all that stuff were chemical events. You can't have an experience outside of your body. It's a cherished fantasy, desired by many."

*shrug* Could my personal visions have been chemical events? That was an incredibly lucid, and repetitive, set of events then.

This wasn't a "floating" kind of thing. It didn't involve a tunnel with a white light at the end and voices from my past.

But YMMV. Believe, disbelieve. Like, dislike. Personally I've come to embrace my mortality. I will die and leave this life, and I'm rather ok with that.

If you fear death then all I can advise you is to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, the concept of Heaven wasn't cut from whole cloth. Open yourself to the possibility, even if you think it's improbable, that there is a Heaven and there is a place for you.

As always, YMMV.

memomachine said...

Hmmm

@ Joe

"You do realize that that's nothing at all like any serious conception of Christian heaven, don't you?"

Most representations of the Christian Heaven show a endless sky motif. That was my point.

"If you want to throw around shallow mockery (as I assume your comment was intended), pick a target that doesn't have 2000 years of serious and brilliant thinkers on its side."

I was describing my experiences and no, it wasn't mockery of any kind.

IMO how you could possibly discern mockery from anything I've written here is quite beyond me.

"And no, if you're wondering, I'm not a Christian myself."

*shrug* congrats! Frankly I couldn't care less. The only reason I included that last bit is that I've been accused many times of being a Christian trolling for converts.

Theo Boehm said...

...but I'm also horrified by what it apparently is: the loss of identity and real placement in the world.
—Althouse

Who would lose,
For fear of pain, this intellectual being?

—Milton

I turned to a friend lunching with me, asked him "Did you hear that?" and promptly fell over and collapsed.
—memomachine

Perhaps we all would like to hear what Dr. Johnson had to say about his experience of a stroke a year and a half before he died.  He made a tolerable recovery, but seemed not to have had any sort of enlightening experience other than a will and a hope to recover his faculties:

To Mrs. Thrale.

Bolt court, Fleet street, June 19, 1783.

Dear Madam,

I am sitting down, in no cheerful solitude, to write a narrative, which would once have affected you with tenderness and sorrow, but which you will, perhaps, pass over now with a careless glance of frigid indifference. For this diminution of regard, however, I know not whether I ought to blame you, who may have reasons which I cannot know; and I do not blame myself, who have, for a great part of human life, done you what good I could, and have never done you evil.

I have been disordered in the usual way, and had been relieved, by the usual methods, by opium and catharticks, but had rather lessened my dose of opium.

On Monday, the 16th, I sat for my picture, and walked a considerable way, with little inconvenience. In the afternoon and evening, I felt myself light and easy, and began to plan schemes of life. Thus I went to bed, and, in a short time, waked and sat up, as has been long my custom, when I felt a confusion and indistinctness in my head, which lasted, I suppose, about half a minute; I was alarmed, and prayed God, that, however he might afflict my body, he would spare my understanding. This prayer, that I might try the integrity of my faculties, I made in Latin verse. The lines were not very good, but I knew them not to be very good: I made them easily, and concluded myself to be unimpaired in my faculties.

Soon after, I perceived that I had suffered a paralytick stroke, and that my speech was taken from me. I had no pain, and so little dejection, in this dreadful state, that I wondered at my own apathy, and considered that, perhaps, death itself, when it should come, would excite less horrour than seems now to attend it.

In order to rouse the vocal organs, I took two drams. Wine has been celebrated for the production of eloquence. I put myself into violent motion, and, I think, repeated it; but all was vain. I then went to bed, and, strange as it may seem, I think, slept. When I saw light, it was time to contrive what I should do. Though God stopped my speech, he left me my hand: I enjoyed a mercy, which was not granted to my dear friend Lawrence, who now, perhaps, overlooks me, as I am writing, and rejoices that I have what he wanted. My first note was, necessarily, to my servant, who came in talking, and could not immediately comprehend, why he should read what I put into his hands.

