Saturday, December 15, 2007

Extract from a book I read recently. The extract has some interesting information on neuroscience. The book is called "The Echo Maker" by Richard Powers. Published in 2006 by Vintage.

Page 449:

"… A few years back, Giacomo Rizzolati's group in Parma had been testing motor-control neurons in a macaque's premotor cortex. Every time the monkey moved its arm, the neurons fired. One day, between measurements, the monkey's arm-muscle neurons began firing like crazy, even though the monkey was perfectly still. More testing produced the mind-boggling conclusion: the motor neurons fired when one of the lab experimenters moved his arm. Neurons used to move a limb fired away simply because the monkey saw another creature moving, and moved its own imaginary arm in symbol-space sympathy.

A part of the brain that did the physical things was being cannibalized for making imaginary representations. Science had at last laid bare the neurological basis of empathy: brain maps, mapping other mapping brains. One human wit quickly labeled the find the monkey-see monkey-do neurons, and all others followed suit. Imaging and EEG soon revealed that humans too, were crawling with mirror neurons. Images of moving muscles made symbolic muscles move, and muscles in symbol moved muscle tissue.

Researchers rushed to flesh out the staggering find. The mirror-neuron system extended beyond this surveillance and performance of movement. It grew tendrils, snaking into all sorts of higher cognitive processes. It played roles in speech and learning, facial decoding, threat analysis, the understanding of intention, the perception of and response to emotions, social intelligence, and theory of mind. …"

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