Saturday, January 15, 2011

295: A Mirror in your Brain

In his theater play "Huis close" [Closed doors] Jean Paul Sartre makes one of the characters say": "L'enfer c'est l'autre." [Hell is other people]. The idea is that the other is a mirror showing your own shortcomings.

But is Sartre right? Isn't it equally true, that we only can experience love and kindness because of the other? And isn't it true, that the most severe punishment for a human is absolute isolation. Isn't loneliness our heaviest burden to carry?

We are social animals. According to theory our social way of life was one of the powers in evolution which stimulated the development of our brain and our intelligence. The smarter we are the better we can live in a group.

There is a steadily growing interest in social behavior among neuroscientists: the brain as a social organ. You should not investigate the brain in isolation, but in its working in a social context.

This means that today phenomena like prejudices, personal attitudes and social conflicts are now studied in relation to neural and physiological processes, which are involved.

In an experiment with white and black Americans the test persons were shown a series of pictures of faces. In the beginning the amygdala, a small part in the brain responsible for emotions - especially fear-, fired.

After having seen the portraits a number of time the activity of the amygdale decreased….. except when the test person saw a face of the opposite race.

But there happened something even more interesting. This amygdala activity showed up all the time when test persons were shown faces for 30 milliseconds per portrait.

However, when the faces were shown for a period of 525 milliseconds something happened. The more areas in the frontal cortex became active, the more the activity of the amygdala decreased.

That part of the brain, the frontal cortex, is associated with the ability to estimate, regulate and control. The more activity in the frontal cortex the more the activity of the amygdala decreased.

In the social group we invent our behavior. This enables us to transcend biological instincts. An interesting question here is : where does this ability come from? A serious candidate for this are the so-called mirror neurons.

These mirror neurons were in fact discovered just by accident. In 1996 three researchers of the University of Parma (Italy) were studying the brains process of rhesus monkeys with respect to some grab movements.

The brains of the monkeys were wired with electrodes, which activated equipment when they grabs an object. When the specified areas of the brian fired a sound was hear.

During a lunch break the equipment began to make sounds, but when they checked the monkeys…none of them was moving. They sat quietly in their cages.

But who had moved was one of the researchers. He had walked over to a fruit bowl and picked up some fruit, which was observed by the monkeys.

After thorough testing the researchers discovered that observing the grabbing of some fruit activated the pre-motoric neurons of the monkeys. That means that the brain activity of the person who grabs a banana is "mirrored" in the brain of an observer of the action.

This was an important discovery. Philosophically you can relate it to the problem of "Other minds"…. How do we know that other persons have an independent conscious mind, independent of mine?

Superficially spoken you could say that at least our brain assumes this by mirroring brain processes, that go on in another brain.

It is now generally assumed that there exist systems of mirror neurons in the human brain too, which are located in the frontal and parietal lobs of the brain.

in the next lecture we'll have a closer look at the phenomenon of mirror neurons and what their role might be.