I then wrote a card to Mr. Allen, that I might have a discreet friend at hand, to act as occasion should require. In penning this note, I had some difficulty; my hand, I knew not how nor why, made wrong letters. I then wrote to Dr. Taylor, to come to me, and bring Dr. Heberden, and I sent to Dr. Brocklesby, who is my neighbour. My physicians are very friendly and very disinterested, and give me great hopes, but you may imagine my situation. I have so far recovered my vocal powers, as to
repeat the Lord's prayer, with no very imperfect articulation. My memory, I hope, yet remains as it was; but such an attack produces solicitude for the safety of every faculty.

How this will be received by you, I know not. I hope you will sympathize with me; but, perhaps,

"My mistress, gracious, mild, and good,
Cries: Is he dumb? 'Tis time he shou'd."

But can this be possible? I hope it cannot. I hope that what, when I could speak, I spoke of you, and to you, will be, in a sober and serious hour, remembered by you; and, surely, it cannot be remembered but with some degree of kindness. I have loved you with virtuous affection; I have honoured you with sincere esteem. Let not all our endearments be forgotten, but let me have, in this great distress, your pity and your prayers. You see, I yet turn to you with my complaints, as a settled and
unalienable friend; do not, do not drive me from you, for I have not deserved either neglect or hatred.

To the girls, who do not write often, for Susy has written only once, and Miss Thrale owes me a letter, I earnestly recommend, as their guardian and friend, that they remember their creator in the days of their youth.

I suppose, you may wish to know, how my disease is treated by the physicians. They put a blister upon my back, and two from my ear to my throat, one on a side. The blister on the back has done little, and those on the throat have not risen. I bullied and bounced, (it sticks to our last sand,) and compelled the apothecary to make his salve according to the Edinburgh dispensatory, that it might adhere better. I have two on now of my own prescription. They, likewise, give me salt of hartshorn, which I take with no great confidence, but I am satisfied that what can be done, is done for me.

O God! give me comfort and confidence in thee; forgive my sins; and, if it be thy good pleasure, relieve my diseases, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

I am almost ashamed of this querulous letter; but now it is written, let it go.

I am, &c.

Sam. Johnson

MadisonMan said...

I guess Terry Gross just isn't inclined to grill the guest.

A guarantee of a soft interview is a comfort to a guest, I'm thinking.

Skyler said...

Our host Ann wrote,

You know I have to confess that I was uncritical of the science here because Terry Gross never challenged her about it. If there are questions about the science, why didn't the interview include them? This is undermining my faith in NPR.

I find this to be a common trend among law professors at my school. They seem to have little understanding of science.

One of the things I like about Ann's blog is that she seems very objective about most issues and very insightful about human incentives and actions.

So I'm flabbergasted that she would take it on faith that Terry Gross, a journalist, would have any understanding at all about science, and any lack of motive in not questioning the anti-intellectual claims of this spacey woman.

Journalists are among the worst educated people in this country, especially regarding science or mathematics. Terry Gross has her job because she is a soothing person, not because she knows or is inclined to think about brain physiology.

Further, I'm just amazed at how people use experiences such as a stroke or a near death episode to claim to understand the universe. Folks this is a time when the brain ISN'T WORKING!! Nothing they perceive is being processed correctly.

This myth has a long pedigree, but that doesn't make it legitimate. The universe is not more understandable when you're less capable of understanding anything. This is a dangerous, anti-intellectual idea, and purposefully so.

Delusions that are perceived when the brain is starved of oxygen are not visions of heaven. They are delusions, interpretations of malfunctioning brain signals. Nothing more. People who try to instruct that such delusions have some mystical meaning are no better than shamans or witch doctors.

But of course to people like JB Taylor, this is a compliment. The witch doctors are the ones with the REAL wisdom in their twisted minds.

Joe said...

"It's a beautiful endless sky of colors indescribable where flocks of souls soar. Vast clouds float to give souls a playground.

And amidst them all are giant smiling faces gazing with love upon everyone, the faces I couldn't possibly describe or identify.

Sounds like a Christian Heaven doesn't it? Funny thing, I'm not Christian.
"

That's about as far from a serious presentation of heaven as it gets. All you're missing are harps. And that's where I get mockery: "sounds like a Christian Heaven, doesn't it?" -- well, no; it doesn't.

"*shrug* congrats! Frankly I couldn't care less. The only reason I included that last bit is that I've been accused many times of being a Christian trolling for converts."

