#147 – Nirvana and The Brain with Jill Bolte Taylor PhD



Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who teaches at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Bloomington, Indiana. She is the author of the extraordinary book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey which tells the story of a stroke which essentially knocked out her left hemisphere and enhanced the functioning of her right hemisphere. In this right-hemisphere state she seemed to experience something akin to enlightenment. I learned of Dr. Jill through an incredible video presentation she gave at a recent TED Conference in Monterey, California. Dr. Jill has dedicated her career to the advancement of postmortem research into the human brain and to the education of the public about the fragile, yet resilient, nature of this incredible organ. Because of the long-term shortage of brain tissue donated for research into the severe mental illnesses, she travels throughout the country. By sharing her science and her unique personal journey, she communicates a message of hope, education, and celebration.

(Psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.)



  1. perle
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    wow interesting show.
    it really would be interesting to find out if she
    can access this state of mind at will…and if so if shes been scanned when experiencing her mystic states?.

    there is actually a NOVA video titled Secrets of the Mind about a neuroscientist from UCSD, Ramachandran, who investigates a subject who experiences mystic states when he has seizures.

  2. honeyrococo
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Another wonderful podcast, but it left me with some questions.

    1. I wonder about all those poor people who have strokes in the right hemisphere of their brains. Do they end up trapped in a hellish nightmarish realm of criticism and judgment and heightened sensitivities to good and evil? All the things that Dr. Taylor was happy to leave behind? Being a materialist myself I would wonder if that is where the idea of Hell comes from.

    2. It is sad that the good Dr. had not had the appropriate experiences that would have allowed her to comment as to whether her experiences of bliss mirrored or mimicked similar experiences said to be induced by psychedelic or psychoactive drugs. (Or else sad that such revelations might be culturally and legally frowned upon.)

    3. Her description of her willful recovery also raises questions as to who might receive adequate medical care after such an event…if a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist has to suffer physicians who aren’t engaged and aren’t truly invested in helping their patients, what hope is there for the rest of us in this increasingly expensive and privatized world of US healthcare?

    A (relatively) short comment!

    Cheers and thanks!

  3. Diann Brenner
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I think Dr. Taylor is helping to blaze the way for future inquiry into brain science. My question would be, she said she decided to return to the ‘normal world’, that it was a choice. So even with the left hemisphere nonfunctional, the right hemisphere was able to make that decision?

  4. Bob Horvath
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Late in responding, but I think that her left hemisphere was not completely out for the full duration of her recovery, which in the TED video (if you haven’t seen it, its at http://www.ted.com), she said took 8 years. So I think she had plenty of time and left-brain function to make some left-brained decisions. Also, seems that it was a decsion much influenced by the right hemisphere – I would suppose that right brains can make some decisions too.

  5. Andrew Lee
    Posted May 23, 2008 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    I am struck by the interesting similarities between Dr Taylor’s description of her experience and that of Ram Das.

    Dr Bolte Taylor insists she did not suffer a stroke but experienced a stroke. Ram Das speaks of his stroke (which has left him partly aphasic) as “being stroked by my guru”.

    I also find myself wondering about Dr Taylor’s insights and what this can tell us about the experience of autism and Asperger’s syndrome — in particular I am thinking about Oliver Sacks’ book, “An Anthropologist on Mars” in which Dr Sacks details his interactions with several people with varying brain abnormalities.

    Just fantastic stuff and a real joy to hear!

  6. n martin
    Posted June 14, 2008 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I saw Jill Bolte Taylor on Oprah’s soul series webcast and found it very interesting. I have been battling depression for 10 yrs or longer. And my doctor,s and counselors haven’t found the right medication for me. I often find myself getting depressed over little things. I work with some people that just drain me of my energy each day.
    I would like to know how to control my mind and reach nirvana frame of my mind. I am not sure exactly how to do that…. I am so glad that I found this website and Jill Bolte taylor.

  7. Sarah
    Posted August 8, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, after listening to many of the Shrink Rap podcasts (all which I enjoy), this podcast is my absolute favorite! Dr. Taylor is an amazing woman and an inspiration. To overcome everything she went through and still view her life in such a positive way is amazing. As a ttherapist, I find her inspiring to applied practice of psychology and knowledge of the brain, especially when it comes to realizing we are all unique individuals and to recognize all the little wonderful things in life we so often overlook.

  8. Tom Kelly
    Posted September 5, 2009 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I had a pair of mystical experiences of \"Nirvana\" very similar to what Jill has decribed but without the stroke (and without taking any drugs) on May 16, 2008.

    Immediately following them, I felt prompted to google blind. Closing my eyes, I tapped three keys at \"random.\"

    The three keys were ,xn

    I then hit ENTER.

    The first link was to a financial institution and said \"peace of mind worldwide.\"

    Another site said that it was pronounced \"zen.\"

    The fourth, I think it was, was a Wikipedia entry and referred to crystals… and then to the early Christians.

    I think it was the seventh one which said that \"XN\" was the international DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES symbol.

    When I told my family of this, they concluded I was psychotic.

    On the 20th of December, 2008, at my family\’s insistence, and without having been medically examined or interviewed, I was involuntarily admitted to an Irish psychiatric ward, sedated, then given antipsychotcic and mood-stabilising medications. These were increased weekly as I continued to insist on the reality of my experiences, the doctors, aas I put it to them, \"titrating my belief in God against theri drugs.\"

    On 13 March, 2009, I was released, my primary consultant psychiatrist, a pleasant Asian gentleman, having told me:

    \"You are a very excellent gentleman….I have my own God, too, you know…The circumstances of your admission were….uncertain. If you go off your medications, your spirituality MAY be sufficient to keep you okay, but you ought not to reduce your drugs by more than 20% a month.\"

    That is the Repulic of Ireland in 2009 and that was my fate at the hands of very well-meaning family and professionals there.

    I now reside in California, and do not think it safe to revisit Ireland again.

    I am a fifty-year-old veterinary surgeon.

    Jill\’s message is powerful. I hope it reaches Ireland, and especially those places there where it is most needed.

    Tom Kelly, tomkellyvet@gmail.com

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