CLOSE

Lectures for a New Year: A Brain Scientist Studies Her Own Stroke

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist (or "brain scientist") from Indiana. In 1996 she experienced a major stroke, out of the blue, at age 37. As a scientist deeply involved with brain function, she was ideally situated to understand the stroke as it happened (as much as anyone can during a frickin' stroke), and later to draw meaningful lessons from what happened. That stroke is the topic of this twenty-minute lecture.

Bolte Taylor's "Stroke of Insight" is the second most-watched TED Talk of all time, with many millions of views across various channels. It's a curious lecture, as my first reaction to it was, frankly, "Boy, this lady seems to be using some hippie-dippy language in describing the people in the room." (Lots of "energy" and "connection" and such.) It was only after I'd listened to the entire talk that I understood her point: the brain's hemispheres have different ways of viewing the world; she chooses to inhabit the hemisphere that uses language that I perceived as hippie-dippy. This is actually really profound and emotional -- watch the talk to witness this arc for yourself.

Topics: the brain's hemispheres as parallel and serial processors, the separate experiences of those two brains, what happens when one begins to malfunction, and what this means about our individual experience of the world.

For: anyone interested in the brain, cognition, and how we think about our world. Warning: a real human brain is shown and handled onstage, as an explanatory prop. This may be gross to some lots of people. It's fairly brief.

Further Reading

Although I haven't read it, Bolte Taylor wrote a book about her experience, entitled My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. She also has an extensive website which reveals that, among other things, she endorses Taylor acoustic guitars. Nice!

Transcript

TED Talks have great transcripts; on the TED site there's an interactive transcript (upper right part of the page) and there are subtitles available in 42 languages on the TED site. You can even download high-quality versions of the video with or without subtitles.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out! Many thanks to reader Karen for suggesting this one.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
iStock
iStock

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
History
Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
iStock
iStock

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios