There is an entire set of people trying to get computers to do what the brain does, and while I appreciate their hard work, conviction and single minded devotion, I think at some point the brain simply wins hands down.
I mean when was the last time a computer CPU exhibited neural plasticity ( say, one USB port , learning and chipping in on its own for another non functioning port) ? And when was the last time, the CPU, decided to ignore certain parts of itself, and simply shut down the sections of the computer controlled by those parts, because power was being compromised in some way within ? And when was the last time your engineer repaired the circuitry in real time with the computer actually on ?
So it was with much delight that I leaned about something called mirror neurons.
Whenever the brain is involved in an bodily activity, the neurons in that part of the brain that is controlling that activity are said to "fire", and this is experimentally observable.
Sometime in the 1990's some scientists in Italy did an experiment with monkeys.
They fed the monkeys (A) some peanuts and noticed a certain section of brain neurons firing. They had a bunch of monkeys (B) observing these monkeys(A), and found that some neurons in the monkeys (B) fired every time the monkeys(A) were given peanuts. This was not a one off coincidence and several experiments were done that resulted in the postulation of "mirror neurons", or neurons that didn't participate directly in the action, but still got all excited about it on their own.
These are what you might call "learning" neurons. Suppose someone pokes your thumb with a needle. You express hurt , and react , by trying to withdraw your hand, as decreed by your normal brain neurons.
When I watch the process of poking, there are mirror neurons in my brain, that will react. Because they learn about the poke and its effects , and fire. These are not the neurons that listen to the brain say "Ouch, pull back that hand !". But neurons that are capable of understanding that act and help us learn about it and the in process , empathize with the person being poked. .
In simple terms, when you say one learns by observing, one is talking about these mirror neurons. When you watch something happening to someone, your own set of mirror neurons imagine the event and you react in empathy as if it happened to you.
Dr V. S Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at UC San Diego, and author of many books about the brain , says that mirror neurons enable us to see someone else as an intentional being, with purpose and intention. And so when some one's mirror neuron system is dysfunctional, we have a autism situation.
I have a question that has to do with what we observe, how much we observe, and is it possible that mirror neurons can be misled ?
Over the last half a century and more , visual mediums have proliferated in our lives. For some of us, television happened in our mid twenties, with color coming in even later. Today's generation, born in the nineties, are hounded , by visual data in the form of millions of television channels, video games, cell phone screens and so on. Right from birth itself. Small babies and kids react to Ipads. And in television, there is hardly any control on the content being shown, particularly in India.
Is it possible that mindless violence , immoral behaviour , and unnatural acts and events, constantly badgering our mirror neurons, could have fatigued them? To the extent that they blindly wrongly "empathize", and later no longer react to what their own brain , capable of reason, is actually telling them ? To the extent that people mindlessly behave and act without regard to the consequences ?
Is it possible that, beyond a certain frequency of onslaught of visual graphics, the mirror neurons , sort of start functioning "on automatic", bypassing the individual's capacity to evaluate and reason before acting?
Watch something and emulate , regardless of final outcome, or harm to someone. And our so many billion dollar entertainment industry obliges ...
Newspapers are full of stories where someone killed his father because he refused money for a new cell phone; someone slashed his wife' neck because she said she wanted a divorce; someone else flung acid on a girl's face because she spurned his offer of marriage; someone killed his mother because she wouldn't sign over some papers of ownership of something; someone committed suicide by hanging because of less marks in board exams; and endless events of this type. So many of these events are India-centric. In a country in a desperate hurry to catch up with the rest of the "developed" world, it is possible, that important steps are skipped. Blind aping of situations and events in films where humiliation of women is rampant, presumed superiority of men based on their mindless revengeful acts , are some of the results of this headlong rush into "Progress Alley" ..
Is it possible that we have passed the zenith of the development of our cerebral cortex, and are now on the other side, on a slow slide to an animal way of life ? Have we abused our mirror neurons till they have become mindlessly irreversibly narcissistic? Have we abused different ways of learning ?
As human beings who should be aware and respectful of the ways of Nature, have we now become marauding types out to destroy anything and everything that spells "B-A-L-A-N-C-E" ? Instead of being students and learning, the mirror neurons have now become masters.
And you see this abuse in Nature, as well as in the way our society is developing.
Even computers which mimic or at least are programmed ("trained") to mimic what the brain does, are now used for fraudulent dealings, defaming people, propagating harmful stuff, and cheating.
Possibly , computers can be rectified, repaired and started afresh.
I wonder if this can be done with the mirror neurons that have gone astray...