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A Scientific Report

November 2008

Hold these words in mind: ‘mirror neurons’. What in the world are these you may ask? Well, they are cells in the brain, yours mine, everyone’s brain and I’ve recently learned the little devils help us to process the emotions and actions of other people we happen to bump into in life. Now I am somewhat fuzzy about how this works but it seems to have to do with how we react when up against, say, your brother-in-law or a teenager. Maybe you ran into your next-door neighbor, your mirror neurons have been keeping an eye on him and know he’s a creep and urge you to flatten him on the spot. You don’t probably, but it would be satisfying if you did. Of course, it could be the other way around; the neurons had once borrowed ten bucks from him and he never asked for it back. So you take him out for a beer or two – his treat. I think you get the idea.

     I’ve picked up the gist of this brain business from an article in The New York Observer by Jeffry Goldberg, writer for The Atlantic Monthly, titled ‘The Machine That Read My Mind’. You see, some brain scientists had run Mr. Goldberg through an MRI brain scan to check out how his neurons were getting along, who they liked or not, their political preferences, and favorite desserts. At any rate, to Mr. Goldberg’s surprise his ‘ventral striatum’ – that’s an area of the brain where a lot of mirror neurons hang out and can get pretty high on what, as we scientists like to say, ‘rewarding stimuli’ – registered a WOW! when he was shown a photograph of Edie Falco of Sopranos fame. Mr. Goldberg wasn’t aware of this thing for Ms Falco although he was a fan of the program. Fortunately his ventral striatum, perhaps as a cover up, we don’t know, generated a good deal more heat when a photo of Mr. Goldberg’s wife was placed before him.

     I’m sure you find all this scientific stuff interesting but here’s the part that will really knock your socks off, a quote from one of the brain scientists: “When people watch a movie they love they’re truly living the things that take place on the screen through their mirror neurons.” Did you get that? Le me underscore this – “…they’re truly living the things that take place on the screen…” Didn’t you always suspect you were doing this but didn’t want to tell anyone for fear you’d be thought bananas? But there it is, scientific proof you can bank on, you and your mirror neurons living it up with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie or George Clooney or Meg Ryan – OK, skip Meg Ryan, those ol’ mirror neurons want something racier. You can almost feel your ventral striatum bouncing around like a small boat in a heavy sea. And for you oldies out there rejoice in the fact that you have danced with Cyd Charisse, were kissed by Ronald Colman, sailed the Spanish Main with Errol Flynn though its possible your aged mirror neurons have lost some of their pep by this time so its probably best now to stick to re-runs of films like “Driving Miss Daisy” and the “Sunshine Boys”.

     This brain revelation is certainly sensational and the only catch I can see is that we must be turned on by a movie we love but I think science may be mistaken about this. I figure the mirror neurons have enough to do without acting like film critics telling you which films to love and which are bombs. If that were so then there wouldn’t be any Adam Sandler films would there? Your neurons can only take so much, thank you. And just as Mr. Goldberg discovered, you may think you know what you’re doing but your mirror neurons have wandered off on their own and you may not find this out until you have an MRI or something similar. For example, in my youth I believed I had a crush on Arlene Dahl until later in life and after sticking my finger in a hot light bulb socket I found it was Gloria Graham all along. Nor could I recall any of her films I liked. Luckily it wasn’t Edna May Oliver because I did love “Drums Along the Mohawk”.

     There you have it, I guess the lesson is you just don’t know what your mirror neurons are up to when they start your ventral striatum drooling over some hot ‘rewarding stimuli’ – so its best to keep an open mind. If you can’t wait to find out try the light socket cure; MRI’s are expensive, you know, and it is not likely your insurance would consider that a necessary procedure.