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Thank you...
[13:21] herman Bergson: and hello Paula ..nice to see you again ^_^
[13:21] Paula Dix: hi! :))
[13:21] Qwark Allen: very interesting herman
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: aa yes
[13:22] Paula Dix: saddly a bit late
[13:22] herman Bergson: if you have a question or remark..the floor is yours :-)
[13:22] Qwark Allen: i`ll check it out
[13:22] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, what a pleasure Paula
[13:22] Cyberpedia Bolissima: u c in me what u need me 2 b 4 u 2 c urself
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: thats almost like mind reading
[13:22] Paula Dix: my pleasure, i really missed you all
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: hi Paula
[13:22] Paula Dix: hi :)
[13:22] herman Bergson: Yes is an interesting phenomenon and they hardly canexplain it
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: hmm yes
[13:23] herman Bergson: But I'll get to that in the next lecture
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: that if i see someone doing something whatever might be it activate the same things in my brain that would control my movements for example dancing
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: even i dont move myself
[13:24] Paula Dix: did you mention that case oliver sachs told in his book?
[13:24] herman Bergson: Well what makes you so tired looking at an action movie....?
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: well then if i see someone dance it makes me want to do that too cause i like it a lot, its fun
[13:24] herman Bergson: your brain is mirroring all that muscle movements
[13:24] herman Bergson: :-)
[13:25] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): is there a insinuation of a super-communal conection between individuals
[13:25] Paula Dix: ok, so we just need to see that gymnastic shows on tv?
[13:25] herman Bergson: I wouldn't say that Aristotle...
[13:25] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): hmmm
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: hmm might be thats why I am so good at many of the moves in a web series i watch about some super dancers
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: LXD
[13:25] herman Bergson: lol...yes Paula and you keep your fine
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:25] Paula Dix: lol
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: interesting idea
[13:25] BALDUR Joubert: a connection to the other is necessary for survival ari..
[13:26] BALDUR Joubert: take child-mother..
[13:26] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): but twins then in each of us that is provoked by other's behavior
[13:26] herman Bergson: At least ist is a special phenomenon...
[13:26] BALDUR Joubert: facial expressions we receive like language information
[13:26] herman Bergson: There is a behavioral trick...I sometimes used it...
[13:27] herman Bergson: When you look at someones face and you give your own face the same 'feel' what the other feels
[13:27] herman Bergson: When you look at body language...
[13:27] Paula Dix: interesting!
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: aah
[13:28] herman Bergson: People also mirror poses and gestures
[13:28] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): would that require common life experiences?
[13:28] herman Bergson: Just observe two people talking ....
[13:28] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): sadness, joy etc
[13:28] BALDUR Joubert: social life ari.
[13:28] herman Bergson: I dont think so is caused by direct observation
[13:29] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): a mimick only then?
[13:29] BALDUR Joubert: no mirror without a mirror..
[13:29] Paula Dix: maybe you need the experience to name it and talk about, but not to feel
[13:29] herman Bergson: yes..
[13:29] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): hmmm
[13:29] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): then we learn the behavior by observing the other
[13:29] BALDUR Joubert: not necessarily paula.. you can feel the same when someone gets hurt..
[13:30] herman Bergson: Yes some extend the mirror neurons are the way we learn behavior from others
[13:30] Paula Dix: yes, exactly, you always feel the other, but only can talk about if you know the names
[13:30] BALDUR Joubert: so as we know what it means to cut one's finger
[13:30] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): and indicates some kind of training of our own minds
[13:30] BALDUR Joubert: better..we react
[13:30] herman Bergson: Oh yes....
[13:30] herman Bergson: when you see another hurt a way you feel it too
[13:31] herman Bergson: That is why I hate those programs with home videos...
[13:31] Paula Dix: empathy? or thats only for some kind of more subtile emotions?
[13:31] BALDUR Joubert: could be sharing pleasure too paula
[13:31] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I have pondered on how terrible it wold be to lose a loved one to a certain accident and actually cringed at the thought
[13:32] herman Bergson: where people fall and hurt themselves.....and we are expected to find it funny to watch it...
[13:32] BALDUR Joubert: why do people cry at the end of "Gone with the wind.."
[13:32] herman Bergson: No PAula....this IS about empathy indeed
[13:32] Paula Dix: yes herman thats terrible!
[13:32] BALDUR Joubert: or feel glad when julia roberts gets richard gere
[13:32] Paula Dix: ok, so empathy names all the possibilities
[13:33] herman Bergson: yeah..that's better Baldur ^_^
[13:33] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I have always been baffled at the humor of America FavortieVideo clips
[13:33] herman Bergson: lol...I can imagine Aristotle....
[13:33] herman Bergson: the risks people take there...unbelievable
[13:33] Paula Dix: i dont know these videos but am imagining
[13:33] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the accidents make you flinch
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:34] herman Bergson: I find it horrible....
[13:34] BALDUR Joubert: there you got your mirror neuronms ari
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): and some folks find it funny
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: like jackass
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: they are insane
