Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 40: Alternative Thought Processes
It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind
amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.
-JILL BOLTE TAYLOR, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
By now it's crystal clear that parables—whether about Tanzan and Ekido, or about The World Fair of Religions—reveals a lot about different thought processes. We hardly think much about, let alone examine, our thought process. This is indeed a shame, considering how sophisticated the human brain actually is. According to Harvard Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Science History Owen Gingerich (b. 1930) in God's Goof (2001), there are 100 billion neurons in the brain, and each neuron connects with about 10,000 other neurons. The number of synaptic interconnections in a single human brain greatly exceeds the number of stars in the Milky Way: a quadrillion synapses (a one with 15 zeros) versus two hundred billion stars (a two with 11 zeros).
But back to thought process, what is it anyway? Surprisingly, the Oxford and American Heritage dictionaries exclude the phrase. Collins defines it as "the process or act of using your mind to consider or think about something," while MacMillan defines it as "the way in which your mind works, or the process of thinking about something." Lame definitions don't help much, do they? Then, perhaps we need to turn to Maltese physician and psychologist Edward de Bono (b. 1933) who is considered a world-class authority on the subject of thinking. He went as far as suggesting to teach thinking as an academic subject in schools. In half a dozen books that he authored—among others New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking in the Generation of New Ideas, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step By Step, and Six Thinking Hats—he coined several terms, most notably "lateral thinking" and "parallel thinking."
Parallel thinking, according to de Bono, is a constructive alternative to "adversarial thinking" or "linear thinking", long advocated by what he referred to as "the Greek gang of three": Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (427-348 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC). In short, parallel thinking focuses more on explorations, thus looking for "what can be" rather than for "what is." It is a thought process in which "focus is split in specific directions." While adversarial or linear thinking applies a reductionist and dialectic "either/or" approach, parallel thinking applies a holistic "both+and" approach. While historically one approach has generated reductionism, cruelty and violence in the great Abrahamic religions, the other has inspired pacifism and holism in Zen-inspired martial arts.
Just thinking about this paradox may give one a stroke. Perhaps that's what is exactly needed! In 1996, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (b. 1959) experienced a massive stroke in her left brain at age 37. She is not your average Jill, but an acclaimed neuro-anatomist specializing in the postmortem investigation of the human brain and affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center. There are many brain scientists all over the world, and there have been even more patients suffering from brain injuries. However Dr. Taylor has uniquely experienced brain trauma both as a scientist and as a patient, from the inside-out, from the outside-in. Therefore, her minute-by-minute account of her experience is not only unique, but authoritative. (Please see above video if you haven't done so.)
Clearly Dr. Taylor's personal experience provided her (and us) with an invaluable before/after comparison. In her landmark book My Stroke of Insight (2008), she provides invaluable insights and first hand accounts on the merits of the often under-estimated, animal-like, right brain thinking. During the stroke that made her temporarily depended only on her right brain—considered to be the lower, animal, more primitive brain—she felt that it is “the gateway to enlightenment and nirvana” for it gives her the ability to thinks holistically and peacefully. Since the left brain organizes details in a linear and methodical configuration, it manifests the concept of time into the past, present, and future. On the other hand, the right brain only focuses on the present, thus it is "free to think intuitively outside the box." Though her discovery itself was actually not new, what was new is that it was experienced first hand by a brain scientist.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter