This video is quite extraordinary. An expert in neuroscience and advocate for people with mental illness, Jill Bolte Taylor, suffered her own stroke and, amazingly, had enough clarity during it to realize she was having a stroke and she should take advantage of a rare opportunity to try to study the brain from the inside out. Amazing for various reasons. One thing she does in the video is show a real human brain and makes the point that the two sides are completely separate, connected by a small piece. The right side does massive parallel processing. The left side does serial processing. The right side is apparently what makes humans smarter than computers which have much faster serial processing.

Anyway, one set of comments she made is that the right brain perceives this field of “energy”. If that is not enough evidence that experiencing “qi” is a non-intellectual non-left-brained thing for left-brained people, I don’t know what is. It seems obvious that people have to turn off the intellectualism that says “what should this be?” or “there is no possible way this could be” and so on – all useless left-brained chatter at first. But… the obvious is not so obvious precisely because of the left brain getting in the way of both itself and the right brain processing. People’s “smartness” is what causes their “dumbassness”, ironically. This happens to all of us but probably more so to the most nerdy (among) us.

On the other hand, one could go off in endless new agey exposition about yin and yang, etc., and the purpose of martial arts being spirituality and blah blah blah. My left brain says that is just too much right brain rather than a balance of yin and yang, but some people go overboard on the right brain side (maybe a reaction to the normal overloaded left side that causes the problems stated in the paragraph above). Anyway here is a quote on what she says on the right hemisphere:

Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It’s all about right here right now. Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like. What this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and what it sounds like. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.

Wow. Kinda new agey hippie dippie, but it explains a lot, including why one would go off the deep end on the hippie-ness. She also talks about the left brain processing linearly and living in the past and future. Great for learning and making sense of our experiences. Bringing her generally fascinating talk back to martial arts, people obviously talk about the need to be “in the moment” which is a right brain function. Also, she says “it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies“, perhaps the talk’s most relevant phrase for ma.

Fascinating. This field of study can really shed light on internal martial arts and martial arts in general and all of the cliches about them and what’s really happening with mind-body training. Explanations of the big mysteries will become clearer and clearer in the next few years or decades. The abstruse sayings will finally make more sense. Of course a good Zen koan should help trick the left brain into getting out of the way but we wouldn’t have known how it works without modern science explaining the brain better and better. Now I think it must make your left brain go “does not compute” like in the scifi movies where the HAL-like computer is short circuited. Only as a human, one then may be lucky enough to switch to some right brain processing. As an aside, I have to hand it to yiquan again. They are on the forefront of trying to use these kinds of findings and vocabulary to understand and explicitly articulate the traditional instructions on gaining internal skill. Then again on another level I don’t care what labels we use to describe these phenomena. That is all more of my smart-but-stupid left brain chatter. The blog is just helping me to dump it out and perhaps be more free of it.

Finally, not to spoil the video, but at the end she concludes:

So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere where we are — I am — the life force power of the universe, and the life force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form. At one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere. where I become a single individual, a solid, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me.

Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.

Apparently after recovering, she can now tap into her right or left hemispheres at will. No wonder some people with long ima or ma experience start talking about being at one with the universe and so on. They must’ve found their right brains. They found the taiji, the tao, nirvana and so on. I think it’s all a jedi mind trick. But the mind trick seems like only part of the mind-body trick. They are right of course. Inner peace and peace are the important thing. But I wonder – did they find the taijiQUAN? I suppose they just don’t even care at that point and that is this irony of the so-called martial arts – learning to not fight and so on, but still, the mind-body trick seems even more fascinating…