The science around mirror neurons is very exciting. It appears perception involves a mimicking of what is around us within our internal environment. If we see a beautiful dancer dancing, our brain is reproducing what we are seeing in the brain’s motor areas, causing physiological responses within our own bodies. Our bodies model and feel the dancer’s movements. Here is V.S Ramachandran from a recent talk:

‘But a subset of them will fire even when I watch somebody else being touched in the same location. So, here again you have neurons which are enrolled in empathy. Now, the question then arises: If I simply watch another person being touched, why do I not get confused and literally feel that touch sensation merely by watching somebody being touched? I mean, I empathize with that person but I don’t literally feel the touch. Well, that’s because you’ve got receptors in your skin, touch and pain receptors, going back into your brain and saying don’t worry, you’re not being touched. So, empathize, by all means, with the other person. but do not actually experience the touch otherwise you’ll get confused and muddled.

Okay, so there is a feedback signal that vetos the signal of the mirror neuron preventing you from consciously experiencing that touch. But if you remove the arm, you simply anesthetize my arm, so you put an injection into my arm, anesthetize the brachial plexus, so the arm is numb, and there is no sensations coming in, if I now watch you being touched, I literally feel it in my hand. In other words, you have dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. So, I call them Gandhi neurons, or empathy neurons.

And this is not in some abstract metaphorical sense, all that’s separating you from him, from the other person, is your skin. Remove the skin, you experience that person’s touch in your mind. You’ve dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. And this, of course is the basis of much of Eastern philosophy, And that is there is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are in fact, connected not just via Facebook, and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons. And there is whole chains of neurons around this room, talking to each other. And there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else’s consciousness.’

Click here for the talk by V.S Ramachandran

Mirror neurons help us understand that perception is an embodied, visceral experience. By learning to be more aware of our own responses we can become more sensitive to what is happening in other peoples bodies. Mirror neurons show us that we have the ability to internally model what they are doing.