Mirror Neurons: Are there people who feel others' pain?

Chuck Bryant: Stuff You Should Know.

Josh Clark: Very nice. How you doing?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I'm great.

Josh Clark: You look like you're doing great, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: You look like you're doing great, Josh. Geri looks like she's doing about like we're doing.

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: We're all doing the same.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That's what we're doing.

Josh Clark: So Chuckers, I got, as I said right before we started recording, I've got no intro for this, but this is a listener request times infinity or so.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I got a - I got an intro.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay. Let's hear it.

Chuck Bryant: It just came to me.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: Josh, remember years ago when you were a young child watching NFL football and the quarterback for the Washington Redskins, Joe Theismann, horrifically broke his leg, Lawrence Taylor broke his leg.

Josh Clark: It's one of the great tragedies of my life that I missed that.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, you did?

Josh Clark: I never saw it.

Chuck Bryant: You know when you're watching any sporting event and you see a knee go in a direction it shouldn't go in?

Josh Clark: Willis McGahee.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. There you go. Exactly.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: When it was flopping around?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Did you feel a pain in your leg when that happened?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Yeah. I felt some sort of a discomfort.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. I feel a shooting pain when I see - it's - it's usually a bone or a leg going a way it's not supposed to go, like a knife wound wouldn't bother me. It wouldn't make me grab my chest.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: But that always sends a shooting pain through my leg.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: And that, buddy, may be a milk form of synesthesia.

Josh Clark: Yes, it might be.

Chuck Bryant: That's my first intro.

Josh Clark: That's very good, Chuck. I think we should - we should appropriately clap for that. Geri?

Chuck Bryant: Yes. I clapped for myself so it wouldn't just be a two person lame slow clap.

Josh Clark: Yeah, you did. It was a good clap, and it was a good intro, Chuck. And this is news to me. I had no idea that you were a synesthete.

Chuck Bryant: Well, I don't know if that really counts. I kinda thought everyone felt a shooting pain when that kinda thing happened, but -

Josh Clark: Well, you know, buddy, you sound like a developmental synesthete.

Chuck Bryant: Born with it?

Josh Clark: Yeah. People who are born with synesthesia tend to think that this is a very normal occurrence, that everybody feels this way.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That's the only time it happens, though.

Josh Clark: It's just with leg injuries?

Chuck Bryant: Well, breaks and things like that.

Josh Clark: When limbs just do things that aren't supposed to - they're not supposed to do.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I don't see the number three as orange.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: We'll get to that later, but -

Josh Clark: We definitely will, but what you're talking about is mere tough synesthesia.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the first one.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Okay. You wanna go into it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Why not?

Josh Clark: What are you waiting for?

Chuck Bryant: That's one of the - I just - I did the intro. I thought - that's usually when you hand it over, so I'm handing it over.

Josh Clark: Oh, okay. Yeah. This is all reversed.

Chuck Bryant: I know.

Josh Clark: And it's not like mere reversed. It's all just confusing. All right! Well mere touch synesthesia is a - I don't know if you could call it a disorder, maybe a condition. We'll say condition.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, condition.

Josh Clark: It's a condition where a person actually experiences a touch or an injury that they're observing on someone else.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And because its mere touch, if, say, I'm facing you, right?

Chuck Bryant: Which you are.

Josh Clark: Right. And your left arm gets touched; I would feel it in my right arm.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: All right? And if I were standing next to you and your left arm were touched, I would feel it in my left arm, too.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: This is not supposed to happen, normally.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: It's pretty weird.

Josh Clark: It - it is. And apparently, for the - the, I guess, truly advanced mere touch synesthetes, like you can't watch a horror movie because the - the empathy involved is so extreme -

Chuck Bryant: It's unbearable.Josh Clark: - that they - it's unbearable to watch, like you feel like these thing are happening to you. And there's no - there's a lot of stuff we need to point out, but chief among them is there's no confusion here. These people aren't confused. They don't think they're really [inaudible].

Chuck Bryant: No, no, no.

Josh Clark: Jack Nicholson getting hit in the head with a baseball bat by Shelley Duval.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: They - they - they don't think that it's happening to them, but they still experience this. Right?Chuck Bryant: Yeah.Josh Clark: That's number one. Number two is this is not imagination. Right?Chuck Bryant: Right.Josh Clark: Like these people aren't deluded.Chuck Bryant: No, no, no. They're normal.Josh Clark: Anymore than - than, say, a person with mere touch synesthesia feeling themselves being pinched when they watch someone else being pinched. That's no more a delusion than you or I being pinched, that experience. Right?Chuck Bryant: Yeah. They're - they're considered neurologically normal, quote, unquote.

Josh Clark: Right. And we also know that they are having these real experiences because of our friend, the wonder machine.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: Which has been employed to investigate synesthesia in all forms, and it shows that the - for example, I don't - I can't come up with one for mere touch neurons, but we'll use the color grapheme. No. We'll use the sound color synesthesia. Okay?

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Yeah. There's all different types, and this is another one. Sound color is when you associate sound with color.

Josh Clark: Right. So if you have somebody who has sound color synesthesia in the MRI -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: All right? And you play a musical note for them, the region of the brain that - that experiences or governs our understanding of musical notes is activated as is the region of the brain that's associated with colors.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Right.

Josh Clark: So these people are experiencing both. There's no way to separate them, and it's not an association like you were wearing a blue evil knievel jumpsuit the first time you heard a particular Bach concerto. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Right. Although, I was!

Josh Clark: You were?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: And you may associate that, so you may have a visual image in your mind of that blue jumpsuit or even that shade of blue whenever you hear that concerto. This is not what we're talking about. This is a mixture of the senses in its most definitive form.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Oftentimes, they say there will even be a projection of that color, a literal projection that they see. And it sounds kooky if you've never experienced it, but to them it seems completely normal.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah. I think once that - once they realize that they're synesthetes and that this isn't normal, it becomes tiresome, from what I understand. I was reading an interview with Dr. Oliver Sax, the awakenings guy.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: He's been hanging with synesthetes for many decades now, so he's something of an authority on it.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: And he was saying that a lot of them get kinda tired of it, like I really wish I could just listen to music without seeing all the colors.

Chuck Bryant: Well, a lot of people use it, too, though.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, creatively?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Famous synesthetes have - have remarked that it has helped them with their memory. I got a study on that, which we'll get to later, but we're talking about Duke Ellington.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: No slouch.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Franz List.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: A composer. Novikoff, a writer!

Josh Clark: Actually, Novikoff, in his autobiography, he talks about how he started to realize that he was synesthetic when he was a little kid. He was pointing to these, I guess, the alphabet and they were just colorless letters, but he was talking about the colors of the letters. And his mother came over and agreed with him that the - the letters were, indeed, colored.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But she disagreed with what colors the letters were.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Right, right.

Josh Clark: So he came to realize as he grew older that he and his mother were synesthetic, and actually, strangely enough, his wife turned out to be a synesthete, too.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: Well, they do think it's hereditary, for sure.

Josh Clark: But get this. He also couldn't hear music. Like he could hear the sound, but he couldn't hear music, so he couldn't hear a high or a low pitch and he couldn't hear discordant tones.

Chuck Bryant: Would he see it?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Oh.

Josh Clark: He was a color grapheme synesthete.

Chuck Bryant: All right. So that's two. We'll go ahead and say the other two, word taste, words associated with taste, and taste touch. And there's all kinds of groupings of these.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: It's not just those. Apparently, they can be paired in all sorts of ways, and I think they said it's rare, but some people even have - involve three or more of their senses.

Jos h Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Which is, I mean, crazy.

Josh Clark: Right. And there's no - besides color grapheme synesthesia, it's not like you just have that. You can have different types of synesthesia, and you can also have different degrees, so much so that researchers are coming to believe that one out of every 100 or 200 people have synesthesia.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: To some - to some degree, like you.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And it's also specific to the person, so everyone's is their own.

Josh Clark: Right. Which is why -

Chuck Bryant: Like three isn't always blue for every synesthete.

Josh Clark: Right. Which is why Novikoff and his mother were arguing about why - what -

Chuck Bryant: Exactly.

Josh Clark: - you know, what colors were what.

Chuck Bryant: There's another one I found, too, called time space synesthesia. Did you see this?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: This - they kinda reference it in the article as far as some people even see certain months and days as shapes, but there's a psychologist named David Brang, who, his theory is that people can literally see time as a - they see it as a spatial construct. So he found this one woman in a study who was able to see the year as a circular ring surrounding her body, and it rotated clockwise throughout the year. And the current month resided inside of her chest and the past month resided on the front of her chest.

Josh Clark: Huh.

Chuck Bryant: Isn't that crazy?

Josh Clark: It is crazy. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And when I say crazy, I'm not being derogatory. Fascinating!

Josh Clark: Yes, right. Well, yeah, of course, we use those interchangeably around here. Don't we?

Chuck Bryant: Well, we tend to.

Josh Clark: That woman can probably tell you exactly what happened on a certain day of a given year.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Because one of the - one of the benefits that they - that researchers believe synesthetes are bestowed with is better working memory.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: There's different associations! It's not just one association. It's - you're using two regions of the brain to form memories or that are elicited as a response to music or letters [inaudible]

like that or time Chuck Bryant: Right. Well, he did - he did two studies. You wanna hear that.

Josh Clark: I do.

Chuck Bryant: He took the same people, the - the time space - is it synesthetes?

Josh Clark: Synesthetes.

Chuck Bryant: Synesthetes.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He took the time space synesthetes, and he did a - he asked them to memorize an unfamiliar spatial calendar and then reproduce it, and then he got normal people to do it. And the results showed that they could recall events in time, like light years beyond the non-synesthetes.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: And they found on average that the synesthetes have about 123 different facts that they can call up about a specific event in our - in their life compared to 39 for your average Joe.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: So it's - it's definitely doubling your pleasure with the memory.

Josh Clark: Double your fun.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: With synesthesia. Chuck, you were talking about studies and tests. Dr. Sax mentioned a pretty simple test for somebody with color grapheme synesthesia, and it's brilliant in its simplicity.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But you just put a piece of paper in front of them with a scattering - a random scattering of 5s and Ss and say, "Pick out 5s and Ss as fast as you can."

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: And for a synesthete - because remember, this isn't an association, like they literally - five looks red, S looks green -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, they mixed it with other numbers and letters?

Josh Clark: No. It's just 5s and Ss because they look similar.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: So the synesthetes should be able to pick out the 5s and Ss in no time flat.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, like because of blue and red, let's say.

Josh Clark: Right. Because it's not just a - a black printed number or letter that looks similar to one another!

Chuck Bryant: Right. Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: It will clearly look like this one's red, this one's green, this one's red, this one's green, green, green, re d, red, green.

Chuck Bryant: You're like a human highlighter.

Josh Clark: Pretty much.

Chuck Bryant: You know?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That's why you use a highlighter so it stands out.

Josh Clark: But think about this. Can you imagine trying to study if - do you remember back in like seventh grade those fat pens that have four different color inks in them?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah. Sure. And the girls would send you love notes with one letter for each color.

Josh Clark: Right. And when they really, really liked you, like each letter would be a different - a different color!

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And it was just a headache, a nightmare. And you were like I don't like you, you know? You with that puffy bang thing that's all hair sprayed going on.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. See, that was much later for me. Seventh grade, for me, was - that was still -

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah, everybody was -

Chuck Bryant: - early '80s.

Josh Clark: [Inaudible]

Chuck Bryant: Joan Jett.

Josh Clark: Everybody was keeping on trucking.

Chuck Bryant: And spiky Joan Jett hair that was what was going on.

Josh Clark: Sure. Nice. Chuck, this is - appears to be genetic in origin. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That's what they think because usually more than one person in your family has it at a time.

Josh Clark: Right. Yeah. Old Jacob Silverman - not to be confused with old Kirk Christiansen - he - he wrote about a researcher named Sarah Jane Blakemore, who was delivering a lecture and mentioned that she had heard of people who confused other people's touches for their own.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: She was talking about mere touch synesthetes, and a woman in the audience, I guess, during the Q and A session said, "Wait, I thought everybody felt that," and was like, "What is going on here?"

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Sarah Jane Blakemore was like, "Let's go to your home." And they did, and she found out that 11 of her family members had some form of synesthesia.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So if it - they think it does have a genetic basis. But Chuck, I'm writing an article on a skin condition called epidermalisisbalosa.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Basically, you get blisters really easy.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Okay? Researchers have determined that ten genes are in order - or are in play or mutated to have epidermalisisbalosa.

Chuck Bryant: And that's just for a blister.

Josh Clark: Can you imagine the number of genes that have to be mutated and the specific combinations to - to form synesthesia?

Chuck Bryant: Right. Crazy amounts!

Josh Clark: It is crazy.

Chuck Bryant: And we mean fascinating.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Where should we go here?

Josh Clark: I -

Chuck Bryant: Can we go to mirror neurons?

Josh Clark: Well, hold on. Let's talk about one other thing first.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: We - with synesthesia, there's two types. We talked about developmental synesthetes who think that everybody experiences this.Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Because they're born with it!

Josh Clark: Sure. And then, there's acquired synesthesia, and this is most predominantly seen in people who lose their sight after a certain age.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Or if you have a brain injury or do lots of drugs. You said drug use.

Josh Clark: Well, yeah, drug use can - can lead to, I guess, a kind of temporary synesthesia, from what I've read.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay.

Josh Clark: But if you go blind, apparently your - your brain's visual center, after it's been trained to take in visual information -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: - it's still hungry for it.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: So it starts - apparently your - synesthesia can just come in like gangbusters -

Chuck Bryant: Wow. Yeah.

