Nirvana in the Right Hemisphere: A Stroke of Insight

Reading time: 4 – 7 minutes

In January 2007, a meta-analysis published in the journal Neurology determined updated rates of the most common neurological disorders [1]. The review found that 183 out of every 100,000 people suffer a stroke each year. Most studies included in the analysis attributed 80% or more of all strokes to ischemia (meaning a localized deficiency of blood caused by a clot obstructing arterial flow). In contrast, the incidence of a hemorrhagic stroke (meaning bleeding in the brain) is much more rare and is associated with higher mortality rates. Indeed, a study of stroke incidence rates and case fatality in 15,792 middle-aged adults found that hemorrhagic strokes were 4.5 times as fatal as ischemic strokes [2].

We’ve featured content from TED previously. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is a global and growing community that brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, challenging them to give the talk of their lives in just 18 minutes.

In 1996, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had a massive hemorrhagic stroke and experienced the complete deterioration of her ability to walk, talk, dial a phone or recall any of her life “from the inside out”. Her TED talk last month is a powerful recount of this devastating condition, and her vision that we can project peace into the world by spending more time running the deep inner peace circuitry of the brains right hemisphere truly is an idea worth spreading.

In her TED talk, Taylor explains that:

Our [brains] right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere.

The left hemisphere of the brain is very different:

Our left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Our left hemisphere is all about the past, and it’s all about the future. Our left hemisphere is designed to take that enormous collage of the present moment. And start picking details and more details and more details about those details. It then categorizes and organizes all that information. Associates it with everything in the past we’ve ever learned and projects into the future all of our possibilities. And our left hemisphere thinks in language. It’s that ongoing brain chatter that connects me and my internal world to my external world. … But perhaps most important, it’s that little voice that says to me, “I am. I am.” And as soon as my left hemisphere says to me “I am,” I become separate. I become a single solid individual separate from the energy flow around me and separate from you.

Taylor’s stroke was caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a malformed cluster of blood vessels in the brain that is characterized by a tangle of arteries and veins. The golf ball size hemorrhage placed pressure on the language centers in the left hemisphere of her brain and caused functions of her right hemisphere to flourish [3]. Today, among other things, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor creates and sells unique stained glass brains and has published a book (above) about her recovery and the insights she gained, titled My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.


  1. Hirtz et al. How common are the “common” neurologic disorders? Neurology. 2007 Jan 30;68(5):326-37.
    View abstract
  2. Rosamond et al. Stroke incidence and survival among middle-aged adults: 9-year follow-up of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) cohort. Stroke. 1999 Apr;30(4):736-43.
    View abstract
  3. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the Singin’ Scientist: Biography. Accessed 2008 Mar.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.