Thursday, May 28, 2009

Neuroscience: Mirror neurons - cracks appearing?

Mirror neurons have been recruited as a cool new materialist way of explaining ethics:
Researchers at UCLA found that cells in the human anterior cingulate, which normally fire when you poke the patient with a needle ("pain neurons"), will also fire when the patient watches another patient being poked. The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between self and others. [1] I call them "empathy neurons" or "Dalai Lama neurons". (I wonder how the mirror neurons of a masochist or sadist would respond to another person being poked.) Dissolving the "self vs. other" barrier is the basis of many ethical systems, especially eastern philosophical and mystical traditions. This research implies that mirror neurons can be used to provide rational rather than religious grounds for ethics (although we must be careful not to commit the is/ought fallacy).

- V.S. Ramachandran, MIRROR NEURONS AND THE BRAIN IN THE VAT [1.10.06]
However, the role of mirror neurons may need a rethink, others say.

I might be hearing the sound of shattering glass ...

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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