I've been reading Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. If you haven't heard of her, she's the neuroanatomist who chronicled her experience with stroke and her subsequent insights into the brain. Her video on TED has spread across the net and is provoking discussions of consciousness and the question I keep asking, "Who are we really?"
The book is an intriguing first-hand account of what happens during a stroke. I haven't gotten to the "insights" part of the book yet, but her experience of the sublime awareness of the right brain leaves me feeling unsettled. Unsettled because it raises more questions than it answers, and makes me realize that we haven't even touched the surface of understanding what the brain is capable of.
I feel a kinship with Taylor. I haven't had a stroke but something happened to my brain back in my teens that changed the way I experience life. Brain damaged? Perhaps. Enlightened? Not sure. I just know that things are different now.
Taylor describes the loss of a sense of self as her left brain consciousness began to shut down. As she lost access to her memories and language, there was no longer a construct for who she was. Instead, her right brain awareness lead her into a fluid state of oneness, a euphoric sense of connectedness and peace. Of course, my mind drifts into the questions of what makes us who we are. Are we the memories, the experiences of our life? Without language to confer a sense of self, do we cease to exist? If I can't tell you who I am, who am I?
And then my mind drifted over into the realm of love...when we say we love someone, what is it we love? Do we love their memories? Do we love the way their neurons fire? Are we in love with a brain or a body? Or both? Or none? It seems that knowing who we are is difficult enough. How can we possibly ever know another human being?
Sometimes, these questions excite me. I have the curiosity of a child wondering what's next. And sometimes, it depresses the hell out of me. We really don't know very much.