Saturday, February 20, 2010

getting under your skin was never like this

This will


And in case you're lazy, here is the money passage:

"So, here again you have neurons which are enrolled in empathy. Now, the question then arises: If I simply watch another person being touched, why do I not get confused and literally feel that touch sensation merely by watching somebody being touched? I mean, I empathize with that person but I don't literally feel the touch. Well, that's because you've got receptors in your skin, touch and pain receptors, going back into your brain and saying don't worry, you're not being touched...

But if you remove the arm, you simply anesthetize my arm, so you put an injection into my arm, anesthetize the brachial plexus, so the arm is numb, and there is no sensations coming in, if I now watch you being touched, I literally feel it in my hand. In other words, you have dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. So, I call them Gandhi neurons, or empathy neurons.

And this is not in some abstract metaphorical sense, all that's separating you from him, from the other person, is your skin. Remove the skin, you experience that person's touch in your mind. You've dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. And this, of course is the basis of much of Eastern philosophy, And that is there is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are in fact, connected not just via Facebook, and Internet, you're actually quite literally connected by your neurons. And there is whole chains of neurons around this room, talking to each other. And there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else's consciousness.

And this is not mumbo-jumbo philosophy. It emerges from our understanding of basic neuroscience."

Those of you who follow my blog know I have been reading Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization,in which the critical role of mirror neurons are discussed at length.

H/T The Flux Theatre Ensemble Blog


Mother of Invention Acting School said...

I posted a comment on the Flux Theater Ensemble blog, and I liked it so much I had to add it here:

Terrific piece. I have been reading Jeremy Rifkin's book The Empathic Civilization, and it discusses the key role that mirror neurons play in human history.

I am convinced that an actor who achieves visceral activation, which is quite different from mere emotional responsiveness, will exhibit neurological signs that set her apart from what is registered from other actors that are neurologically monitored, and that viscerally activated actors produce a different neurological response in members of an audience than actors who are not viscerally activated. In other words, I think that when an actor truly compels her audience to engage with her, this can be measured and even quanitified. Speculation at this point, but something I hope to pursue. I think this will show that acting, at bottom, is quite different from what it is often assumed to be: that is, it is not mere imitation, but imitation-with-some-kind-of-dilation-or-transparency that makes what is not normally visible or palpable about our inner workings manifest.

PK said...

There are actually a number of us in the actor training business who have been following the MN discovery and debates. At a recent theatre conference, there were several panels devoted to performing and advances in neuroscience, including my own on the method of physical actions and mirror neurons. I agree that the audience will respond more actively to DOING than indicating (and there are experiments that appear to substantiate that). I recommend Rizzolatti's Mirrors in the Brain for a good read--and it starts with a quote from Peter Brook--always reassuring.
Next summer in LA, the Assoc. for Theatre in Higher Ed will be holding a conference and there will be more panels devoted to this topic.

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