What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

V.S. Ramachandran: Children with autism, they are lacking in empathy, emotional empathy, which enormously involve mirror neurons. They are unable to adopt somebody else’s point of view on a conceptual level, possible even on a perceptual level. And is also something that you ascribe, this function to mirror neurons, that’s missing in autism are impoverished in autism. So there's lack of emotional empathy.

There’s also a lack of pretend play. Pretend play by definition in normal children or non-autistic children, requires that you put yourself in the shoes of that doll or that action figure. Pretend you are Superman. Suspend reality for a short while and pretend you are Superman. This autistic children are incapable of doing is undoubtedly one of the functions of mirror neurons. You need to tap into the mirror neurons in order to put yourself in the shoes of the action figure.

And also, sophisticated imitation, which is missing in many autistic children, is another function of mirror neurons. Impoverished language is something that you see in autistic children. 

So if you make a list of all the properties, emotional empathy, theory of other minds, imitation, pretend play and you look at all those functions of mirror neurons and make a tabular column of the functions that are deficient in autism, there’s almost a perfect fit. This is what led us to suggest over 10 years ago, or maybe about 10 years ago, that mirror neuron dysfunction might be the basis of autism, it might be one of the major causes of autism.

Now there are several groups which have shown this to be true doing brain imaging, but there’s one group who claims they don’t see a mirror neuron deficit. So what I’m arguing is—this is highly speculative at this point, I would say there are evidence that is suggestive, but not compelling or persuasive, but not compelling. So, we will have to wait and see. 

Big Think: If this turns out to be the case, how will it impact the way autism is treated?

V.S. Ramachandran: The question is, is the mirror neuron system completely deranged or is there less than residual activity still there. And I suspect there is some residual activity.  Can you tap into that activity using biofeedback? You know, there are EEG signals associated with mirror neurons and mirror neuron deficiency. So can the patient be taught to enhance by watching the computer screen and by using biofeedback, enhance the EEG signal, thereby indirectly recruiting more neurons and enhancing the activity of the mirror neurons? This is still very experimental, but people are trying it.

The other possibility is mirror neuron systems may have specific transmitters associated with them. It wouldn’t be surprising, for example, for we all know that “E” enhances… Ecstasy enhances empathy. It’s quite possible it is acting through the mirror neuron system. Especially parts of the mirror neuron system that are in the insular cortex and parts of the mirror neuron system that are concerned with the emotional empathy. Maybe if you knew what transmitters were involved you can engineer drugs that tap into that and enhance activity in the mirror neuron system.

Another way is to do exercises by synchronized dancing, like the Rockettes using multiple mirror reflections to enhance activity in mirror neurons. All of this is hypothetical and purely speculative, unlikely to work, but worth trying.

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, October 14 2012

Today's Big Idea: Humanizing Technology

We used to think differently about people with autism because of communication barriers. As technology is lowering those barriers our perception of this disorder is being transformed. This was ... Read More…

 

A Radical Theory of Autism

Newsletter: Share: