Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Speaker: Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroanatomist interested in how the human brain relates to schizophrenia and severe mental illness. She is also an author, having published books on her stroke “My Stroke of Insight” and ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Full Bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor

Length: 20:11

Summary

Note this talk is an animated story of Jill’s experiences during a stroke – where one hemisphere of her brain was ‘switched off’. This summary cannot do the full talk justice – if it interests you, watch the full video.

Jill Bolte Taylor starts by trying to work out what makes her brain different from her brother’s – who is schizophrenic. She elaborates by bringing a real human brain to the stage – showing it is divided into 2 distinct halves, with minimal connection between the two. Each half functions differently:

  • Right Hemisphere is a parallel processor. It focusses on the current moment, using pictures and learns through kinaesthetic movement. It is well connected to senses to build an understanding of what is happening at the moment. It connects us with the world around it.
  • Left Hemisphere acts as a serial processor. It thinks linearly and methodically, looking at the past and future. It picks through the details of the current time – arranging and sorting these, and connecting them to the events of the past and future. It thinks in language and words. It looks as us as an individual, isolating us from the world.

Jill had a stroke which disabled the left side of her brain – waking up to a throbbing pain behind her eyes similar to ice cream headache. She used an exercise machine while on a stroke, and focussed on how strange her body looked – as if she was out of her body. She noticed that every movement was slower, laboriously focussing to execute every movement. She couldn’t work out where her body ended and the rest of the world began, thinking about the energy of the world around her. Soon her left hemisphere recovered and started to realise that she was in danger, before dropping out again. During the stroke, she was disconnected from her normal brain chatter – the stress and emotional baggage.

When she realised she was having a stroke, she decided to study her brain from the inside. She tried to read her business card, but her vision as broken to ‘pixels’ – and she couldn’t differentiate it from the background. She was having difficulty picking out objects in vision – couldn’t read the numbers, couldn’t keep track of the numbers she had dialled. When she eventually got the phone working, she couldn’t understand the other end, nor speak clearly herself. Eventually an ambulance was called, and she blacked out.

When she woke, she was alive and the stroke was over. She thought back on the stroke as a moment of Nirvana – where she felt connected to the world, and that her spirit was larger than her body. She started to wish everyone could have that moment where their left brain switched off.

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Russell Foster: Why do we sleep?

Speaker: Russell Foster

Length: 21:46

Summary

Sleep is the single most important behavioral experience we have. But the perception and role of sleep in our society has shifted from importance to a waste of precious time. Shakespeare referred to sleep as “nature’s soft nurse”, but Edison thought it was a “heritage from our cave days.” People often feel similarly to the latter, but it’s usually because they don’t understand the purpose of sleep.

The reality is that our brain doesn’t shut down during sleep. The most popular theory for why we sleep is that sleep controls our brain function. Sleep deprivation is shown to cause poor memory, increased impulsiveness, and poor creativity. But that’s not even the worst part. Sleep is strongly connected to serious health problems like cardiovascular disease and mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation can cause a 50% higher rate of obesity, brought about by excess release of the hormone, ghrelin, which triggers your hunger.  Sustained stress, another result of sleep deprivation, suppresses your immune system.

Foster spends the second half of his talk on the genetic ties between sleep disruption and schizophrenia. A discovery was made that stabilizing sleep also helped reduce symptoms of paranoia. From all the different examples and study’s he cites you can draw 3 conclusions.

  1. Sleep and mental illness are tied together
  2. Sleep disruption can be used as an early warning signal for illnesses
  3. Sleep centers are a new therapeutic target for solving other problems

The question you might be wondering now is, how do I know if I’m getting enough sleep?

If you need an alarm clock to wake up, are grumpy and irritable, or need a cup of coffee to do anything: you are probably sleep deprived. The key is to listen to your body. You might need 6 hours of sleep or you might need 10 hours. There is actually no correlation between waking up early and having better health (or more wealth). To get a good nights sleep, make sure that you’re room is as dark as possible and slightly cool. Reducing light exposure/electronics use during the 30 minutes prior will also help.

tl:dr Take sleep seriously.