Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TED: Mirror Neurons Make the World Make More Sense

VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization (7:44)

I often watch TED talks because I find them absolutely fascinating and uplifting. This one, however, did what the best of TED talks do, and blew my mind. He talks about mirror neurons in the brain, and how they enable us to see someone do something and learn it ourselves. If we see someone else being touched, a percentage of the neurons that would fire if it were happening to us fire anyway. The way we know it is not happening to us is because the messages from our skin and body are not correlating the message. If that part of our body is numbed, however, we think we actually ARE feeling it.

He even says at the end that this works for people who have phantom limb syndrome. If they are in pain in their phantom limb, they can watch that same body part being massaged on someone else and it eases their pain! This is incredible!

The healing potentials of this are mind-blowing. We could watch other people receiving massage and feel relaxed ourselves. I wonder if the efficacy is reduced when we watch a recording of it, or if it works equally well in person or on tape. It makes me wonder if all the images of violence that saturate our media get mirrored into our own bodies. I would not be surprised if that were the case. Watch enough murder-crime shows, and perhaps our body begins to mirror that death.

On the other side of things, though, being around affectionate people gives us affection, too. I clearly remember my parents often being physically affectionate toward each other throughout my childhood, and I wonder if that is one of the reasons I feel so well loved deep down in the core of me.

I also know that my Mom once told me about how as a kid she watched others diving off the diving board, and once she had watched enough, she went up and was able to do it the first time without anyone actually telling her how. I have noticed that I can learn physical actions the same way, specifically with dance or sports. If I see it enough, then my body and my muscles know how to do it. I thought it was an inherited ability, and perhaps the degree of it is, but now I know the neuroscience behind it and that all our brains are wired for that kind of mirroring.

So if I watch someone pound a beat on a drum, part of me is beating that drum. If I watch someone dancing around a fire, part of me is dancing around that fire. This helps explain why I feel so good after a drum circle even if my health did not allow me to participate directly.

Suddenly, the fandom around professional sports makes a little more sense, too.


anastasia said...

Watching other people get massaged makes me feel jealous.

Sterling said...

Phantom limb: I remember there was something on House like this where the guy had his hand blown off in the war but it was cramped, so he was in constant pain. House put his hand in a mirror box and told him to unclench his fist and it relieved the pain. Wow.

Affection sharing: Possible basis for compersion?

Sports fandom: I actually totally get that. Having "your team" win is quite awesome...but to toss another thing out there...could "fandom" as our folk use it be related somehow? We see these characters have grand adventures and triumphs and share them?

Philosofisher said...

hmmm... I wonder if reading also triggers it or not. I would think so to some degree....