[13:34] herman Bergson: some in the videos definitely ^_^
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): jackass is an appropriate title
[13:35] Paula Dix: i know some people dont feel the others, but to do so with yourself!
[13:35] herman Bergson: Well actually this is also a brain issue...
[13:35] BALDUR Joubert: zeit an ein ruhiges plaetzchen zu
[13:35] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, I wonder how the mirror neurons works in psychopaths
[13:35] herman Bergson: people that don;t feel fear have often deteriorated amygdalas
[13:36] Paula Dix: ah, interesting!
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: hmm ok
[13:36] herman Bergson: Problem is Aristotel...
[13:36] herman Bergson: that such things don't work in psychpats...
[13:36] herman Bergson: they can watch the face of a person they are strangling.....and dont feel the fear and panic of the other at all...they don't even see it
[13:37] herman Bergson: This also is due to a malfunction in the brain
[13:37] Paula Dix: can they loearn to identify the feelings?
[13:37] BALDUR Joubert: shouldn't we rather say we don't know much about it we can'ttell about pschopaths
[13:37] Paula Dix: i dont know if you know the series Dexter
[13:37] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, Dester is interesting
[13:37] herman Bergson: What is that Paula?
[13:37] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Dexter*
[13:37] Beertje (beertje.beaumont): and people who have too much fear?
[13:38] Paula Dix: its about a guy who likes to kill
[13:38] Paula Dix: but he is adopted by a policeman who notices how he is while children
[13:38] Paula Dix: and train him to only kill people who deserves
[13:38] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes, he only kills killers
[13:38] Paula Dix: he is crazy for blood and works as a blood specialist on police
[13:39] herman Bergson: oh my policeman becomes judge an jury
[13:39] Paula Dix: its very interestng
[13:39] Paula Dix: his dad code makes him go after proof
[13:39] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes he is that Herman, but tries to have a family at the same time
[13:39] BALDUR Joubert: as interesting as why normal people became guards in auschwitz
[13:39] Paula Dix: and he is ultra inteligent, learn to mimic emotions and have a fake normal life
[13:40] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes Paula he adapts with his mimicry
[13:40] Paula Dix: i was wondering if this learning emotions is possible for them in real life
[13:40] herman Bergson: One thing is for sure....
[13:40] herman Bergson: these days lots of things are discovered about the brain
[13:40] herman Bergson: but believe me...we still know just a little of it...
[13:41] Paula Dix: lol yes, there are still people telling we use only 10% of brain
[13:41] herman Bergson: and here I not even want to mention the philosophical problems regarding consciousness....
[13:41] Paula Dix: maybe true in some cases
[13:41] herman Bergson: that is for a later date ^_^
[13:42] herman Bergson: The brain is like a universe Paula...
[13:42] herman Bergson: it contains as much neurons as stars in our galaxy...:-)
[13:42] Paula Dix: that will be interesting. i've been reading the site, finished up to august
[13:42] BALDUR Joubert: yes..and we are galileo at the moment
[13:42] Paula Dix: lol
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:42] herman Bergson: If we are lucky Baldur....if we are lucky...
[13:42] Paula Dix: its exciting!
[13:43] herman Bergson: But we are definitely making progress :-)
[13:43] Paula Dix: and most people says there is nothing going on!
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:43] herman Bergson: oh forget it....a LOT is going on....
[13:43] herman Bergson: but because it are small steps it doesn't reach the new papers
[13:44] Paula Dix: oh herman, have you read David Deutsch already? A friend was telling about him, seems very interesting
[13:44] BALDUR Joubert: what's his subject paula
[13:44] Paula Dix: yes, and people just dont look for it...
[13:44] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): The problem I see in mapping the brain is its evolution, I doubt it can ever be completed
[13:44] herman Bergson: yes..who is he?
[13:44] Rodney Handrick: testing
[13:44] Paula Dix: he is a physician, but talks about philosophy also
[13:45] Paula Dix: he starts with multiverse, explains why he believes its real
[13:45] herman Bergson: Mapping the brain is a mega project Aristotle...
[13:45] BALDUR Joubert: evolution of the brain material will take thousand of years ari..
[13:45] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the flux of life
[13:45] Paula Dix: oh, sorry, physicist
[13:46] herman Bergson: I'll check out the name Paula :-)
[13:46] Paula Dix: there is something of him on TED, very nice
[13:46] herman Bergson: ah..ok
[13:46] BALDUR Joubert: natuaL Scientists making philosophical conclusions.. interesting but often misleading
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well...
[13:47] herman Bergson: I think in next lecture we will focus on the phenomenon of empathy...
[13:47] Paula Dix: the fabric of reality is his main book
[13:47] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): that will be interesting Herman
[13:47] Paula Dix: lol ok, sorry for the detour
[13:47] herman Bergson: thx Paula...:-)
[13:47] herman Bergson: So ..thank you all for your participation again....
[13:47] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): would be nice to find out who invented empathy
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:48] herman Bergson: Nice discussion....
[13:48] BALDUR Joubert: ty herman..
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: interesting once again ㋡
[13:48] Beertje (beertje.beaumont): very interesting
[13:48] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[13:48] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Thanks Professor
[13:48] Paula Dix: lol Ari
[13:48] Ciska Riverstone: Thank You Professor - Interesting as always
[13:48] Cain Levasseur: thank you all its been an interesting class and debate
[13:48] herman Bergson: You are welcome Cain
[13:49] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): good to have you Cain
[13:49] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): come back
[13:49] Cain Levasseur: thanks
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