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2/25/09

Right-Brain Strokes and "I"

This picture was drawn by a woman, PP, who suffered a stroke in the right hemisphere of her brain. Notice that the left side of the cat and the lady are not wholly filled in.

She is typical of right-brain stroke victims. So to speak, they lose one half their world. They will eat food on the right side of their plate and leave the left side untouched. When somebody turns the other half to the right side, they see it and will eat it.

If two people stand before them, they may only respond to the visitor on the right.

When we first learn about this phenomenon it surprises us. Surely we would not do anything so foolish as fail to see one half of our world. We believed there is a higher awareness, a consciousness, a self, an "I" that oversees it all and remedies our errors.

Right-stroke victims provide evidence that we might be mistaken to continue believing so.

But that does not make the issue of consciousness much simpler. The gap between brain and mind remains a chasm, despite claims of philosophers and neuroscientists that it soon will be narrowed. Those who doubt them often hold that a difference exists, one between worldviews. In one, physical laws are expected to explain consciousness processes. The other points out that in the community of advanced physics there is a growing sense that other dimensions are hidden from us and will forever remain so.

What implications does right-brain stroke behavior have for science writ large? In a sense, not much. Like Buddhism, the scientific worldview does not need an inner self, although most people are convinced they have one. (One exception was Suzanne Segal and the change in her profoundly affected her life.)

Most people also hold that belief in self is vital for social cohesion. Without it, they say, individuals lose motivation and the moral order is threatened.

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