When someone is asked to name one thing they’d like to change about themselves, rarely do they answer, “I’d like to change my brain.” But changing the way your brain works is possible, according to Author and Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, and ongoing research into the inner workings of the human brain will have a profound effect on today’s younger generation and many more generations to follow.
The key to how the brain works, Taylor says, is in understanding how each hemisphere functions. The right hemisphere processes the energy of the sights and sounds we encounter and transfers that data energy into a neural code to provide us with the big picture. The left hemisphere takes the information from that right hemisphere and processes it specifically so that we can interact with the external world. It’s these two different ways of perceiving what’s going on around us, she says, that work together to create one’s single, seamless perception of reality.
“When I look at you and I look at you with love in my heart or I stand in an ocean and I feel the expansiveness and the openness of the experience, that’s when I’m experiencing my right hemisphere personality,” Jill says. “When I’m focusing on the details and I’m experiencing my stress circuitry that may relate to my past or may relate to my future, that’s when I’m in the character of my left hemisphere. So we really have these two very different ways of being inside of our bodies.”
Taylor also notes that the number one relationship humans have is the relationship between the character of their right brain and that of their left brain. As an example, she cites the internal conflict one might experience when weighing a lucrative job offer in another city. While the left side of the brain might desire the money and status the new job would offer, the right side acts as the “heart consciousness” and counters with arguments for maintaining the status quo in the name of family stability, a network of friends, and proximity to other family members. The beauty of humanity, she says, is in the balance between both sides of the brain, which is always at work to optimize and thrive in the external world, while striving to maintain a sense of inner peace.
“The brain is this incredible phenomenal, intricately connected delicate fabric of life. The thing about the brain is that everything is working in there all the time,” Taylor says. “The myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains? No, I would say whoever says that was not aware that, if it’s alive and it’s in your head, you’re using that.”
Looking at the present state of neuroscience, Jill says the entire dogma of conversation has changed in the last 15 years. While it was long believed that the brain had no capacity to re-organize itself or regenerate cells, recent research has found the brain can generate new neurons and rewire itself in response to trauma. More importantly, she says, while it was once understood the wiring of the brain was established between birth and age three, the brain’s neuroplasticity actually allows it to rearrange its cells moment by moment every day, meaning we have the relevant ability to change the underlying biology of the brain based on our thoughts throughout our lives.
“We’re at a time when (the younger) generation is going to live in a completely different world than my generation, because my generation didn’t know this and, because we didn’t know this, we’ve just been running essentially on go,” she says. “(Today’s younger generation) is actually now capable of really considering what’s going on inside your brain. ‘How do I feel about this? Do I want more of this or less of this?’ And then acting on that by choice.”
Looking forward, Taylor sees the number of wonderful advances continuing to grow in neuroscience. Yet, she also
worries there might be a price to pay for some of those new methods.
“I think transcranial magnets are fabulous for waking up certain cells inside of the brain. We are going to learn over time which pieces of technology are really helping the human perform better and which ones are actually getting in the way of re-training the brain to take over its own function so that it can function better at its own natural level,” Jill says. For example, the radiation emitted by cell phones has been a heated topic for debate over the past few years, and The New York Times recently reported on the ongoing controversy of the latest guidelines released (and revised - again) by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).
“We are waging war on the biological system with the amount of electromagnetic energetics coming at us, and this is something that we’re not even thinking about or looking at. How many cancers are there going to (sic) be as a byproduct of it?”
“We may not have been considering that as an ethical perspective in foresight, says Taylor, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take these factors into consideration as new technology and evidence of potential ramifications continue to merge.”