And the only reason I included that last bit of my own is that I've been accused many times of being a Christian for my arguments. I thought to forestall a step if you were indeed looking for an argument.

Though I should know better by now than to argue online, I was feeling contentious last night as the result of a thread elsewhere.

So, that all resolved, I'm going back to other things. Good day.

memomachine said...

Hmmmmm.

@ Joe

"That's about as far from a serious presentation of heaven as it gets. All you're missing are harps. And that's where I get mockery: "sounds like a Christian Heaven, doesn't it?" -- well, no; it doesn't."

A "serious" presentation of theological principles of a 2,000+ year old religion comprising over 1+ billion adherents in a couple paragraphs?

You really thought what I wrote was something to be a "serious" theological interpretation?

Frankly you're a bit of an idiot.

Methadras said...

Theo Boehm said...

Since having written the above, I see that bearbee and Methadras have presented, in ways I would expect, something of the classic arguments on both sides of this metaphysical debate. I'm not saying that I approve of the way this particular woman is hawking her story, but her story does raise real questions that cannot be dismissed by simply asserting that what she says is new-age clap trap. This debate has been around a long time.


Theo. The reason I said what I said is because I have a particular genetic condition that may, to all other observers be the very thing that this woman claims her stroke imbued upon her. I have Synesthasia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

and while the Wiki article doesn't do the condition justice in terms of it's overall explanation of the actual condition and those who have it, it does a fair job. All I can relate to you is my personal experience and dovetail it to what this woman is saying. As you can see Synesthesia is a genetic disorder. Some people manifest this condition in any number of ways. I have all 5 of my senses criss-crossed, so in essence I see what I taste, I taste what I hear, I hear what I touch and so on and so on in any numbers of combinations thereof. Sometimes all 5 kick in, sometimes only 1, but never none. I've always had this condition, and I didn't realize until I was about 8 that not everyone experienced what I experienced. I thought I was normal. Around 9 the deluge of sensations became so great that I thought I was going crazy. I couldn't control it. Every sensory input was becoming unmanageable. Auditory and visual hallucinations were primary. My parents that I was schitzo in the classical sense. They took me to several psychologists and psychiatrists in the hopes of trying to get me well and better. All but one understood what I have and he was a Godsend to me. With a little bit of medication and about a good year of actual therapy in terms of understanding what I had and what I was experiencing coupled with intense meditative practices in sensory deprivation chambers save my life as I know it today. I still have the sensory deprivation chamber today to help me realign myself on a daily basis.

This is how it is for me. I don't claim to see God yet the things I see and experience would be considered mind blowing. I've just learned how to deal with them and compartmentalize those sensory experiences. I don't need a stroke, or a heart attack, or anything else to experience some all-knowing notions of being one with the universe. I see my universe in ways most people can't, but I would never, ever make the claim that my condition is not related or steeped in scientific explanation. I would never need tread beyond into the metaphysical to describe what I experience because I know the distinctions between the two. It appears to me that people who are scientifically (Atheistically) oriented upon experiencing something they can't explain rationally tend to fumble into explanations of the metaphysical or spiritual.

If I told you that I could see colors that surround people, that I see geometric shapes of infinite variety within the bounds of my sight, that I hear things that I've just tasted, or that something I'm eating is manifesting itself into a touch sensation that might be orgasmic, or any number of phenomena that only I can experience would you think that I'm explaining to you some sort of spiritual epiphany of deific proportions? Possibly and only if you didn't know any better.

While I won't discount her experience, she however, does a disservice to her office by calling herself a scientist of any note. This is unfortunate because this declaration of hers will cloud her perceptions and objectivity. This will make her outcomes suspect and possibly taint her work. There is a reason why the scientific method works (in general) and why it is adhered to. She has broken the most fundamental notion of it. Observable and measurable data. None of which any of it can be corroborated much less reproduced. Is it any wonder why guys like the Amazing Randy and Michael Schermer scoff at and frankly laugh at such claims?

