Lectures for a New Year: A Brain Scientist Studies Her Own Stroke


Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist (or "brain scientist") from Indiana. In 1996 she experienced a major stroke, out of the blue, at age 37. As a scientist deeply involved with brain function, she was ideally situated to understand the stroke as it happened (as much as anyone can during a frickin' stroke), and later to draw meaningful lessons from what happened. That stroke is the topic of this twenty-minute lecture.

Bolte Taylor's "Stroke of Insight" is the second most-watched TED Talk of all time, with many millions of views across various channels. It's a curious lecture, as my first reaction to it was, frankly, "Boy, this lady seems to be using some hippie-dippy language in describing the people in the room." (Lots of "energy" and "connection" and such.) It was only after I'd listened to the entire talk that I understood her point: the brain's hemispheres have different ways of viewing the world; she chooses to inhabit the hemisphere that uses language that I perceived as hippie-dippy. This is actually really profound and emotional -- watch the talk to witness this arc for yourself.

Topics: the brain's hemispheres as parallel and serial processors, the separate experiences of those two brains, what happens when one begins to malfunction, and what this means about our individual experience of the world.

For: anyone interested in the brain, cognition, and how we think about our world. Warning: a real human brain is shown and handled onstage, as an explanatory prop. This may be gross to some lots of people. It's fairly brief.

Further Reading

Although I haven't read it, Bolte Taylor wrote a book about her experience, entitled My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. She also has an extensive website which reveals that, among other things, she endorses Taylor acoustic guitars. Nice!


TED Talks have great transcripts; on the TED site there's an interactive transcript (upper right part of the page) and there are subtitles available in 42 languages on the TED site. You can even download high-quality versions of the video with or without subtitles.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out! Many thanks to reader Karen for suggesting this one.