When Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was 37, she had a stroke that completely shut down the left hemisphere of her brain. Her eight-year recovery led her to some of the greatest discoveries of what our brains can do.
Dr. Jill is a Harvard-trained and published neuroscientist and neuroanatomist with a broad area of brain expertise. She’s also well known for her TEDtalks since her stroke: My Stroke of Insight and The Right Brain vs. Left Brain Experience.
In this episode of Bulletproof Radio, we’re talking all about her personal journey, insights and new research.
For 50 years, we’ve been trained to believe that our right brain hemisphere is our emotional brain, while our left brain houses our rational thinking. Now neuroscience shows that it’s not that simple. In fact, our emotional limbic tissue is evenly divided between our two hemispheres. This means each hemisphere has both an emotional brain and a thinking brain.
To put it simply, the left brain defines your individuality. There’s a group of cells working to constantly take in more information to define you. The right brain processes everything through an emotional and not-so-linear lens, telling us we are as big and open and expansive as the universe.
“From my perspective, I became more when I experienced the stroke, because what I gained was the awareness that I was as big as the universe,” Dr. Jill explains. “As I gained my relationship to the atoms and molecules around me, I expanded and became open. And then I became aware that if I’m going to be a functional human being in the world, I needed to gain some of those skill sets back from that left hemisphere,” she says. “I have so much awareness now of who and what I really am as a living being.”
In her new book “Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters that Drive our Life,” Dr. Jill outlines four characters that map different parts of our brain. They correspond to the thinking and feeling elements in both brain hemispheres. Connecting and naming your four characters not only helps you better understand how your brain works but also can help you learn how to tune into your own peace and presence.
Each of the four characters stems from specific groups of cells that feel unique inside of our body, they each display particular skills, feel specific emotions, or think distinctive thoughts.
This paradigm marries your psychology with your brain anatomy—and Dr. Jill is going to explain how and what that means for you.
“I kind of look at these [four characters] as trees and our thoughts and our emotions and our behavior as the leaves on that tree,” Dr. Jill says. “But the roots are really where the issues are. And if we understand the anatomy of what’s going on in our emotions and our thoughts and our behavior, oh my gosh, we can really communicate at a core level. It’s a whole new level of intimate communication.”
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Follow Along with the Transcript
- Harvard trained and published neuroscientist, and neuroanatomist who looked at the depths of her own mind – 00:39
- Talk with me about what happened, share with the audience, what happened to your brain? – 2:21
- I thought that I would progress and I thought I would get well, but did I ever think I would be 100%? That was never my goal. – 4:33
- The right brain doesn’t have that individuality. It doesn’t have the boundaries of where I begin and where I end. To the consciousness of my right hemisphere, I am open and expansive and as big as the universe. – 11:18
- Have you mapped out your experience against any of the spiritual ego disillusion states? – 13:30
- So, we end up with two emotional groups of cells and two thinking groups of cells that are independent of one another, and yet, completely interactive. – 17:48
- Your new book, Whole Brain Living, you’ve only done two books with a lot of time to learn and share a lot of wisdom. So I’m really excited about it. And you talk about four characters in the brain. – 18:55
- I take a brain and I open it up, cut the corpus callosum and then I go left brain, thinking, will be character one. Left brain emotion will be character two, right brain emotion will be character three and right brain thinking will be character four. Now, I personally name my four characters and I think everybody should. – 19:33
- It’s really interesting to look at the left and right brain the way you do as a neuroscientist and as someone who’s lived it. What sort of threat detection happens in the right brain on the emotional side? – 25:52
- And then the fourth one would be the right brain logical? – 29:18
- My character four is called Queen Toad. Queen because she’s as big as the universe, and toad because I’m a tad bit goofy and I live on a lily pad half the year called brainwaves on the water. – 32:34
- I named these characters so that throughout the day, I can create communication by choice so that each of my characters have relationships with one another. – 33:33
- We can try to explain what is life, but life is this three dimensional thing where thousands of things are happening all at the same time, even inside a single individual cell. – 37:00
- History of the mitochondria is probably that that DNA was actually a virus that somehow managed to create enough order to package itself inside of its own membrane and somehow, oh my gosh, build a cell around it. – 40:14
- Do you look at transpersonal psychology? Do you map your work against that? What do you see? – 42:03
- I ended the TED Talk with saying, “We have the power to choose who and how we want to be in the world.” And I had 300,000 people write me and say, “You did it because you had a stroke. How do I do it?” – 45:08
- These are circuits, and certain circuits dominate and inhibit other circuits. So if you cannot find your way to that character three, go out and have fun. Go engage. What does it feel like when you’re in a ball game and we’re all doing the wave together? – 47:20
- I actually grew up more right brained because I was very creative, artistic, musical, physical. I was athletic. I was much more right brain. I did not turn my left brain on for scholastics until I went to college. – 48:58
- Most of us don’t think about it. We study it, there’s a cell, there’s a liver cell, there’s a brain cell, they work together. It’s like, no, no, no, you’re missing the point. You’re missing the wonder that the cell exists at all. – 53:21
- Where does the pattern matching happen? Is this a brain thing? Is it a body thing? Is it an individual cell? Is it a network of cells? Do you have a sense for that? – 56:12
- You do talk about these four characters and addiction. But you also talk about them in the context of romantic relationships. – 1:02:03
- “Honey, I’m coming home. Now, I’ll tell you what, if you can give me 30 minutes of you being a character one with me, and you helped me get my things done we can spend the rest of the evening playing as character threes together.” – 1:04:02
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