Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

"Mirror cells" May Be Key To Communication 129

tag writes "New Scientist has an article discussing 'mirror cells' -- neurons that fire both when you perform an action and when you observe someone else performing that action. Researches think this explains how we 'judge intentions and feelings' and may 'answer important questions about human evolution, language and culture.' The article links to an essay by one of the researchers."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

"Mirror cells" May Be Key To Communication

Comments Filter:
  • by bluelip ( 123578 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @11:54AM (#460687) Homepage Journal
    Definately explains why I flinch when someone gets kicked in the crotch.
  • And if I watch myself being kicked, it hurts twice as bad!
  • Who will be the first to patent Mirror Cells?
  • Gee, I could have done that research!
  • by atrowe ( 209484 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @11:59AM (#460691)
    "...neurons that fire both when you perform an action and when you observe someone else performing that action."

    I guess that explains the appeal in porn.

  • I wonder if it would be possible to emulate this with software; it could be a big leap in AIs being able to recognize patterns.

    Applications are endless...user friendly anticipation of commands, targeted ads, digital sentience...

  • by AxB_teeth ( 156656 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:02PM (#460693) Homepage Journal
    Sounds like we figured out empathy. Now tell me how the hell we're supposed to detect replicants.
  • So, basically, you're against trying to figure things out?
    This view makes no sense to me. How is it like botany, might I ask? Perhaps you were unaware that botany means "the study of plants." In any case, what they are doing is trying to conduct beneficial research into the nature of behavior, learning, and consciousness.
  • What are you talking about? It's funny when someone else gets kicked in the crotch. Haven't you seen America's Funniest Home Videos? It's half an hour worth of crotch injuries every week.
  • They say that these mirror cells are *how* we learn from culture, society, peers, experiences, and such, and then *apply* this knowledge to life. It does not create the personality, it allows the personality to interact with the world.
  • I saw back in the mid-eighties in high school. The video instructor (Stan Smith maybe?) claimed that by merely repeatedly watching the "perfect form" displayed by the tennis players on the video (Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, et al.), then slowly practicing that form yourself, you could improve your game dramatically. I forget what he called it but it was something like "neuro-muscular programming" or muscle memory training. Maybe it really works... I didn't really see any improvement though, but it might take a lot more than the measly amount of time & effort I put into it.

    #include "disclaim.h"
    "All the best people in life seem to like LINUX." - Steve Wozniak
  • This must be where deja vu [] comes from.

    But deja vu evokes such subtle, inexplicable emotions from the strangest things.

    How do these recognition patterns work? I dispute the fact that our recognition is based on something as simple and easily broken down as individual visual moments.

    I think there is a uniqueness to everyone's interpretation of the world, and that it is probably a mistake to put so much emphasis on recognition cues picked up from others. I don't want to get mystical here (unless you consider psychology mystical) but the very act of recognition can be fraught with psychological connotations, provoking memories and associations.

    People who have sexual fetishes, for instance, get a sexual response to contact with certain items or materials. For them, certain items are associated with things that usually have nothing to do with their original purpose. How could this happen if our communication, and the meaning of things in the outside world, comes entirely from other people?

  • I wonder what this means for people who have large numbers of these types of neurons and can somehow be proven to empathize with certain roles in an interaction. IE, if it can be shown that a person physiologically empathizes more with the attacker than the victim in some sort of altercation, would governments want to use that as a way to discriminate against that person in a court room?
  • he's trying to restrict abortion, yet he PAID for an ex girlfriend to get one BEFORE it was legal!
  • So, to recognize an idiot you have to have been one? Makes you think twice about flaming :)
  • This sounds like a great development for designing more 'interactive' computing. Sure, it's not going to create a robot that I love on a spiritual/emotional level per say, but it has some far reaching applicability towards computer AI. For if a computer can truly 'anticipate' what I'm going to do based on a set of simulated mirror neurons in its neural network computing structure, what's to stop computing speed increasing at the same rate it does today. Androids, helper software 'bots', etc. would all become a reality in a treuer, more natural form than today's complex AI algorithms. They would also run faster as they would not be evaluating millions of lines of code on what to do next, they would just... know!
  • by Erasmus Darwin ( 183180 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:12PM (#460703)
    While I'm personally more of a "free speech" type and dislike the efforts being made to cut down on "violent" television, movies, games, etc., this research does provide ammunition for arguments that could be used as another link between media violence and real violence. Besides the traditional desensitization, this seems to indicate that stabbing someone and watching someone get stabbed would both trigger some common neurons.

    I'm curious, however, if they are differences in the mirror neuron activation between a real-world event and an event watched on television. If there's a lesser mirroring effect with a two-dimensional image, that might serve to at least partially deflect the arguments against media violence that refer to mirror neurons.

  • by fantom_winter ( 194762 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:13PM (#460704)
    This is interesting, because there are neurological disorders in which people are unable to attribute mental states to other people (Autism) and there hasn't been a really good explination for the problem. One person wrote a book called "Mindblindness" which discussed the very problem, and his answer was a theory of mind that was compartmentalized, meaning that there were different parts of the brain that performed specific fucntions, and that an autistic person brain was missing or had problems with that particular region.

    However, if there are cells like this, it would go further in explaining this problem as well as possibly diagnosing it. If these cells are clustered in one area of the brain, it would go a long way to showing that the brain is compartmentalized in that way, vs. being more of a pure neural network kind of idea that others believe.

    This discovery may have very severe impacts on the philosophy of mind and discussions of Neuroscience. The problem of "other minds" has long been an issue for the eliminative materialist, and such a cell's discovery gives them something to talk about when a cartesial dualist asks them about it.

  • Deja vu is probably caused by aspects of the trigger situation acting as retrieval cues that unconsciously remind one of an earlier situation, causing a feeling of familiarity. I don't see quite how mirror cells could cause this. However...
    Jamais vu(French for "never seen"), the feeling that one is experiencing something for the first time, even though they've experienced it before, is related. This may be explained by the encoding specificity principle. Despite the overt similarity of the current and past situations, the cues of the current situation do not match the encoded features of the earlier situation. If one's mirror cells aren't properly triggered, but other aspects of the brain are, you may *know* that the situation should seem familiar, but be unable to get the proper response from your mirror cells.
  • by Lita Juarez ( 201217 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:14PM (#460706)
    I think that the real reason that these neural signals seem so "novel" to the researchers is because the signals are actually not present at all. It is more likely that the signals that the researchers measured were artefacts. Due to the huge density of neurons in the cortex (they were measuring signals in the frontal cortex), there is a real risk that a poorly designed configuration of recording electrodes could measure local currents from neighbouring regions of the cortex. These local currents could easily be incorrectly attributed to the existance of "mirror cells".

    There is no functionality provided by these supposed "mirror cells" that can not be explained by the already well documented phenomenon of "conditioned response". If mirror cells really did exist, do you seriously suppose that in over 100 years of electroencephalography no-one would have detected them before? I am confident that this reasearch will be proved to be fundamentally flawed upon deeper investigation.

  • "The scientists are perpretrating a myth, and a dangerous one at that." Given you are obviously not a scientist, the statement equally applies to you. We know the brain is a bunch of neurons. You're just afraid to think of yourself in that way. Maybe your mirror neurons have failed to produce logic as a reason for others. Are you saying that I could destroy all of your neurons and you would still feel (religious beliefs of an after life are irrelevant).
  • by Cato ( 8296 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:15PM (#460708)
    Susan Blackmore's excellent book, The Meme Machine, proposes the idea that imitation (of specific actions or behaviours) is at the heart of meme replication. The idea is that you see or hear someone humming a certain tune, and that meme hops neatly into your brain; imitation is the key, i.e. your brain now makes you able to hum the same tune, even if you don't do it straight away. The same arguments apply to art, language, music, and trolling on Slashdot :)

    The interesting bit is that her hypothesis has generated testable predictions, including one that specific brain mechanisms would be found that support imitation. It looks like mirror neurons are such a mechanism, supporting her ideas. has some interesting review comments on this book, see
  • See my earlier post, "Possible applications..."
  • This research would have interesting implications concerning the link between violence on TV and in movies . . .

    EXCEPT for the fact that this research seems utterly and completely bogus.

    Did anyone else notice how goofy the illustrations that accompanied the article were?
  • I can think of hundreds of applications this would have in the Porn Industry...
  • > I guess that explains the appeal in porn.

    Except that for porn, it isn't a neuron that "fires".

  • I can't begin to talk about how on-topic that was
  • Now, as far as I can understand, these 'mirror cells' are supposed to behave as if we were experiencing the thing we were watching. Take the aforementioned 'America's funniest home videos'.
    So this donkey tries to do some guy in the pooper, I find that pants-peeingly funny, but if I was the one who the donkey was molesting, I'd be a little bit scared and a lot pissed off (and maybe just a wee smidge turned on..). That isn't mirroring my reaction to the occurence, it has a completely different affect.

    Or perhaps I'm just missing some huge point of the study.

    Oh, and I don't know if anyone's seen that video, but the best part is that you can hear the cameraman laughing his ass off and the camera shaking as his friend runs for his poor, poor life.
  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:20PM (#460715) Homepage
    "Urban existentialist?" (As distinct from what, the old rural variety of the Parisian left bank in the 50's? I'm trying to imagine Kojeve, Sartre, Jaspers and company in an episode of Green Acres, but it isn't working.) I suspect either a troll, or terminal pretentiousness. But I'll answer anyway:

    Just because we understand how something is implemented, doesn't mean that it is any less authentic an experience. You probably had a sort of folk-theory about the mechanisms for conscious experience - that there was some non-material substance, a "soul" that somehow recieved material information. That model is pretty shopworn at this point. But just because these experiences are essentially implemented by neurological processes, rather than by effects on a little "homonculus of light," doesn't really change the experience.

