Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor has always loved the brain’s complex beauty. But she developed an unexpectedly deep appreciation for her own in 1996 after a blood vessel ruptured and she suffered a massive stroke. The life-changing moment destroyed her memory, her ability to walk, talk and read and even her personality.
In her best-selling memoir, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey,” and in the second most watched TED video of all time, Bolte details her remarkable eight-year recovery, her newfound ability to rewire her own brain circuits and her intimate insights on the needs of those who have suffered strokes or other brain injuries.
Taylor, a national spokeswoman for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, now frequently lectures about brain health at schools, fundraisers, colleges and community events, usually while carrying a prized possession: A real, preserved human brain.
But what really gets her neurons firing is her latest brainchild: A collection of 22 enormous and anatomically correct fiberglass brains which have been lovingly decorated by various artists. The brain sculptures are currently on display around town and on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington through October.
Taylor's inspiration for the project, called Brains Extravaganza! came after viewing Chicago’s 1999 Cows on Parade community art exhibit, which featured life-sized fiberglass cows. Since then, over 350 communities have placed some type of fiberglass animal or object on public display.
But Taylor is apparently the first to think of featuring the all-important noodle. She hopes that the eye-catching and thought-provoking sculptures -- which each have five questions about the brain on the base -- will eventually be displayed around the world and will increase “awareness, appreciation and education about this beautiful organ inside our heads," she said.
She recently took time out during Stroke Awareness Month to answer a few email questions:
Q: Do you have a favorite brain in the Extravaganza? What does it look like?
A: I do, and when it is all said and done this brain will go on permanent installation in my front yard. Until then, it is a secret which one it will be.
Q: Why is sleep your top recommendation for healing? What can we do to get hospitals to stop wrecking it?
A: We live in a sleep deprived society and our mental health has been the price we have paid for this. Sleep is 'filing time' of all the billions of bits of data that our brains process every moment. You know what your office or your house looks like if you don't take time to organize it...the same is true for the thoughts inside your brain.
Q: You’ve said the stroke the best thing that ever happened to you. Why?
A: It woke me up to the functions of the right and left hemispheres.
Q: My left hemisphere (provides brain chatter, preoccupied with details, runs my life on a tight schedule) seems to dominate my life. How can I get my right brain (cheerful, optimistic, enjoys the present moment) into action?
A: Consciously choose to bring your mind to the present moment and focus on your sensory systems. 2. Take a walk in nature and let your focus go off to the distance and go a little blurred and then observe the energy around you 3. Close your eyes and identify three things that you can hear. All of these activities encourage your mind to pay attention to the present moment, this is your right brain in action. Slow down and smell a rose.
Q: Do you find it easier to meditate since having your stroke?
A: I live move in the present moment than I did before so I don't have to work at it. Now it is more of a chore for me to engage in the left brain activities.
Q: You recently went to Antarctica. What did you do there and did it change your view on global warming?
A: I took the polar plunge in Antarctica and realized the health of our planet has been compromised because we are skewed to the left brain in our thinking. When we bring ourselves back into a more balanced mental health, the way we treat the planet will reflect that. Let's hope we get there in time.
Q: My neighbor recently had a stroke. What is the best thing I can do for her?
A: Bring her your love, your encouragement, your calm and quiet positive energy in small doses of 5 minutes a day.