I tried to upload a NOVA video which gives the short version of what it is and how it was discovered, but could not figure out how to make it happen. So, here is the link for those of you who are curious: Mirror Neurons, on Nova~PBS
I could try to explain this in my own words, but I'd rather quote Wikipedia:
A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates, and are believed to occur in humans and other species including birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.
Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important recent discoveries in neuroscience. Among them is V.S. Ramachandran, who believes they might be very important in imitation and language acquisition. However, despite the popularity of this field, to date no widely accepted neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation.
The (please pardon the word) spiritual implications are immense as well. The Buddhists have been saying for centuries, and without the aid of fancy equipment, that this life is just an illusion. The more I live and learn, the more I believe this to be true. When I read about how the human eye works and how color is perceived I was absolutely convinced. Seeing is believing my ass! What we see is actually turned upside down and the colors we see are really the lack of that particular pigment being reflected! So what are we REALLY seeing? What would it look like without filters? What the hell is REALLY going on here? I'm not sure anyone can really answer those questions, but I'm sure it has to do with mirrors...however, if we go on the assumption that empathy and connection can be learned and cultivated, I don't think much else matters. Because if that can be achieved for everyone, then we can end war, hatred, greed and suffering. Because if we all have the capacity to feel empathy, when we feel it, there is no more separateness. Then we would all feel the reality that to hurt another is to hurt ourselves, and who wants that? I mean, this could even put an end to involuntary masochism!
To think... all this time, we were taught that the root of evil is money. While there is truth in that, it is only part of the picture. In order for something to be evil, would imply it has power. By itself money does not. We assign it power, all of us collectively. Which means that desire for money, greed, is the real culprit. But while greed may well be evil, that evil is sprung from a deeper well. The well of our perceived separateness. ~The shutting off of our empathy is the root of all that is evil. It is the well from which every other evil is born.
The good news is, if enough of us cultivate our empathic tendencies as a species, we will be unable to knowingly do harm. Or at least less able. I like the sound of that. No, wait...
I FUCKING LOVE IT!