Don J. Modesto
Eighteen minutes of engrossing narration. A neurologist dissects her stroke for us.
Is enlightenment reduceable to neural disfunction?
You say reduce-able as if it is somehow less. For people without some sort of brain pathology, it takes many years of practice to learn to shut off the left brain chatter and tap into the right brain processing.
I come from the hippie days and many of my friends achieved much the same result for temporary periods using various psychotropic substances. The problem with an experience that comes out of the blue and has no context, that one has not used some sort of discipline to develop, is that when one returns to ordinary existence, it is very difficult to take the experience any deeper.
For instance, in Zen, Kensho is basically an "opening experience" but daily practice can take that initial "opening" and expand it. Through an actual practice one can learn to deepen the experience while still being able to maintain left brain function and act effectively in the world.
Having had friends who sought to access this state via chemicals, I can tell you that they were largely unable to integrate the two brain experiences and they turned into total space cadets. We always referred to these folks as having burned out too many brain cells. The Dr.'s description of her stroke sheds some interesting light on what Enlightenment is in a neurological sense. Clearly, as a scientist, she would be a fairly right brain type ordinarily. Her experience of having the left brain pretty much turn off for a time gave her this insight. But, like the hippies who did it with drugs, she doesn't have direct control over this, at least as far as I can tell from the talk given.
The Buddhists have always conceded that Enlightenment was possible outside of practice. There is a classification of Buddhas known as Pratyeka Buddhas who achieved Enlightenment spontaneously, outside of formal practice. Could be that some of them had some sort of brain episode that gave them access to this state. Certainly sounds like that is what happened here.
But I don't think that describing the process as a dysfunction would be correct nor do I think that the Dr.'s experience does anything other than validate the ideas presented by various spiritual systems. The difference is that in formal systems the subject learns to control access to this state. Having heard talks by various Roshis over time, I can tell you that they are generally quite functional in their left brain ability... usually very incisive, articulate, precise, etc. Not at all like the folks who achieved similar states using chemicals. The Dr, seems to have done much the same thing in the sense that she had the experience of the left brain shutting down and then had it turned back on. That has made her aware of an alternate reality but has also left her quite functional. It is unclear whether she would be able to access the alternative experience again with doing much the same training as certain spiritual systems advocate.