Monday, November 30, 2009

An insight into understanding the human brain

Quite sometime ago I posted this on myspace - but because Jill Bolte Taylor's message was so powerful and beautiful I decided to repost it here. Sorry String lol rehashing old blogs :)

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding --she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Lately I have found myself wondering what life would be like from an atheists perspective. How would my perception of self and the world change ? Atheists do not believe in God. Do they believe in “A collective unconscious of mankind ?“ Can a person that does not believe in a higher form of intelligence ie a creator ever take that step to the right hemisphere of the brain ? Are all right hemisphere experiences spiritual in concept ? Do atheists have the same experience but just not recognise it as such and if not what would their interpretation of the experience be ? Because it is only through a harmonious blend of right and left aspects of brain function we can ever wish to reach our full potential as human beings . We perceive reality with our senses and our intuition, then we evaluate our perceptions by our feelings and by thinking. Below I have copied a wonderful summary of Jungs " Four functions " from a book I purchased quite some years ago - by Sallie Nichols :

When we develop ego consciousness - we think of ourselves as one. But as we grow in awareness, we gradually come to realise that we are two - conscious and unconscious, ego and shadow. If we are to reconcile these opposing aspects within us, we must discover an inner mediator, a number three which can correlate these two so that they can work harmoniously together . When this happens, then " out of the three " through the activity of the third factor - comes " the one as the fourth, " a growing feeling of wholeness, a unified personality that can function as one, but now at a new level of awareness.

Jung believed every human being was born with four characteristic potentials for apprehending raw experience. He called these four states " the four functions ." The two functions by which we apprehend the world he called sensation and intuition -functions that operate spontaneously and because of that were deemed by Jung as irrational functions. The other two functions, thinking and feeling, he termed rational functions because they describe ways we order and evaluate our experience. Early in life it usually becomes apparent that there is one function for which we show a special aptitude. This is called the superior function. In time we find that we have some degree of competence in two other areas so that we ultimately have in a limited way a second and a third function otherwise known as auxiliary functions because we can call on them to help our superior function. The fourth function always remains relatively unconscious and therefore unused. Jung called this the inferior function because it is not directly accessible to conscious training. Consequently its performance remains unreliable compared to that of the other three functions.

Because we tend to choose tasks that are easy, avoiding difficult chores, most of us automatically develop and improve our more accessible functions, leaving our inferior function unrecognized and undeveloped. Often it is only when this function intrudes itself in unexpected, inappropriate and immature ways that we become aware that it exists at all.

An intuitive is not very observant of the world around him. He lives primarily in a world of future possibilities. He is little concerned with present reality, and hates coping with details. For example after attending a committee meeting an intuitive might be relatively unaware of many details of this conference, but he would probably come away from it inspired with a dozen ideas for projects this group might " someday " accomplish. The practical problems involved in this accomplishment he is apt to leave to others.

A sensation type would be best at observing the practical realities with which the committee would have to cope if the committees ideas are to be carried out. A sensation person is not given to fanciful notions,; his sensory awareness is geared to reality. They will observe in accurate detail the conditions of their outer environment. Like a good news-reporter, they are interested in specifics : who, what, when, where, why and how. Just how can the intuitive dreams for the future be squared with existing conditions ? Is the room large enough to seat the audience ? Can a piano be brought through the door ? Is there money in the budget for this project ? Each of these two types reacts to life spontaneously. The intuitive smells out future possibilities and gets hunches without knowing how they arrive at the information. In a similar way, the sensation person records sensory experience automatically.

Thinking and feeling on the other hand operate more deliberately. The thinking type organises their experience into logical categories and arranges them in a systematic order. Feeling types are more empathic from the Greek word (empatheia), "physical affection, passion, partiality" which comes from (pathos), "feeling". On a committee , for instance, they might make a list of the things to be done before the next meeting, and they might work out an agenda for this meeting. If there is to be a speaker on the program the thinker might express concern that the lecturer be an authority in his field.

The feeling type would react differently. They would not care so much that the speaker be an authority, so long as the speaker can express themselves well and present the material in an interesting way. They would evaluate any program more according to its feeling tone that its content. " Feeling " as Jung uses the term, does not mean unbridled emotion. Quite the contrary Jung characterized feeling as rational function because it can be exactly as precise and discriminating as thinking. It too is a means of evaluating experience On a committee, the feeling person might be good at hospitality chairman or toastmaster. They would help everyone feel at home but , at the same time, they would be quick to discourage behaviour that does not " feel " appropriate to the occasion.

Understanding personality types can help us understand how others function for example a child of the intuitive type does not keep losing things because he is stupid or disobedient; he is simply unconcerned with material objects. In a similar way, realising that our neighbour is a thinking type can help us to understand that he is not being disagreeable on purpose when he disturbs the feeling tone of a party by interfering tactless truths which seem to him apropos.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide which is your first function because your superior and your first auxiliary function are both so well-developed that it is hard to tell which one represents your innate type. In this case it is sometimes easier to locate your inferior function. One way to do this it to observe what sorts of tasks you consistently postpone doing because you have " not time" for them. Often you will find that certain kinds of jobs are ignored day after day, whereas other tasks ( which are actually more time consuming and complicated ) do get done. Once you have located discovered your inferior function, you can easily locate your superior one, because it will invariably be the other function in the same category as the inferior one. For example, if your inferior function is an irrational function ( say intuition ) then your superior function will be the other irrational function sensation and vice versa. If your inferior function is a rational function (say feeling ) then your superior function is bound to be the remaining rational function ( thinking ) or vice versa.

