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A Whole New Mind

by Mark Peres

June 7,2008

Sometimes all that we are experiencing coalesces in one moment. This past Memorial Day, as I sat cross-legged on the couch, still and quiet, as my wife was making a Key Lime pie, I thought about my right brain. It’s not something I normally do, there’s not a lot there to think about, but I had just finished a project putting our daughter’s drawings and poetry on the wall. I blinked out of my stillness and caught sight of the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times that just happened to lay loose on the coffee table in front of me. I saw the headline: “A Superhighway to Bliss: To achieve nirvana, a brain scientist says, tame the left lobe.” 

Well, the universe was working. I read the article about Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard brain researcher, who had a stroke. As the article explained:

Dr. Taylor, then 37, woke up in her apartment in Boston, with a piercing pain behind her eye. A blood vessel in her brain had popped. Within minutes, her left lobe – the source of ego, analysis, judgment and context – began to fail her. Oddly, it felt great.

The incessant chatter that normally filled her mind disappeared. Her everyday worries…untethered themselves from her and slid away.

Her perceptions changed, too. She could see that the atoms and molecules making up her body blended with the space around her; the whole world and the creatures in it were all part of the same magnificent field of shimmering energy.

The article went on to note that surgery to remove a golf ball sized clot and eight years of recovery followed. Dr. Taylor now is able to speak again, and she is doing so with a profound sense of personal mission, sharing that we can all access “the deep inner circuitry of our right hemispheres” to experience bliss and project peace into the world.

All well and good, I thought. I stood up from the couch. My wife had just whipped up fresh, home-made whipped cream to top off her Key Lime pie. She called me over to dip a finger in the mixer. The moment I tasted the whipped cream, my mind clicked to the article. It had referenced a website that I had once seen: I kissed my wife and went up to the loft, the creative center of our home, and accessed the net.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED hosts an annual conference of “the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers,” who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. All the talks are video recorded and posted on the TED website. I went to the site and smiled at TED’s tagline: “Ideas Worth Spreading.” I brought up the video recording of Dr. Taylor.

In a riveting presentation, Dr. Taylor holds a real brain and spinal chord in her hand, and talks about how our brains are divided: our left lobe is a serial processor, thinking linearly about past and future, picking out details, categorizing and associating, thinking in language, a constant stream of chatter. Our right brain is a parallel processor, living right here, right now, without time, experiencing visually and kinesthetically, an energy being in the present moment. The two lobes are brought together by the corpus callosum, a thin longitudinal fissure that allows cross-talk to occur. Dr. Taylor goes on to tell her story about the loss and recovery of her left brain, the ascendency of her right brain, and how to find joy, we can choose to “step to the right.”

A shift is occurring in our city, indeed in our world, toward ‘a whole new mind.’ We have benefited greatly from the technology and materialism that our left brain provides, but we have also suffered from it. In an age of material abundance, we are now seeking meaning. Just as individuals in mass have scaled their ‘hierarchy of needs’ and are devoting themselves to ‘self-realization,’ so our cities are pursuing the arts, social capital, purpose and significance. We are choosing the best of both lobes.

I achieved bliss later that day when my wife entered her Key Lime pie in our neighborhood pie contest – and won.

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