Using Brains to Build Healthier Communities


BW: Do you hope that The Brain Extravaganza! project will spread to other cities?

JBT: Yes. You know the [CowParade has] been in over 100 cities around the world. It’s similar to the cows, but, in its own unique way, very different, because it’s about us. I’m hoping there is at least the same amount of interest in our brains. We were going to have a big gala and auction [the brains], but I don’t know how much of a market there is for gigantic brains. If they don’t sell, we might package them as a traveling exhibit.

BW: What’s one of your favorites?

JBT: There’s one brain that was sponsored by a proton-radiation therapy center that we have here in Bloomington. There are only 10 of these centers in the states, and at one point there were only four. A lot of people come to Bloomington for proton therapy. This artist does incredibly dense, thick, woodland type of tree-branching and roots. Half of the brain is organic branches. On the other half, she painted the middle (main) cerebral artery, coming out in the appropriate place with all the appropriate branches. Yesterday she put little neurons all over the brain and created this gorgeous network. From a neuroanatomical perspective, I could not be more happy. It’s exquisite. If you like neurons, the artisanship is amazing.

BW: What is proton therapy?

JBT: You can use a proton beam as a form of radiation therapy. To create a proton beam, the protons have to be generated and running several miles to pick up speed. We can then shoot a very fine beam at cancer cells at any place in the body in a very focused way. With proton therapy, if you have a tumor that’s shaped around an artery, we can shoot the beam to hit only the tumor and not the artery. It’s amazing because we can be so precise and don’t have as much collateral damage to the other innocent cells. Typical radiation therapy uses photons, which are light energy, which goes in and scatters and hits everything. It hits the target along with innocent tissue. But the proton beam is like a laser beam that we can finely manipulate to hit just what we want to hit, and because of that we can give up to 10 times the amount per dose.

BW: Other than The Brain Extravaganza!, what are you focusing on these days?

JBT: I travel a lot. I still keynote all over the world. The book is out in 30 languages. It hits different populations in so many different ways. Entire countries are changing their policy on how their medical systems interact with people with brain disorder, brain trauma, because they’re realizing that if we treat people as though they will recover, they’ll recover more than if we treat them as though they won’t recover. Because what that means to them is dollars and cents, long-time disability. We get them off the system. Let’s put the money into them now and get them better and work with the timing of the brain, as opposed to an artificial timeline. That’s been profoundly rewarding.

I’m also working on the creation of a video game specifically designed to help people with neurological trauma. And there’s a movie based on the book in process. Ron Howard is the director, and he is developing the screenplay. Jodie Foster, my top choice, still wants the job.

BW: What do you want people to take away from your Brain Extravaganza?

JBT: On the night of May 4, in Bloomington, in conjunction with The Brain Extravaganza!, we’re having what’s called “A Night of 100 Brains.” In Bloomington we have nine galleries that make up a gallery walk. Two to three times a year, people go on the gallery walk, from gallery to gallery, enjoying the pieces, having dinner downtown, and it’s a nice town event. This year, we’ve asked all of the schools to have their kids draw, paint, or create models of the brain. One hundred of these are going to be chosen to go on display for the gallery walk. For me, a healthy brain is defined as having a lot of connections between the cells that make up the brain. The same thing is true for a community. A healthy community is a community that has lots of healthy connections between the people in that community. We’re creating a really healthy network between my not-for-profit, Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS, and the city of Bloomington, Indiana University (which is enormous), the business community, the artist community, the volunteer community as well as the school system throughout the county.

BW: The brain becomes the connector.

JBT: That’s exactly right. We are offering our own parts to it, and we all take responsibility for what we’re bringing to it. We’re playing together in a healthy way. It’s a beautiful model. I want to give this model to other communities. It’s not just about the brain. It’s about how we network with one another and how we make it interesting. It’s designed to help create a healthier community.

This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s Summer 2012 issue.

More From Brain World

You May Also Like

The Enigma of Human Consciousness
Unlocking the Power of the Mind

Sponsored Link

About Us

A magazine dedicated to the brain.

We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

Education and Training

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to our newsletter below and never miss the news.

Stay Connected