Apr 23, 2008

retraining the brain

In a brief NewScientist interview, Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist, describes the insight into her thinking a stroke in her left hemisphere provided.
Yes, renewing or rerunning neurocircuits was a cognitive choice. The non-functional circuits started to come back online one at a time and I could choose to either hook into that circuitry or not feed it. For example, when the anger circuit wanted to run again, I did not like the way it felt inside my body so I said "no" to its running. Every time it tried to get triggered and run again, I brought my attention back to it - I did not like the way anger felt so I shut it down. Now that circuit rarely runs at all, mostly because I feel it getting triggered and nip it in the bud....

So, I look at us as a collection of neurocircuitry of thoughts and emotions and physiological responses. When you see the brain as the kind of computer network that it is, it becomes easier to manipulate. But you have to be willing. People say "Oh I'm so much more than my thoughts, I'm so much more than neurocircuitry," and I'm like, yeah, I had that fantasy once, too. I don't any more. As human beings we all have the ability to focus our minds on what we want to think about.
The more I learn about neuroscience, the more my thoughts on morality drift toward Aristotelian virtue ethics--that we, as a collection of neurally-inscribed habits, can reshape and retrain our behaviors betterward.

Taylor's twenty-minute talk in the video below is by turns tragic, mystical, and hilarious. "But I'm a very busy woman! I don't have time for a stroke!"

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