AS we first become aware of these four potentials within us, we tend to label ourselves according to our superior function. In other words, our ego becomes identified with our superior function. We may not describe our feelings in the exact terminology used here, but we do tend to think of ourselves as one unit - a person with one special aptitude, excluding other potentials of which we are less aware. We become recognized by ourselves and others as " the one who is clever with our hands " or " the one who is good at mathematics." But later we usually come to recognise and develop our secondary functions - at which point " one become two . " We are " good with our hands " but we also enjoy reading and writing poetry , for example. Later comes a beginning awareness of capacities in a third area, corresponding to our third function. But this function, is so deeply buried in unconsciousness that it is difficult to excavate, so that it is often many years before one begins to have a sense of himself as having three areas.

During this time, the fourth function usually remains hidden. It is so buried in darkness, so unpracticed and therefore so threatening to our ego status, that we cannot approach it directly. But as we continue to develop and use our third function, the fourth function also begins to emerge into consciousness. By employing the third function, it is then, " out of the third, " that we gain access to our fourth. When this happens, there eventuates " the one as the fourth " For now there is potential for unity - a wholeness that includes all four aspects of our psyche and transcends the ego unity with which we began our exploration.

A Stroke of Genius


  1. Yes, how dare you? ;-)

    Have you read Dawkins, 'The God Delusion'? He is the most well known atheist around. He also wrote 'The Selfish Gene'.

    I am confused, (and also tired) how did you pair those off (what is the logic) - just curious why the functions remain underdeveloped in the unconscious, as they are obviously underdeveloped consciously but how do we know they are underdeveloped in the unconscious?

  2. All I know about strokes was when I saw my father have a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) which is kind of like a temporary stroke, ie. there's a blood clot in the brain but it dislodges and washes away after a minute or two.

    The unavoidable analogy for me was that of Hal being unplugged by Dave in 2001. You know that scene? Mind you, it mostly consists of Hal asking Dave to stop, which is to say he knew what was going on. My old man on the other hand had no idea.

    And nor did we! Anyway he got stupider and stupider and eventually he ended up with four words: somebody, who, saying, something, which seemed to come out in random order. Best I could make out it was an expression of his frustration at being unable to say what he wanted. Or perhaps he didn't know what he wanted? It was impossible to know really.

    Weirdly enough, he had a cup of tea and lie down and was fine the next morning!

  3. Hello

    Sorry it took so long to respond I have just been exceptionally busy. String - no I have not read Dawkins but I really have to make an effort to do so - might give me some insight into the inner workings of an atheists mind :) I amended the original blog because I felt it was missing a lot of vital information - so I added Sallie Nichols summary - hope you enjoy :)

    Hi NB :) Did your dad not recall anything at all the next day ?

  4. I still need to read the whole post here Destiny, but as I have to rush I just wanted to say I also loved this presentation by Dr Jill. It gave me comfort to know something of what my father went through when he had his strokes. Still I've often wondered what happens if a stroke affects the right brain and the left takes over instead. I'll have to read your post before saying more just in case you've answered that question, so for Arnie is famous for saying...I'll be back!

  5. I have added a link for you VallyP - A stroke of Genius hoped you would find it as interesting as I did :) Ironic that buyers seem prepared to pay more for artwork that appears to be generated from a more complex source / portion of the brain ?

  6. Just want to thank you for prompting more thought on this subject lol cant stop researching now

    The right side of the parietal lobe controls visual-spatial functions, such as judging the distance, position, size and speed of objects. This means that people who have had a right-side stroke often have trouble with depth perception and with judging where they are in relation to objects in their surroundings. This makes it difficult for these patients to reach for and grasp objects, to walk up or down stairs, to bring food to their mouths, to get dressed and to perform a myriad of other everyday functions. Some patients may even try to read a book without realizing that it is upside down.

    The right side of the brain is also responsible for analytical thinking. People whose right hemispheres have been damaged by a stroke may find it difficult to reason clearly or to solve even simple problems.

    Some stroke victims experience personality changes. While survivors of left-brain strokes tend to become introverted and meek, those who have had right-brain strokes may become more impulsive and inquisitive. This impulsivity may lead the patient to insist that he or she can still function just as normally as ever and attempt to drive, do difficult tasks by themselves or attempt to walk unaided. This can lead to further injury and can be a very difficult and distressing problem for caretakers to deal with.

    The right side of the brain also controls short-term memory and visual memory. People who have had a right-side stroke may experience short-term memory loss. While they may be able to recall events and song lyrics from decades ago, they may have little or no memory of what happened just a few days ago or that morning. Also, victims of right-brain stroke may have trouble with visual memory. This means that they will have difficulty recognizing faces, places and the names or functions of objects.

    Visual Impairment and Left-Side Neglect
    Signals from the left eye are sent to the right side of the brain, so people may experience visual impairment during and after a right-side stroke. This may range from blurred vision to blindness in that eye. Due to loss of vision in the left eye, some right-brain stroke patients may ignore or forget about people or objects that are on their left sides. This phenomenon is called "left-side neglect."