This type of claim literally, in my mind, devalues the true essence of God, Holiness, and the spiritual nature of such a being by distilling Him down to the level of seeing pretty colors and a feeling of euphoria which translates to calmness and nirvana of some sort. It's really a shame that this woman is being taken seriously and it's an even bigger shame that no one is challenging her on it. I have my experiences daily and it's normal for me. No one wants to know what I see or sense, but this woman has a stroke and now she is doing a lucrative lecture circuit. Go figure.

Skyler said...

Methadras,

Just wow. Wow.

amba said...

Methadras, are you familiar with this book? The author has autism as well as synesthesia, but the synesthesia part of it was reportedly extraordinary.

I wish you would write more about your experiences, to give the rest of us a glimpse of the world as we are unable to see it. Our senses are filters even more than narrow-band conduits -- as Blake knew when he wrote of a bird's experience as quite possibly "an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five."

Theo Boehm said...

Methadras:  That is fascinating, and, as amba says, it would be truly interesting to read more about your experiences.

It's too bad it took this long for this discussion to go in the direction it finally has.  That's why I wanted amba to take it up, because on her blog we wouldn't have the usual brickbats and noise we get around here, the post wouldn't be rolling off into oblivion at breakneck speed, and we would have the benefit of amba's considerable insight.

Oh well, just because I'm fascinated by metaphysics and the other issues raised in this post doesn't mean another blogger is obliged to take them up.  I suppose I should revive my own moribund blog if I wanted to explore this in the way I'd like.  But, Methadras, your experiences would be a compelling addition to any discussion along these lines, and if you have the time, I think many of us would appreciate anything more you would care to say.

I'm sorry to say it's late, and I don't have time to make this as good as it could be.  But here's a list of things that occur to me, in no particular order:

     1.  I know a Swami who would use Methadras' experiences to illustrate the illusory nature of what we regard as reality and the physical world.  What is observed through the senses may be tangled and distorted by physical causes, whether drugs or neurology, but there remains an observer.  How disconnected from the apparent physical world can an observer in fact be?  Does the observer remain the ghost in the machine, no matter how mangled the works may get?  Does the observer even need the machine?  These, couched in somewhat different terms, are hardy perennials of Hindu or Vedantic thought.

     2.  Jill Bolte Taylor's experience, and other very similar near-death experiences, are not that dissimilar to what might be thought of as the "classical" enlightment experience.  There are differences, but the similarities remain striking.  Related to #1, why do you suppose it is that an injured brain, near death, and the brain of a fit, young, healthy person, often trained in yoga and metative techniques, can produce similar experiences for that observer lurking in there?

     3.  I agree completely that Jill Bolte Taylor did a disservice to science attempting to wrap her experiences in a "scientific" mantle.  She should just talk about her near-death experience on its own terms.  People also experience strokes in all sorts of ways, as my long quote from Dr. Johnson above is intended to illustrate.

     4.  As a musician, I can tell you we all tend to have a tiny bit of synesthesia, in that music, the perception of language, and often other perceptions, such as visual colors, are often somewhat tangled up.  The Baroque "Theory of the Affects" formalized this, assigning colors, signs of the Zodiac, bodily humours, classical rhetorical figures of speech and gestures, etc., to musical formulae, intervallic progressions, musical keys, instruments, etc.  It is almost impossible to fully "get" the music of JS Bach, for instance, without some knowledge of the rather synethesiac musical thought of his day, if I may use that term, of which Bach was fully aware, and which informed so much of his music.

     5.  Along these lines, all sorts of music, not only formal, "classical" music, but every othe genre you can imagine, has a kind of internal logic that feels like language, but is different somehow.  It's not the logic of formal musical analysis, but is irreducible and on its own terms.  For example, I was listening to some Duke Ellington on the radio tonight driving home, and the elegance and perfection and sheer eloquence of the tune he was playing with a small group really struck me.  But, again, it's on its own terms, and I think having the brain wiring to understand this separates musicians and those who really understand and appreciate music from those who don't. This seems to be the same with every art.  There are those who can apprehend the mystery, presence and intrinsic logic of art works, and those for whom these things remain unknowable.

