Tag Archives: mirror neurons

65th Anniversary of Hiroshima bombing

On the day of the summer solstice, Tuesday, June 21, 2005, during the year of the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, we visited Japan. Our older son was attending the Yamasa Institute, an intensive Japanese language program in Okazaki (he eventually went on to live in Tokyo while attending the International Christian University), and we wanted to see him and this country that had so inspired him.

With our then 14 year old son we took off for a two week summer adventure. We traveled to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Jimeji, before meeting our then 21 year old in Kyoto and continuing on with him to Nara, Ise and Toba, then saying goodbye as he headed back to Okazaki and we returned to Tokyo.

My memories of Hiroshima have remained strong, in part because of what the place represents, and in part because of our younger son’s reaction to the Hiroshima Peace Park, an emotionally intense place to visit. Here is what I wrote in my journal that evening, after our visit to the park.

I am glad that Nancy loaned us Hiroshima to read (by John Hersey) because it put voices and stories to what we saw. The best way for me to describe this place is to look at the pictures [though I am not going to share the personal ones] and to think of Robin. There is a mound covering a burial of 10,000 remains of unknown people from the Hiroshima A-bomb disaster. Standing there brought Robin to tears. So why are we at war in Iraq? What don’t the “grown ups” in our government understand that a 14 and a half year old knows? We walked around a bit more but between the heat and the emotion it was clear we should skip the museum and head back to our hotel.

The “A-Bomb Dome” – you can read more about this building in item 38 of the virtual Guided Tour.

Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students – #42

Many of the oragami Peace Cranes are displayed in protective cases.

Children’s Peace Monument – item #16 in the Virtual Tour

Close up of some of the thousands of paper oragami Peace Cranes. You can read more about the Peace Cranes in Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes or in Wikipedia’s article about Sadako Sasaki.

Peace Memorial Park – #26 and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – #27

Pond of Peace – #19 and Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims – #20

While the photos may be colorful, the feeling we had while visiting was somber. And this year, in 2010, the 65th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the commemoration ceremony included first time participation by the United States Ambassador to Japan and the United Nations Secretary General.


In the words of others: Reynolds & Sousa

Picture 1I’ve mentioned Garr Reynolds before, so many times, in fact, that he is even included in the Tag Cloud at the right. Garr writes an informative blog about presentation design at Presentation Zen, and while I initially found his writing (both his blog, and his book of the same name) enjoyable and accessible for learning about presenting and design, he often includes references to, and whole posts about the brain. So it is with his June 17, 2009 post The power of emotional contagion. Garr does a lot of traveling and presenting outside of Japan (where he lives). This current post finds him visiting Tivoli Gardens after presenting in Sweden, and he writes about mirror neurons, yet another topic that figures in my Tag Cloud.

Picture 2A colleague who I met at the AIMS Technology Retreat twittered me an article in ASCD by David Sousa: Educational Leadership – Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers. Sousa, who has also written an information packed book How the Brain Learns, discusses professional development that is geared towards learning for the participants. He references current brain research and provides practical suggestions designed to help make PD opportunities useful rather than onerous. Especially since I am knee deep in co-planning a full day’s worth of opening meetings for the fall, this article is a welcome “hand to the forehead” reminder of what will make the day worthwhile.

The Urban Trance

Psychologist Daniel Goleman uses the term “The Urban Trance” in his TED Talk: Why aren’t we all Good Samaritans? Goleman is best known for his writing and work on Emotional Intelligence.

You can also watch his author talk at Google, where he talks about his book “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships”.

So back to the urban trance. In his TED Talk, Goleman discusses empathy, mirror neurons, and the process of simply attending to someone when they talk to you. The “urban trance” refers to the state that many of us are in when we get caught up in what we are doing and tune out the world around us. People may talk to us, but we are not listening. We may observe others, but we do not see them. We are, in effect, in our own “urban trance”. Goleman tells the story of the man in the subway station to demonstrate the urban trance and its counter balance, that of empathy and attending. If you haven’t already watched his TED Talk, see if you can imagine the content of this story before tuning in to what Goleman has to say.

Goleman goes on to share a number of stories about people, many of who lack emotional intelligence, including one man with an astonishingly high IQ but no capacity for feeling how others may feel, in other words, no ability to empathize.

Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, focuses on emotion and affective disorders in the Lab for Affective Neuroscience using the tools of brain imaging.

Goleman and Davidson come together on the More Than Sound Productions website, which has the goal of sharing “ideas that increase our understanding of the human condition.” This site was brought to my attention by a reader who left the following comment on my previous post:

hi, there’s a conversation between Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman which discusses Neuroplasticity which I thought you might find of interest. It’s available on the publisher’s website at http://www.morethansound.net

Their ideas mesh well with the discussions on stress, plasticity, and children’s developing brains that were mentioned in my previous post. Thanks to David, who left a comment on my previous post pointing me to Davidson and Goleman!

Mirror Neurons: Data Points

Giacomo Rizzolatti is one of the neuroscientists involved in the mirror neuron “ah ha” moment that resulted from a study in Italy of the macaque monkey.

Mirror neurons – they conjure for me images of neurons firing, with those neurons being reflected in a house of mirrors, resulting in the neurons “seeing themselves” firing, which result in the mirroring of those neurons seeing themselves firing, and so on and so on, like the process of recursion in computer programming.

Neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran believes that

“the discovery of mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of monkeys, and their potential relevance to human brain evolution … is the single most important ‘unreported’ (or at least, unpublicized) story of the decade.”

He articulates this position in an essay at The Third Culture entitled MIRROR NEURONS and imitation learning as the driving force behind “the great leap forward” in human evolution.

The 2005 virtual workshop What do Mirror Neurons Mean? addressed “the theoretical implications of the discovery of mirror neurons.”

And for further explanation of mirror neurons, visit the AlphaPsy site for Mirror-Neurons: A Primer.

Mirror Neurons: A Distillation of NOVA

The discovery of mirror neurons began with monkeys being studied in Italy. Neuroscientists, among them Daniel Glaser of University College London, noticed that the same neurons (the motor neurons) that fired in the monkey’s brain when the monkey reached for a peanut, also fired when the monkey saw someone else reach for that peanut. Among the conclusions was that “watching somebody do something is just like doing it yourself”. These neurons, which are on both sides of the brain, came to be called mirror neurons due to the brain mirroring what it was seeing.

Now, if you think about one way that people learn, especially babies and children, they do it by mimicking what they see and hear. That is how humans transfer language, kids pick up the motions of sports, dance steps are learned, and we wince or cry or laugh or smile upon watching the ouches, hurts, humor and joy experienced by others.

Wait a minute, how did an emotional component creep into the idea of mirror neurons!

UCLA researcher Marco Iacobini thinks that these mirror neurons impact our empathetic system; they are what lets us feel what others feel, and allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. “Mirror neurons can send messages to the limbic or emotional system in our brains.”

Think about how you react to movies you see or books you read or sports teams you follow, or news your friends share with you. Something in most of our brains allows us to feel emotion without actually experiencing the event that leads to the emotion. Whoa.

Check out the Jaunary, 2005 NOVA Science NOW episode about Mirror Neurons for more information. I guarantee it will entertain and illuminate.

Also check out Your Amazing Brain, a site where you can “Explore your brain, take part in real-life experiments and test yourself with our games, illusions and brain-benders.” This site hosts the page referenced above in the link for Daniel Glaser.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
You see yourself, staring back at your “me”.

Have you heard of Mirror Neurons? In January, 2005, NOVA Science Now broadcast a piece on the brain’s system of mirror neurons. A year later, in January 2006, the Science section of the New York Times published the article, Cells That Read Minds.

The Marx Brothers were way ahead of the curve, however, with the inclusion in their 1933 movie, Duck Soup, of this famous Mirror Scene, which provides an introduction (of sorts) to mirror neurons.

A computer screen’s content is set to mirror its display, a brother mimics the behavior of his sister, a child repeats an adult comment they overhear – using the same tone of voice and mannerisms as the adult, and this summer, every time my husband and I arrived at our local outdoor pool to swim in the empty lap lanes, another swimmer would seem to decide as we arrived that they, too, were going for a swim.

The power of suggestion is strong. Just think about what happens when you go out to eat with several people. Does everyone wind up ordering a different meal, or are there overlaps? Then the dinner conversation commences, and opinions emerge. If you didn’t have an opinion on a topic that is discussed, do you find yourself adopting another person’s point of view?