The adult human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons. Each of these can grow 1,000 to 10,000 fibres called dendrites and interact with each other through them. The number of interactions that can happen through the permutations and combinations of the dendrites is truly humongous. So big that it is postulated to be bigger than the number of elementary particles in the universe! A team of two contestants in the studio have to use a library of maps and reference materials to solve up to five clues on the treasure hunt before it times out.
The neurons in the frontal part of the brain fire whenever you do something. There is a set of neurons, for example, which will fire when you reach out and pick a mango. Another set which will fire when you pick your nose and so on. These are called command neurons. They command the body to do certain things. There is a very fascinating subset of neurons in the frontals. Around 20 percent of the neurons in the frontals are called mirror neurons. These were discovered accidentally while performing some tests on monkeys. While the command neurons in the monkey were firing while it was doing some action; a set of neurons were firing in another monkey watching the first monkey do that action. This finding was then confirmed in human beings as well.
If you see me eat a very bitter fruit and make a face, don’t you almost experience it yourself? You too cringe inwardly and empathize with me. This is caused by mirror neurons.
This single discovery could shed more clarity on our evolution as a species, why some children are autistic and what could be done to help them, the Sanskrit shloka ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, ‘You are (the) One’ (or, freely translated, we are all One), that forms the basis of Indian spirituality and what makes a great comic among many other things. Our brains developed to their present size and sophistication 2,00,0000 years ago. However, we as a species really exploded on the planet just 40,000 years ago. Somehow, the mirror neurons in all of us got triggered. This meant that we didn’t have to wait for evolution’s long slow march to grant us knowledge we would need to survive as a species. We got it simply from watching each other and learning from each other. This spread horizontally through the human race and vertically downwards to all our children, making each generation smarter and smarter through simple observation and imitation!
Autistic children don’t learn from their environment as normal children do. This retards their growth. Could it be that because of some mutation their mirror neurons don’t fire? And so could some repair work be done there to make sure they do? This could be a cure for autism and such a hope and a blessing for so many children and their families.
When you watch someone squeeze someone else’s hand, your mirror neurons are firing. The only reason you don’t feel the sensation yourself is because there are sensory cells in your hand giving information to the brain that no one is touching you. So you can ‘empathize’ but not actually feel. Your skin prevents you from getting muddled. But in case your hand is anesthetized, meaning your sensory cells are put out of commission, and you see someone squeezing someone else’s hand, chances are you WILL feel that sensation on your own hand! These are your mirror neurons at work. This can lead to the confirmation of the tenet of Indian spirituality that says we are all one. We are indeed all one. Just skin separates us. There are huge groups of neurons talking to each other all the time! Finally, a lot of comedy is in imitation. We love watching people imitate other people. Could great comedians have fabulous mirror neurons? Can we credit mirror neurons for much of the laughter and happiness the world over since time immemorial?