     6.  I have always hesitated to write about my own "funky enlightenment," as an old grad school roommate called it, but Methadras relating his experiences gives me a little space.  I have had quite a few of what could be regarded as "classical" enlightening experiences, or what Aganahanda Bharati calls the "zero experience," starting when I was 17.  These led me ultimatedly into Buddhism, but I am no longer a practitioner, having for many of the usual reasons come back to the Catholic Church as a formal religious home.  I don't want to get into Buddhist practice, meditation, Henry James, Christian mysticism, St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, St. Paul on the road to Damascus, etc., etc.  My point is simply what my own personal experiences taught me. These have never involved much sensory input or alteration, but rather an extreme heightening of awareness.  There was a sense, almost in the way I understand the logic of music, only infinitely more so, of an astonishing logic to everything.  I felt in the presence of a vast and incomprehensible Mind.  I remember saying to myself, after that first experience as a teenager, a phrase that was unknown to me and completely unrehearsed.  It was, "All is consciousness.  All is light."  I have never been able to improve on that, and I have never pretended to even try to comprehend that vast Consciousness.  I feel like I have been priviliged to have been permitted to glimpse a tiny corner of the majesty of God.  My reaction then and now, was to realize what a weak sinner I am, and to fall on my face before a Being of such an all-encompassing power, and, I must say, love.  I needed no religious instruction to tell me this, but I suppose it has been satisfying to subsequently learn that many have proceeded me, and that I am but a straggler on this path.

Is this the amor dei intellectualis of Spinoza?  I doubt it.  Does this mean that that God is the Universe?  Not really.  In some sense I agree with Methadras that the Universe is not a sentient being.  But my admittedly weak understanding is that somehow, in ways that I find unknowable, God is entangled, entailed if you will, with the fabric of the Universe.  I will not repeat from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or any other religious teaching on this, but only mention my own personal sense, imperfect as it no doubt is.

I suppose I am fortunate that my own direct, personal experiences have taught me many of the things that formal religions teach.  I think that may be the case for a lot of people, who, like me, may feel the need for formal religion to give coherence and a sense of human community around insights that can be, if examined clearly, cold comfort at best, and downright frightening otherwise.  I will not preach Christianity or make a brief for the Church, but I have indeed felt the Holy Spirit descend on people gathered together in Christ's Name.  Take that for what you will, but the larger point is that all these solipistic insights are fine, but, ultimately and in this world, they need to make you a better person and lead you to better actions among your fellow human beings.  It wouldn't be a stretch to put that in terms of practically every religion.

Near-death and mystical experiences may teach us that death itself is not to be feared, and that there is, indeed, a loving God.  Metaphysics remain fascinating, but perhaps the lesson in all this is that we should perhaps trust in the knowledge of that loving God, no matter what you may call God or how you may conceive of Him (sorry to use sexist terms; it's the weakness of our language), and be content that most things about God, while we see through the glass darkly in this world, we shall never know.

Sorry this is so long.  I intended to make a little list of a few points, but got carried away.  I have said a few things I haven't said before around here, so if you don't mind I'll just let it stand.

Ann Althouse said...

Taylor's brain science may be crude in the way she portrays the hemispheres but I don't hear her saying that her brain-damaged experience was actually perceiving a reality. I think she portrayed it as a delusion that was extremely pleasurable.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not trying to take anything away from Methradas's interesting experience and Theo's, but I just don't understand the hostility to Taylor. What exactly is it?

Skyler said...

In explanation of my "hostility" to Taylor, as opposed to Theo, I would offer that Theo is not taken very seriously. He's some kind of musician and comes to a blog and offers his opinion. That's all well and good and it's impolite to be "hostile" to someone expressing their opinion in such a forum.

Taylor, on the other hand, is holding herself out to be an expert and is attempting to influence other people through that supposed expertise. Since her ideas are anti-intellectual and serve to increase ignorance and mystical beliefs, then she is an enemy to the rational world.

Methadras does the opposite of Taylor. He uses rational thought to explain the obvious; that those strange conceptions caused by a malfunctioning brain are not evidence of a higher awareness, they are the evidence of a malfunctioning brain. Methadras has done a great service by highlighting the idiocy of Taylor's mysticism.

Ann Althouse said...

