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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mirror Neurons & Compassion

I've recently stumbled across this nice article about mirror neurons at the Boston Globe website. It seems that these special neurons are basically motor neurons that activate, not only when we do things, but when we see other people doing them. Scientists believe that they may play a key role in our sense of empathy (feeling what others feel) and maybe even in our appreciation of metaphor and language. They also believe there may be a link between mirror neurons and autism (basically a lack of ability to think of others as beings like ourselves).

The article did mention that it might be possible to either increase or repair mirror neurons, but it also mentioned the possibility that other neurons might be able to adapt to that function (the brain tends to be very flexible in that regard).

This made me wonder about those violent criminals who seem to lack a sense of empathy and their reform. While it seems to be successful sometimes, many of them seem so far gone that it is almost a lost cause. Perhaps they should study the mirror neuron activity of such criminals over time as they go through therapy and conditioning to increase their empathy.

Some people get brain injuries that lead to motor function loss and through therapy other parts of the brain slowly take over those functions. Perhaps other neurons similarly taking over mirror functions is what happens when some violent offenders later grow to genuinely regret their former actions?

I was also reminded of my recent and current readings on compassion in Jesus' teachings and Buddhist philosophy. It seems that a healthy development of empathy is an important part of compassion. The very notion of 'mirror neurons' reminds me of the Buddhist and Hindu concept of Indra's Net. It represents the interconnectedness of all things (a key reason why compassion is so important). It is a web and at each intersection is a jewel which reflects (mirrors) all the other jewels, just as our mirror neurons mirror the experiences of others to us.

There goes my metaphor-seeking mirror neurons!

Globe Article: click here

About Indra's Net: click here

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