Mirror Neurons seems to be the answer as per the Neurotopia’s post encouraging all bloggers to come together and raise a toast for the mirror neurons (though Neurotopia’s article is more of a critical tone lamenting the fact that mirror neurons get so much attention in the blogosphere) !
Small Grey Matters too has taken the gauntlet and responded to some of the concerns raised by Mixing Memory regarding Mirror neuron research and attention. The defense is mostly on procedural concerns and does not tackle the defense of the more ‘speculative’ research in the filed for eg. related to language evolution.
Frontal Cortex speculates on the importance of mirror neurons in areas as diverse as sports, autism and movies.
It is interesting to observe that the debate on how much focus mirror neurons are getting has come full circle. My first, and I believe the most authoritative , encounter with the reason for focusing on Mirror Neurons was due to this Edge lecture by V S Ramachandran in which he laments the fact that mirror neurons is one of the most underrated discovery of our times (it was 1995 then). This Edge discussion is a must read for anyone interested in the topic.
I will discuss the mirror neurons in some detail in a later post, but what I encourage is that some edition of an online carnival like Encephalon or Synapse be focused on Mirror Neuron related contributions, so that one can clear the aura surrounding the matter for once and for all.
Before I part a few observations.
Neurotopia has a figure of a Brain Scan that shows that pars opercularis is activated differently in controls and autistic people indulging in imitation behavior. It is instructive to note that pars opercularis (along with ACC) has elsewhere been implicated in executive tasks like set-shifting tasks . This set shifting may be involved in going from concrete to abstract sets for a problem or from human to non-human set shift -this set-shifting would occur in normals and would not occur in autistics as autistics treat humans and non-humans alike.
Also, it is instructive to note, that by their very nature, mirror neurons have a strong role to play in empathy and social evolution as well as the observational learning that Albert Bandura proposed.