But Skyler, you are not responding to my main question. I'm asking where you're seeing Taylor make a claim about the reality of her perceptions. I don't see it in any of the material I've presented.

Skyler said...

Ann, I'm sorry. I thought it was obvious. Here are some quotes from one of your links:

"As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent, my consciousness soared into an all-knowingness, a "being at one" with the universe, if you will. In a compelling sort of way, it felt like the good road home and I liked it."

". . . I found it odd that I was aware that I could no longer clearly discern the physical boundaries of where I began and where I ended. Instead, I now blended in with the space and flow around me."

"Life! I am life! I am trillions of cells sharing a common mind. I am here, now, thriving as life. Wow! What an unfathomable concept!"

Clearly she is equating her stroke-induced insanity with some improved ability to pereive reality.

And if she's not making that claim, she certainly gives that impression.

I'm listening to the NPR show now, and she's talking about "when her left hemisphere went off-line" that this caused her to experience "being at one with all that is."

Perhaps you're right in that she is being very careful to not explicitly say that what she perceives is real, but she definitely is encouraging that thought. That's why she wrote the book.

Her NPR show is far less looney sounding than the youtube video you embedded.

Theo Boehm said...

Skyler: You may take me seriously or not, although I do appreciate the politesse.

It's true, Taylor doesn't make an explicit claim for the reality of her perceptions. So, I don't object to her very much, except she seems a bit superficial, and she really needn't talk about rather poor brain science. I would be happier if she launched into a solid philosophical/religious discussion, in fact exploring the reality or not of her experience in a rigorous way. I think others would be happier if she went for crudely materialist explanations, and just dismissed her experience out of hand.

Except, to me, crudely materialist explanations are no explanations at all. When talking about perception and consciousness they profoundly beg the question IMHO.

What she talks about raises all sorts of questions that I find important, ergo my long ramble about my own rather vanilla-flavored transcendental experiences, and how I have ultimately interpreted them in religious and philosophical terms.

A lot of what has been bandied about here, and what could be bandied about is indeed fairly straightforward Philosophy 101 and midnight dorm conversation material:

How do we know something? Could the physical world be an illusion? What sorts of illusory experiences (such as perhaps music) do we have that are perfectly common and ordinary? Why is it that other experiences are counted as delusions? Does the fact that people with nearly dead brains have experiences similar to classic mystical experiences of those with perfectly healthy ones tell us anything? What, in fact, can we say about the relation of the physical body to the mind? Do we have a soul that survives physical death? Is there a God that stands outside time and who created the universe? Did God have a choice? Is God part of the universe, or does He somehow stand outside it? Etc., etc.

It may be some people's goal to eliminate mysticism, but it isn't mine. One of my goals is to have a rigorous debate about metaphysics and epistemology, and mysticism can loom large in such discussions.

It is perhaps a mistake to use any excuse to talk philosophy, and, as I suspected, this may not be the right topic or venue. I am not unhappy, however, that I bothered to write down something about my "funky enlightenment," at least for practice.

Richard Dolan said...

The main problem with Taylor's account of the brain/consciousness relationship is that her description is literally incoherent. To talk about one hemisphere of the brain as "seeing," "thinking" or having a "personality" makes as much sense as saying that a table does those things. If you doubt the truth of that, try explaining what it means to say that a neuron or axion "sees," "thinks" or has a "personality." Whatever attributes or behaviour normally leads us to use those words just don't make sense when someone is trying to use them to describe what neurons or axions do.

By suggesting that the Cartesian "little man" is some structure within the brain (Damasio does the same thing), all that Taylor achieves is that kind of error on a grand scale. The root problem is the inadequacy of the conceptual framework, not the inadequacy of the science or the observations.

But what's really odd is that, while complaining about Taylor's incoherence, some equally bad incoherence is cropping up here too. What does it mean to say that Taylor's perceptions aren't real? Ann suggests that Taylor is not asserting "the reality of her perceptions." But Taylor is describing what she felt. If the point is that she wasn't describing the common world we all inhabit, well, when does the description of any feeling ever do that?

Skyler said...

Dolan wrote:

"What does it mean to say that Taylor's perceptions aren't real? Ann suggests that Taylor is not asserting "the reality of her perceptions." But Taylor is describing what she felt. If the point is that she wasn't describing the common world we all inhabit, well, when does the description of any feeling ever do that?"

You're correct. The percepts are real, the concepts are flawed. And I think the last line is the point that sticks in my craw. Taylor is not rational, she is talking about feelings. These have nothing to do with science, and she promotes herself as a scientist.

Theo Boehm said...

Thank you, Richard Dolan, for finally putting the biggest logical and/or philosophical problem here in clear terms.  I'm afraid when I encounter things such as this woman's experiences, I tend to run in circles, waving my arms and pointing at all the pretty flowers in the Garden of Philosophy.

The error that can be related to the Cartesian "little man" is indeed the biggest inanity.  But this points directly to a larger issue. The question of just who is the observer is famously formulated in the Sanskrit sentence, "Tat Tvam Asi," one of the Mahavakyas or Grand Pronouncements from the Upanishads in Vedantic Hinduism.  It means approximately, "Thou art that," and has to do with the nature of the Self in relation to Ultimate Reality.  Many a Swami has a prepared talk on the issue of the Observer and the Observed, not to mention further questions relating to our consciousness in relation to the qualities of God's consciousness, etc.

BTW, none of this has anything to do with observable physical "reality."

There I go again.  I'll shut up now.

Methadras said...

amba said...

Methadras, are you familiar with this book? The author has autism as well as synesthesia, but the synesthesia part of it was reportedly extraordinary.


No, I'm not familiar with the author. To tell you the truth I actually have avoided the synesthetic community for a long long time. It's more of a personal choice. I'm sure they are nice people and what not, but my experience is my own and I don't want to be a part of a larger grouping of people who have similar manifestations of their synesthasia so we can all sit around and go "oh, so how does yours manifest itself." or "Oh yes, I also see round spiky gray balls and hear triangle bells whenever I eat chicken soup." I'm sure it won't always be like that, but I did it once when I was 14 and that became the primary focus of those discussions. I wanted to know people and what made them tick, not what their genetic disorder was having them perceive. In a lot of ways, I was actually afraid, and I admit this freely, that I would be perceived differently because of it. That my synesthasia coupled with theirs would become the definers of who I was to them. I didn't want that and I don't want that.

I wish you would write more about your experiences, to give the rest of us a glimpse of the world as we are unable to see it. Our senses are filters even more than narrow-band conduits -- as Blake knew when he wrote of a bird's experience as quite possibly "an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five."

In a lot of ways I'm actually envious of people who don't have synesthasia only because they can see the world for what it really is. I can see what is in front of me, but my synesthasia manifests in ways, coupled with how my brain works as another overlay on top of my reality but melded as a unified whole. The two are intertwined and I have no way to separate them. Even as I type this to you there is an explosion of sensations I can't possible describe to you and have it make sense in any rational way. Every person who has synesthasia, and I could be wrong about this, manifests itself in completely different ways and intensities. Mine, by my own definition are very intense, but someone else who has this might even be even more intense than mine. That's the nature of this genetic quirk. I have no way to gauge one synesthetic persons experiences to my own. We are islands unto ourselves. Which is really what prompted me to even mention that I have this condition to begin with.

I don't begrudge Ms. Taylor her experience, I just don't like how she has exploited it for her own benefits. It puts a paul of hucksterism on the whole affair.

Methadras said...

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not trying to take anything away from Methradas's interesting experience and Theo's, but I just don't understand the hostility to Taylor. What exactly is it?


Ann,

First of all, I didn't want to make this discussion about me. It isn't about that and the only reason why I even divulged the condition that I have in this topic was as a counter to something I've been seeing lately in scientific communities relating to neurological functions.

To answer you directly as to the hostility towards Ms. Taylors description of her account. If you remember in the beginning of the video she brought out a human brain. She displayed the brain to the audience, much to their surprise. She then went on to describe the brain in loose terms as to what it does and what each hemisphere is capable of doing. She said one thing that just set me off the deep end into the world of 'hostility'. She made the proclamation that each hemisphere displayed their own distinct personalities aside from their own distinct functions. Not that those functions of what each hemispheres themselves do based on definition, but a characterization that embues some sort of ubiquitous identity.

Notice that the obvious was missing. That the brain by itself is nothing outside of it's home. A non-functioning mass of gray matter that is about as sentient as a rock. I object to her characterization that my brain or anyone else brains have personalities. I am my own man. My brain, while it performs a whole host of functions is under my control unless it malfunctions naturally or deliberately. Would anyone suggest that epilepsy is just a personality of someones brain? How about Tourettes syndrome?

Furthermore, she goes on to explain that her oneness or knowingness with the universe was a direct result of the stroke that she had? Really? Could it have been a separate experience besides her stroke or was it the stroke that was the catalyst for the experience. She's trying to parley her experience as being part of a larger consciousness, which has never been proven to this day, a uni-mind if you will of experience. That just beyond the normal ranges of perceptions exists this wondrous reality that we can all go to and share like a celestial playground, but only because she says so as she is pocketing a big fat check. That's my hostility towards her.

I've basically described something to people her that outside of my own family most people don't know about me and only because 100% of everyone here will never meet me, yet you don't see me asking of a payout do you? Hostile? Oh yes.

Methadras said...

Theo Boehm said...

Methadras: That is fascinating, and, as amba says, it would be truly interesting to read more about your experiences.


Like, I told Ann. I don't think what I've said here is really compelling enough to keep people interested. How can I share something that is inherent to my nature. It would be pitiful at best and really very rudimentary. A lot of the time there are no words I can put on what I experience.

It's too bad it took this long for this discussion to go in the direction it finally has. That's why I wanted amba to take it up, because on her blog we wouldn't have the usual brickbats and noise we get around here, the post wouldn't be rolling off into oblivion at breakneck speed, and we would have the benefit of amba's considerable insight.

I have no idea who Amba is, so forgive me that little bit of ignorance. I actually never expect this discussion to go in this direction, but hey, that's the free flow of ideas at work.

Oh well, just because I'm fascinated by metaphysics and the other issues raised in this post doesn't mean another blogger is obliged to take them up. I suppose I should revive my own moribund blog if I wanted to explore this in the way I'd like. But, Methadras, your experiences would be a compelling addition to any discussion along these lines, and if you have the time, I think many of us would appreciate anything more you would care to say.

Like I said earlier. I have wouldn't know what my experiences could contribute to the whole of this conversation on a larger stage. I'm just me and what I experience is what I am. It would be like trying to describe color to a blind man or non-color to someone like me. My whole world is nothing but sensations that at times I have no control off. The only time of some sanity I have is when I'm asleep. Otherwise, it's a daily barrage.

Skyler said...

Theo, I apologize. When I said you weren't taken seriously, I meant that in an academic sense, not in a personal sense. I mean, you explain your experiences from your own context and that is in itself "serious" but not scientific.

Taylor purports to be a scientist and the standard is much different.

I didn't mean to imply that that your contribution was to be ridiculed, I meant to say that I don't think it's proper to debate in the same rigorous manner with you as I would with the presentation made by Taylor.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Skyler. Let me go over your evidence and tell you how I saw it.

"As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent, my consciousness soared into an all-knowingness, a "being at one" with the universe, if you will. In a compelling sort of way, it felt like the good road home and I liked it."

I heard this as a description of the delusion, with the shocking image of approaching death and finding it beautiful. She liked it, but had enough sense to also see that to go there, to go "home" would be to die. She had to get out of there, even as she was feeling seduced. I thought that was fascinating and not a statement of belief in a transcendent place. It was death!

". . . I found it odd that I was aware that I could no longer clearly discern the physical boundaries of where I began and where I ended. Instead, I now blended in with the space and flow around me."

Again, this is a delusion that she was able to realize would be death.

"Life! I am life! I am trillions of cells sharing a common mind. I am here, now, thriving as life. Wow! What an unfathomable concept!"

This, again, is a vivid description of how she felt. Some of it is a great sense of being alive, but it's also the loss of self, of individuality, which she also was able to see was a huge problem.

I heard the NPR show first, and actually, I probably didn't watch all of the video, just the first part, which matched the beginning of the radio show. So that may account for my different view of what she was saying.