    For those of us who have studed neuroscience, the 'bunches of neurons firing' are, themselves, beautiful and awe-inspiring.

  • Acutally, that would explain a lot.

    Because most of us grew up with televisions and computers (giving us a 2-dimensional view of the world), and we learned at an early age that MOST stuff on television is made up, we associated television with make-believe. We didn't see a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Jerry drops an anvil on Tom, and then tried to do the same to our cat. (At least, I hope not; that would void my entire argument.) We associated 'flat' with 'not real', and the same neurons didn't fire.

    As an experiment, I bet if you had someone who had Never seen a television before, and you showed them a video clip of an act of violence, they Would feel the same thing as the people involved. But because we are pretty much insensitized to it (and we know that it isn't real unless it is in 3D), the images don't affect us.

    HOWEVER; if the same event happened right in front of us (for example, someone gets stabbed), then it Would affect us greatly; much moreso than seeing the same image on television.

    Pretty fascinating, if you ask me.

  • Does that means I can mirror my brain when it gets /.ed?

    The sad thing is that their sole purpose for setting up their labs in the desert is that by chance some reporter would use that headline.

    You think their excitement is in regards to the Mirror cells breakthrough? Wrong, they're just happy some f'ing journalist finally wrote "COOL PEOPLE IN THE HOT DESERT."

  • Absolutely not! For one, it doesn't unravel the problem of consciousness much at all, really.. There are still heated arguments over what we know a priori or what we don't know, IF prior knowledge exists or not, how such cells described in this article could be used to make a functioning brain, etc.

    That being said, for a person to resolve that there are mysteries unexplainable without any reason for saying it is POOR judgement. Certainly there is evidence of the unexplainable in Mathematics, where Godel proved the impossiblily of having a complete system of mathematics, but he produced proof of such a problem, and there are concrete examples.

    As scientists, humans have probed the smallest parts of matter and seen pretty closely what they ARE. And that is because we have been patient and determined to do so. How many people in the 1800's said that physics was done, that there were no more discoveries to be made? QUITE A FEW.

    We can understand all of this about matter, yet our brains are made of matter, and we have trouble turning that glass of science inward on ourselves. But to say that it is impossible, or a bad idea to do so, is silly. The more we understand about ourselves, the better we can survive in our environment, and maybe the longer we will be around to have children and grow exponentially like nanobots eating away at the earth. (just kidding).

    If you don't want to explore the mysteries of the mind, then don't. But don't get angry when other people do so with success.

  • You fool! Everybody knows "deja vu" happens when they change the Matrix!
  • Proof of this phenomenon can be found in the male groin. No, not that way - What I mean is look at the way a room of guys reacts when another guy get kicked in the nuts!
  • Disclaimer: If you are an athiest or agnostic, none of the rambling thoughts below are likely to be of interest to you. Feel free to ignore them.

    I find this really rather dismaying. These scientist are attempting to explain the most beautiful parts of our consciousness - love, hate, even consciousness itself - in terms of how a bunch of neurons fire.

    Actually, even as a person who believes deeply in a religion that is challenged by this discovery, I find the information quite thrilling and compelling.

    I've always thought that true faith invites intellectual curiosity, because if you really believe it, how can you be worried about the facts contradicting it?

    When a discovery or observation seems to contradict my philosophy, I try not to dismiss the observation out of hand. I approach it with skepticism, because we should approach everything with skepticism, but once compelling evidence is present, I need to consider a couple possibilites: 1. In some peripheral way, my understanding of the world might not be correct. 2. In some way, my understanding of this new information might not be correct.

    Still, this new information should be studied with enthusiasm, with all of my preconceptions on the table, including my religious views... because if I fear having my religion challenged, then my faith might not really be as strong as I thought.

    In that regard, scientific findings, even scientific myths (as you called them), can never really be "dangerous" to either of us.

    As for the notion that something never will be explained, simply because the presence of "mystery" is important to you... You are free to hold that view, but it seems a bit peculiar to urge humility in the same breath.

  • One of my roommates in college must have seen this video. He spent all of his spare time watching tennis. In fact, I don't remember seeing much TV aside from tennis that year...wonder if my game improved? :) Seriously, though, he won many intramural games this way (he said).

    The concept reminds me of a method I was taught while learning to play the piano. Pretend you're playing a piece of music perfectly. While you are "hearing" the music in your head, you are also "feeling" the keys under your fingers. The next time you actually play the music on the piano, your technique would be improved as if you had practiced. It seems to work to a certain extent. I find that pretending to play the piano is much more difficult than doing it in reality.

    Maybe the effect of "mirror cells" isn't limited to visual input?
  • This must be where deja vu comes from.

    Didn't you post this before?
  • While not widely know (yet), a study of competition induces a compete map of the brain's mirror neurons. Hint: check out my web site.
  • I wonder if researchers will be able to one day use this type of recognition paradigm for advanced, intuitive artificial intelligence. I think that it is not too early to begin thinking about making out thinking technology not want to hurt us later on. You just know that are machines are going to want to kill us some day...
  • I can appreciate the sentiment, but I have to disagree.

    Firstly, consciousness itself is not necessarily unexplainable. Love and hate are, but this is because they have no meaning outside of our perception. Consciousness (arguably) can be defined in absolute terms of the inputs and outputs of a machine, and can be studied in those terms.

    Secondly, you're right that the scientists just move the mystery to another level. No-one knows what an "electric force" is, unless they're a quantum mechanic in which case they don't know what a "photon" is. But I'm reminded of Richard Feynman's remarks that understanding biology does not take away from your appreciation of a flower, but rather adds to it. You can appreciate a deeper mystery. Have you never found anything in science to be beautiful?

    Having said that, this announcement sounds to me like someone uncovering a single line of code in the Linux kernel and saying that it's responsible for multithreading.

  • I wonder if it would be possible to emulate this with software; it could be a big leap in AIs being able to recognize patterns. Applications are endless...user friendly anticipation of commands, targeted ads, digital sentience...

    Well, the problem is think of what a difficult problem that would be, at least from a logical standpoint. You would have to program something to respond to an emotion someone or something else was exhibiting. This kind of thing has been tried for years and it is REALLY hard to reduce emotions to, say a neural network, a bayesian believe network, or a decision tree.

    Yes, it would be a great leap forward, and maybe a close study on WHAT this cell DOES (if we can take it apart and look at it) would be very helpful. Maybe it would provide some insight for us, and what you say would be possible. But the idea of having something respond to emotion is really a really old one, and as it stands right NOW, its a long ways away from being completely solved.

    But yeah, it would be hella cool. That would be some killer app.

  • Ummm...false projection is exactly what they are talking about...muscle preparing to react just as that which they are observing.
  • Pretending to play any instrument is much more difficult than actually having an instrument because you can't get the tactile and aural feedback.

  • I find it dismaying for another reason. I think that consciousness can be explained given high enough of a "meta-viewpoint". But I don't understand how "mirror neurons" can't just fall out of any pattern of learning. Just because the same gate is triggered in a CPU, or the same subroutine is called in a program, doesn't mean that there is some connection between the two points utilizing these structures. Except that they share a common path.

    It seems to me that if there is any kind of logical connection between watching something happen and performing the action itself, you can find the same paths being fired for both. That fails to take into account all the differences in the brain between observation and performance. It seems a natural consequence of the fact that we can recognize activities and learn to imitate.

    The article seems to just present this in fluffy language.

  • Can someone post a ..... hehe :-)

  • And exactly what scientific, peer-reviewed journal did this appear in? Did I just miss the citation? If not, who cares...
  • No, this does not provide any new ammunition to those folks. Normal people know the difference between play and real actions. This does not change that.

    It's just your perception of the event that is repeated. Take your stabbing example. You can see faces flinch, arms move and maybe even feel a mass against your own body. That is the perception. It's different from really doing soemthing. You can't feel the pain, smell the blood or feel the exhaustion of death. Rationally, we all know the difference.

    Normal people, dogs, cats, even rats know how to play without harming themselves.

  • I'm aware of the difficulties in reducing a response such as an emotion into objective code. However, it's only logical that the lower the level that we can break these response down to, the closer to having a "blueprint" for such responses we will be. If all factors are known, it will be possible to model this phenomenon. This is one more factor to work with, and an extremely important one at that.

    Now we may know how personality interacts with environment, and therefore we could be able to model this for a program. Basically, we'd be using similar (in the mathematical sense of the word) i/o functions for both a computer and a person. If the data stream is the same, that takes out one extremely difficult step (converting between vastly different formats) in emulating human consciousness.
    One step closer...

  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:36PM (#460736)
    Actually, there have been some very good explanations for mental states along the lines of autism. Generally, it is a failure of the part of the brain which allows people to shift their attention quickly. Since the "tells" of a person's mood are often subtle, brief, and varied, a person who has difficutly shifting the focus of their attention tends to have a problem with empathy.

    Slashdot has, on occation in the past, linked to studies that showed that the sort of people who are usually known as "nerds" are likely to suffer from a mild form of this disorder. The lack of easy empathy makes them social outcasts, but the slowly-shifting focus allows them to stay up all night hacking code while heavy metal blares in the background to keep their heart rates up.

    The average non-nerd, even if fairly bright, is less likely to stare at a flickering cathode ray for hours at the best of times, let alone when distracted by loud music.

    The rare "idiot savant" cases have also been linked with this phenomenon.

  • Now that we'll have directions for mind-reading (well sometime in the future), does a group of /.ers in one room qualify as a Beowulf cluster?
  • Exactly. The first time I saw "Serpent and the Rainbow," I about fell over in empathised pain.

  • We already have this sort of technology in, well, "analog" form. Profiling for likely committers of school violence is possible. Psychological evaluation that can predict/discover pedophilia is possible. These things are being *dealt with*, and our legal system is proving itself just as capable of dealing with them as it has proven capable of dealing with every major idea that has ever been added to it. Don't sweat it.
  • Sure, why is this curious? The mechanism may be interesting, and full props to the biologists, but isn't this what we expect?

    We've long known that humans learn by imitation; the way a neural net (like the brain) knows to compare its action to those it imitates is to compare the neurons that fire... fire the same ones and you've successfully imitated. Fire the wrong ones and you did something wrong.
  • his announcement sounds to me like someone uncovering a single line of code in the Linux kernel and saying that it's responsible for multithreading.Actually, it sounds more to me like a small step towards the reverse-engineering of the brain, which is really cool, IMHO.
  • A Child watches her mother pick up a toy. The child smiles:
    Mom's picking up all my crap. I rule

    A husband watches his wife pluck car keys from a table. He shivers:
    Time to call the boys for some poker and football, I can hardly wait!

    A nurse watches a needle being jabbed into an elderly patient. She flinches:
    Dammit!! I hate that old bastard, next time I want to do it.

  • I'm curious, however, if they are differences in the mirror neuron activation between a real-world event and an event watched on television. If there's a lesser mirroring effect with a two-dimensional image, that might serve to at least partially deflect the arguments against media violence that refer to mirror neurons.

    I think it's the same as the difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream. The only difference is that you know it's not real. You still see and hear the same things, but when you know it's not real, you interpret it differently. So the difference is not whether it's real or not; it's whether you think it's real or not.

    It's also well documented that certain mental and/or medical conditions can render a person unable to distinguish what's real and what's not. I personally know someone who honestly thought that the people talking on TV were really there in the living room! Just imagine what goes through the mind of such a person when a war movie or some other depiction of violence is on the tube.

  • I don't think these mirror cells can explain all, there's also a factor of culture and previous experience in it.

    When a child sees mom pick up the toy, and smiles, it's because that's what the child has learned before: pick up the toy and have fun.

    When you see someone play with a sharp blade, you shiver, because you know what the potential consequence could be. But Tarzan may not experience the same feeling, because he has no idea what the shiny thing is.

    When I look at a group of Italians talking, I'm not sure if this is just a normal conversation or if they are having a fight, because they are talking so loud (if not yelling) and articulating wildly. That's because I don't have an Italian background. And maybe, in my cultural background, that would qualify as a fight.

    There's a tribe in Africa (forgot the name) where nodding means "no" and shaking head means "yes". So, with a completely different background, you might misinterprete quite a lot of things.

    That's why understanding each other, or at learn taking the effort to do so, is so important.

  • Taking this speculation several steps further: If autism is the failure of these mirror neurons to work properly, what's the effect on individuals in cases where they are super-abundunt? ESP (or more accurately, the appearance of it) anyone?
  • by Cyclopatra ( 230231 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:50PM (#460747)
    Besides the traditional desensitization, this seems to indicate that stabbing someone and watching someone get stabbed would both trigger some common neurons.

    It all depends on how you look at it. To my mind, this could just as easily be an argument for *more* violence in media (if there's anyone who is a proponent of that) - watching someone get stabbed activates the same neurons as getting stabbed yourself, and increases your empathy towards victims of violence.

    All in all, I think it probably balances out to a moot point in terms of violence on TV.

    "We can't all, and some of us don't." -- Eeyore

  • Didn't the video(that I saw in high school) use the example of a group of people practicing basketball, while the other group didn't hit the court, but imagined playing basketball?
  • Maybe it was coincidence for you, but maybe it was deja vu for the other couple, and you and your friend were merely ancillary requirements for their situation.

    Makes you think about existentialism in a whole new light, when it's someone else's existence you're talking about, huh?

  • I agree. It is possible that if we study these things, we would be one step closer. And certainly if computational power keeps on increasing it could be possible that we are living in a world where sentient computers exist and can be built.

    My point was that its probably not gonna happen next week. :)

  • by sanemind ( 155251 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @12:59PM (#460752) Homepage
    The real question is whether or not the observed neural firing is actually some genetically hardwired process in the brain, part of the underlying archetecture of consciousness... or whether it is instead merely an emergent and learned behavior.

    The fact that a experimentally verifiable pattern can be measured does not necessarily demonstrate whether or not the ability is genetically determined. Put electrodes in the cortex of someone doing advanced calculus, and you will likely see a repeatable firing of certain neurons in correlation to certain mathematical notions., even though the symbolic system of math is entirely a cultural construction.

  • I find this very interesting, this could be the first time that natural science has found something really important to social sciences and philosophy.

    I always thought empathy could be the basic notion of ethics. You suffer when you see somebody else suffer, and you feel better when you see somebody else's joy. Therefore when you act to help others, it's actually selfish in a way - you'll feel somewhat better too, not because you're condititioned so by parents and society (Freud's superego) but because of your fundamental biology.

    If this is true then humans are in essence good after all. Maybe society is not making us better, maybe it's making us worse.

  • My thought on what de-ja vu is, is when your mind realizes that the past, present, and the future are all happening at once. Kinda got this thought from Koda, []

  • I'll give ya that one.
  • I think it's the same as the difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream.

    Yes, but what about an effective dream?

    Woo-hoo! Just a few more obscure pop-cuture references, and that Dennis Miller Award will be mine!

  • Yet another bit of paper-thin hype from New Scientist. New Scientist is the Weekly World News of science.
  • I think people are missing the point here, mainly because the article does somewhat too. I recently learned in an intro class on the mind (covering philosophy, psychology, neurobiology, drugs, and other related subjects in a fashion that gets depth on many specific areas; very cool class) about mirror neurons. I don't have the source, but the teacher implied that they have been reasonable well known in monkeys for some time.

    The new part of this is twofold: the discovery of evidence for the presence of mirror neurons in humans, and the realtionship with language. The scientists seem to be saying that mirror neurons provide a common understanding that is the basis of communication and language and empathy, and that I think is interesting -- to see something that had been connected with imitation and learning tied so closely to language.

  • A hypothesis for the sincere to consider:

    A great deal of extended phenotypics [] in humans is grounded in the manipulation of mirror neurons of susceptible populations. Autism, in particular, is symptomatic of genetically recessive populations that are experiencing extended genetic dominance [] -- autism being a pathological byproduct of the imperfect intervention in social identity mechanisms that normally produce such extended phenotypic social structures as religions, bodies politic, etc.

    The inappropriate attention historically given to autism and mirror neurons by the academic establishment is an indirect result of the genetic interest among urban elites in maintaining the extended phenotypic social structures that rely on the manipulation of mirror neuronal responses. Recent defections by Italians and Jews (e.g: Vittorio Gallese, Giacomo Rizzolatti and their colleagues at the University of Parma [] and Hugh Fudenberg []), ethnic groups that have historically been the prime beneficiaries of such urbanizing social structures in the West, are being driven by the increasing presence of Dravidians (V.S. Ramachandran [] and Vijendra K. Singh []) whose group is not as dependent on the existing extended phenotypic structures of JudeoChristian civilization, and whose relatedness to the recessive European populations, combined with their own genetic dominance, creates a unique relationship with northern European ethnicities -- the primary victims of autism in the U.S.

  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Friday February 02, 2001 @01:10PM (#460760)
    Anyone else here find themselves dodging their heads when playing video games like Doom? When watching others play?

    My wife laughs at me when my boys wrestle. I'm twisting and feinting in what I think they should be doing. The bad part is that I don't even realize that I'm doing it.

  • That would be horrible!

    I wouldn't want my computer getting pissed off at me because it could feel the pain from watching me shut off my television. Who knows what nastiness it might do. I mean, it has my Quicken files gosh darnit!
  • Don't sweat it?

    I was given a psychological profile (which the entire school was given as an "anonymous" profile test, which they still traced back to me) test when I was very young (third or fourth grade). When the test results came back I was called to the principle's office and told that I was a homicidal, suicidal, pyromanic, sexually deviant freak and that I needed to seek "professional" help for my problems immediately. I had filled out my test honestly and fully. At that age it is an extreme psychological blow to be told that you are already pegged as an evil bastard.

    The truly frightening thing to me about it is thinking what my children will have to go through if they are profiled that way. With all the bullshit scare tactics in place in schools now my children will probably be taken away from my wife and I without a second thought because of their terrible, terrible psychological problems. (I never have had the urge to kill, rape, torture, set fires or any of the other things that they accused me of pre-emptively, but I was depressed for many months after the pronouncement. At what point will society decide that you are a criminal just because your "psychological profile" fits that of a criminal? With the total phobia of all things that seems to inhabit this society, I would say we won't have to wait long to see that. Not long at all.)

  • In A Clockwork Orange, Alex was forced to watch a lot of violence, and the result was that an association was formed (I'm not real clear on how) that made him sick every time the though crossed his mind after that.
  • this forces me to ask:

    If these extra senses were added in the future, would you change your answer?

    To play devil's advocate: I think to those that want to restrict violence on TV, it is irrelevant whether viewers know it is real or not. The sticking point for them is that connections are formed in the viewers' minds which make them more likely to commit violence in the future.
  • It all depends on how you look at it. To my mind, this could just as easily be an argument for *more* violence in media (if there's anyone who is a proponent of that) - watching someone get stabbed activates the same neurons as getting stabbed yourself, and increases your empathy towards victims of violence.

    I think it only works if you've experienced the thing you're seeing. As in, actual victims of violence may be more empathetic (and therefore either more engrossed, or more turned off) with the character on the show.

  • Most non-geeks I know stare at cathode ray tubes for several hours a day, although they aren't hooked up to computers, have low refresh rates, low resolutions, and less-than-amazing content.

  • As an AC reply to your post has pointed out, technological improvements help too.

    IE, all the theory for Relativity and relativistic effects have been around since Maxwell and Newton, with Newton providing the classical approximations and Maxwell providing the framework for information at the speed of light in 1862, but it wasn't until 1905 that relativity was born from Einstein. Why the 50 year wait?

    So the argument 'do you seriously suppose that in over 100 years of eeg no-one would have detected them before?' isn't valid. The lack or proof of mirror cells is not at all tied to how long it took to detect them ^^

    Excuse my pathetic attempt to use Einstein and Maxwell in my argument. Just using the example that having all the information available, and actually creating something from it, is not necessarily so simple.

    Geek dating! []
  • Such things are by their very nature unexplainable and mysterious.

    There was a time when the rising and setting of the sun was mysterious and unexplainable. We now take the rotation of the Earth for granted.

    I don't understand how it can be dangerous to attempt to explain the world around us, as well as try to explain us. Much of what modern medicine came from is people explaining people. Figuring out how the heart pumps your blood is key in trying to prevent death from a heart attack.

    Why should we not try to study the brain in hopes to prevent mental illnesses, alzheimers, as well as maybe even reparing damage caused by outside forces (such as car accidents)?
  • These results were most likely not due to experimental artifact. Here is why:

    They were recording extracellularly from neurons, through extremely fine tipped (5 microns or so), microelectrodes, not doing EEG. EEG is sticking electrodes on the outside of the head and recording the population response of thousands of neurons at once. With microelectrodes, on the other hand, you can record from a single neuron. This is why these neurons were not found 100 years ago with EEG -- it is not possible to record from single neurons with them. People have only been able to record from single neurons for about 50 years. These experiments are recording *in the alive, awake, monkey*, further complicating matters. Techniques allowing single unit recordings in awake monkeys have not been around very long, and so there is a wealth of neuron responses simply not characterized. For instance, there was a sensationalized paper out a few weeks ago in science about "dog" and "cat" cells which were just found.

    What you said, about possibly picking up local currents, is true in that when recording extracellularly, you are going to get background 'noise' from other cells in the population. This is easily dealt with, however, with various methods. The action potentials in neurons have a constant amplitude, and so you can just listen to the neuron firing with the largest amplitude, and hence closest to the microelectode. If you want to get fancy, you can put a few electrodes in a bundle and cancel out the background noise by substracting what is recorded in the different electrodes. Experimental artifacts of these sorts are not really a problem, anymore.

    Something neat, however, was that these cells were initially found by accident. They were searching for something else, and happened to notice cells were firing both when the monkey picked up a raisin and when the experimenter picked it up. Ahh, science.

    Now the article, and that essay about these cells being the key to human evolution and language and all of that.. now that I think is total crap. hehe.

  • It sounds like somebody hasn't seen the Music Man ;-)

  • This removes the mystery of nature.

    All you need to do to preserve the mystery of nature is to ignore scientific discoveries. Then it's all still a mystery to you.

  • take another read of the article.

    though there is the slight possibility that watching actions on television could then result in the neurons firing when someone recreates the action in real life, the situation with the monkey seemed to indicate that the brain has to record a fairly similar physical experience before mirror neurons come into play.

    to present a more concrete take on it - i have a wonderful time on rollercoasters; therefore, watching someone on a rollercoaster gives me a residual glee. if i got *sick* on rollercoasters, watching someone on a rollercoaster would make me tense. if i had never been on a rollercoaster in my life, i'd grin if the person i was watching laughed, and feel bad if the person i was watching looked scared because i'd know what those feelings were. however, i wouldn't necessarily associate those responses with the rollercoaster. there's not enough emotional context to the action until the person knows what their emotional response would be to performing/engaging in an action. therefore, a two-dimensional image presenting an action would generally not cause the same kind of emotional association.
  • These scientist are attempting to explain the most beautiful parts of our consciousness - love, hate, even consciousness itself - in terms of how a bunch of neurons fire. Can anyone else see how silly this is, or is it just me?


