Marketing guru Mitch Joel (who is an excellent presenter, see for yourself) linked today to one of the best presentations at TED 08, this one by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor. This presentation by Dr. Taylor, and one by Benjamin Zander, I heard from many people who were at TED were the best of the conference. Although I had just a spare 30 minutes, I sat down to watch Jill's presentation after I saw the tip from Mitch. A bit unexpectedly, I was floored. In fact I was moved to tears, as was the packed TED theatre which gave her a huge standing ovation. Take some time today and watch this 18-minute TED presentation. This is such a wonderful talk. The content is informative and unexpected and yet simple as this intelligent scientist weaves a wonderful and visual narrative. No lectern, no walls. Her slides are simple but serve a necessary role. She also uses another powerful visual aid (but I won't give it away—watch it). Her story is an important one. And since her idea and her story matters, she is a person who realizes the presentation matters too. Just fantastic. This quote from an article by Dr. Taylor only two years after her stroke sums up one of her main points:
"I have shifted away from being a super analytical, confident risk taker who relied on the analytical skills housed in my brain's left hemisphere. Instead I experienced a fascinating and pleasurable shift in my perspective. When my left hemisphere shut down, my right hemisphere became dominant. Now, after many months of healing, I am much more mellow and secure in my understanding of who I am and what I want to accomplish with the finite time I have."
—Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor
(Sorry, you can skip this part if you like; a bit off topic.) My mother had a massive stroke in 1996, a blood clot that cut off blood supply to almost her entire left hemisphere. It was devastating. She would never again be able to speak (except for yes and no) or read and write or do even simple math. On the day of her stroke, I flew immediately to Portland, Oregon from Japan to meet my brothers by her bedside. I spent most of the first three days sitting beside her bed. She was conscious but virtually unresponsive. I didn't know if it would help, but I held her hand and talked to her anyway during the few times she was awake. Seeing Dr. Taylor's talk gave me some insights into what must have been happening with my mother in those early days and weeks after the stroke. Since my mother never regained speech (though she got language recognition back), she has never been able to tell us about her experience and recovery. However, Dr. Taylor's presentation was illuminating. My mother lost movement in her right side and lost most of her "left brain." But something funny has played out over the past eleven years: her so-called right-brain aptitudes seem to have become stronger. She was always a kind woman and well liked, but now she seems even more so. She communicates brilliantly with her smile and her eyes. Although she can not speak, healthcare workers and medical staff always remark how sweet she is, how funny, etc. In 1996 I thought I lost my mother, but what I have found is that—in spite of her loss of (spoken) language production—her personality today is actually an amplification of what it was before. I did not lose my mother at all. If the stroke would have been in the right hemisphere, language production may have remained, but I am not sure if I would recognize her.
The thing that kept me going on the PZ book, so that I could finish it on time, was the goal of getting the book out by Christmas so that I could show it to my mother. I put her picture with my father (who died suddenly of a stroke when I was a kid) in the dedication (right). I had nightmares about being lazy, missing the deadline, and then not being able to share the book with my mother. I didn't know if the book would be a bestseller and I didn't care. I just wanted to have a "real published book" to give my mother and to have my mom and dad's picture appear in a book and to see my mother's face when she saw the photo (I never told her about the photo until she saw it). To see my mother's delight, and even a touch of pride perhaps for her son, was my biggest reward. Here you can see a video clip of the moment I gave the book to my mother on Dec 23, 2007, the day before her 80th birthday. We were in her room in her assisted-living facility on the Oregon coast. (I never intended to put this on YouTube as this is a private moment. But somehow I don't mind sharing this with others now.)
Dr. Taylor's presentation and my own experience with my mother remind me of something very simple: Life is precious and short, there's no point worrying about the past and the future, they do not really exist anyway. What matters is this moment. And every moment I get a chance to spend with my mother in the USA, or even via a phone call, is a gift I appreciate very much.
• Dr. Taylor's website