Mirror Neurons, Mirror Worlds

TED.com has become one of my favorite channels for those times like riding on the train where you can tune out the world while watching an iPod with headphones.

Below is a TED presentation by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran. He describes a function of the brain using “mirror neurons”, that are a subset of the neurons that let us sense and control our body. While other neurons are doing the sensing or controling – like picking up an apple – the mirror neurons are also firing.

I bet you are wondering how this ties with Virtual Worlds. I think it does, and in a big way.  Note that I used my category tag “Identity and perception of self”. This is because I am fascinated not only with virtual worlds, but how and why the VW seem to be enabled by weaving with how our minds create identity and work with how we perceive ourselves.

So back to our brains: When our motor command neurons fire so we can control our body, the doctor says our mirror neurons are also firing. This next thing is the discovery he’s made: when we see someone else doing something, like picking up an apple, the same mirror neurons are firing in our brain as if we were picking up the apple. His theory is this is a characteristic of our brain allowed man to learn from others so well.

I think this is also why we can have so much meaning connecting through an avatar into a 3D virtual world. This brain wiring of mirror neurons can be co-opted so we can use them to better connect with another body that we can mirror in our mind.

Think how we function in VW when you watch the video.

And don’t just think of how we create and reinforce a projection of our bodies in 3D space, think about how some users go a bit further… Have you ever been talking to someone unfamiliar with Second Life, and they ask, “I have heard people have some sort of cyber sex there… how could that possibly work?”?

I have wondered about that as well. I think if there is a way understand this, we can look to mirror neurons. Perhaps you will agree when you watch the video.

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