    A person who is ignorant in science sees a rainbow and says, "Oh, pretty." One with knowledge of physics not only sees the colors, but knows that the view is caused by the refraction of photons produced by the fusion of hydrogen to helium 93 million miles away, light that takes years to work its way out of the sun and minutes to reach us once it escapes, light bent by millions of millions of spherical water lenses - made partly of those same sort of hydrogen atoms - hanging suspended in midair, and that each observer sees their own personal rainbow.

    I submit that this is a more wonderous view that that of ignorance.

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |

  • Makes you think twice about flaming :)

    Thinking twice about flaming? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

  • As mentioned at the bottom of the article:
    • "Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading" by Vittorio Gallese and Alvin Goldman, in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol 2, p 493 (1998)
    • "Language within our grasp" by Giacomo Rizzolatti and Michael Arbib, in Trends in Neurosciences, vol 21, p 188 (1998)
  • There's a tribe in Africa (forgot the name) where nodding means "no" and shaking head means "yes". So, with a completely different background, you might misinterprete quite a lot of things.

    There's a tribe in Europe, as well. They call themselves Bulgarians :-)

  • Language is a good idea of the application of these "mirror" neurons. But basically what these types of neurons seem to do is to relate and create (or at least learn) the physcological concept of having a hand and immediatly being able to use it. It's like when a baby finds its hands for the first time by looking at others and then looking at themself. Instead of firing at random, they now represent discrete concepts -- moving your hand, picking something up, etc.
  • There are many candidate explanations for autism. A book of some interest is _Thinking in Pictures_ by an autistic woman who has designed the majority of the cattle enclosures currently used in the US. She says her autism prevents her from thinking primarily in language, but that her vivid thought in pictures allows her to see how an environment will look and feel to the cattle, thus her great success in her field. This is not an example of impaired empathy, but of enhanced.

    However, she has a lot of trouble with speech tonality, which is how we communicate a lot about our emotive states - she will picture movies that express a certain feeling, and then try to speak with the patterns used by people in those scenes, which she can envision vividly.

    The sort of autism she experiences would match with the research showing that we have two major, semi-independant modes of working memory: verbal and visuo-spatial. Her verbal ability is impaired (although she can speak quite well by translating out of pictures).
  • Read this in a book that I can't recall the title of...

    It theoried that the 'leap' in human evolution was partially due to the environmental changes that occurred during the
    time frame mentioned in the essay (100k-40k years ago). The forthcoming Ice Age was cooling the planet and 'humans', who were surviving for the greater percentage of time in trees,
    were forced aground in search of food. While this was necessary, it also exposed them to
    various predators (lions, etc) - forcing the humans to travel together, hunt together, and in all likelihood, develop a sophisticated communcations system together.

    Perhaps this can lend some insight into why the sudden leap in intellectual evolution didn't occur earlier in our history,
    as the article mentioned that our brains have been at approximately the same
    intellectual level for the last 250k years.

    Of course I am no expert in this field so feel free to disagree :)

  • Are there any particular books you'd recommend on autism and idiot savantism? I've read Oliver Sacks' "The man who mistook his wife for a hat".
  • I'd agree with that. These 'mirror cells' aren't that big a surprise. Computer scientists and all the others interested in such things got the idea that such a system might be how things worked (in part) long ago. The fact that other scientists went out and did a study and figured out that this one theory is at least very close to correct is quite interesting. With each level you peel away you reveal thousands of new questions. That is why science can be so addicting. Once you discover a things real beauty you'll just want more and more and you'll get it if you try.

    I'd probably say it's more like someone discovering how operator overloading works and think it's responsible for the multithreading. :)
  • So, is this the root of copy cat crimes? :-)
  • My colleague tells me that the original source for the idea of memes (in a cultural context) comes from Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist best known for the book "The Selfish Gene".
  • All you need to do is practice in your head.
  • My colleague tells me that the original source for the idea of memes (in a cultural context) comes from Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist best known for the book "The Selfish Gene".

    The thing is, his book introduced the concept of a meme; Blackmore's book introduces the psychological/cognitive mechanism behind it in humans. They're two VERY different beasts.

  • I'm not sure, but wasn't it at least implied that one must commit the act first to establish the electrochemical connection, and Then seeing it will trigger that same pathway?

    In any case, how could they have performed the experiment without first observing the subject 'do' the thing and then 'see' the thing? They would have no way of knowing that that synapse is the, say, stabbing synapse.

    So it can't be argued that this will incite stabbings by seeing them, but for people who have already stabbed to more easily re-live their moment of glory, so to speak.

    If my logic meme is installed correctly... :)

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.