Josh Clark: - after you lose your sight, even when you didn't have it before.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And you remember that movie, Mask?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, who could forget?

Josh Clark: Of course. You remember the part where Rocky Dennis is teaching his blind girlfriend colors?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Cold is blue, hot is red.

Josh Clark: Right. He puts her hand under some cold water and he's like, "This is blue," and what, he heated like a rock up in a campfire and gave it to her to teach her red.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And teach her a lesson.

Chuck Bryant: And then he smacked her in the face and said, "That's orange."

Josh Clark: Right. Get it right.

Chuck Bryant: Orange is pain.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I think that's - I can't tell - and I don't know that a neurologist could tell you whether that was actually developing synesthesia.

Chuck Bryant: Right. That was Laura Dern, wasn't it?

Josh Clark: I think it was. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: A young Laura Dern.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And Rocky Dennis was Eric Stoltz.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And Cher was Cher.

Chuck Bryant: Eric Stoltz in a lot of prosthetic makeup.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Good movie.

Chuck Bryant: Great movie. I love that. Sam Elliot, too.

Josh Clark: Everybody was in that. John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Beck.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh. Beck was in it.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Well, and who can forget the cameo by Liberachi?

Josh Clark: I know.

Chuck Bryant: It was amazing.

Josh Clark: It was - it blew me away.

Chuck Bryant: He was the mask.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That was the big reveal.

Josh Clark: He turned out to be, not even metaphorically.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Like Rocky Dennis took his mask off, and it was Liberachi.

Chuck Bryant: And it was Liberachi.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: God, what a classic. Are we at mirror neurons?

Josh Clark: We definitely are at mirror neurons.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: If we're not, we're in big trouble, buddy.

Chuck Bryant: Uh -

Josh Clark: Oh, wait.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, no. Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Another pop culture reference is Fantasia is commonly pointed to as about the closest non-synesthete come to experiencing synesthesia, short of hallucinating.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Because almost every motion and color and change in lighting is associated with a musical note!

Chuck Bryant: A sound. Yeah. I can't get through that thing anymore.

Josh Clark: I can't either.

Chuck Bryant: I think when I was a little kid I thought it was neat, but -

Josh Clark: Now it's just unsettling.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. It's boring.

Josh Clark: Yeah. All right, Chuck. I believe we have arrived at mirror neurons.

Chuck B ryant: So mirror neurons, Josh, I didn't realize this but they were discovered only in 1996.

Josh Clark: In makak monkeys.

Chuck Bryant: By accident.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: There were these dudes in Italy, the neuroscientists at the University of Parma, and I will read their names because I love Italians. It was Agiacomo Risalotti was the first one.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: And Victoria Gilessi was the second one, and the third one was Leonardo Fegassi.

Josh Clark: Nice. I like the last guy's name the most.

Chuck Bryant: Leonardo Fegassi.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. He's good. So they make a mean pasta sauce, too.

Josh Clark: I'll bet.

Chuck Bryant: So they were doing a little study on the pre-motor neuron dynamics. So they ran some electrodes into a makak monkey, like you said, to the pre-motor cortex to monitor neural activity when the monkey like would reach for something. It's all going fine. They were learning whatever they were learning, eating some spaghetti, and all of a sudden one of the guys - this is how the story goes at least - came into the room and reached for a raisin, I think they said it was. And the monkey was still hooked up, and they say that his brain started firing the same as it did when he had actually reached for it. And they all went [inaudible].

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: And all of a sudden, they had stumbled upon what one of them calls the biggest neuroscientific discovery of the decade, and he went on to say that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA has done for biology.

Josh Clark: That's very funny.

Chuck Bryant: It will provide a unifying framework.

Josh Clark: That's funny that he said that because that's a lot of foresight for that one single guy, because that's exactly what it's done.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah. Big time! I mean, basically, mirror neurons are how we learn to do everything.

Josh Clark: Right. Think about swinging a baseball bat. You don't just walk up and go, "Oh, there you go."

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You learn it by observing other people.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: At the same time, you can make the - the case that culture - other kinds of acquired learning, aside from swinging baseball bats, the theory of the mind where we can put ourselves in other people's situations to predict their behavior, all of this is accounted for by mirror neurons.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. A biological basis for empathy!

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Crazy.

Josh Clark: It is crazy. And I think also empaths, people who have severe empathy, real empathy, tend to have more active mirror neurons. And people with autism tend to not display any motor - mirror neuron activity.

Chuck Bryant: Right. You understand one and you might explain the other, is what they're thinking.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Pretty cool.

Josh Clark: Also, Chuck, the - it was just - mirror neurons were just observed in humans for the first time this year.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: UCLA?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. And apparently, they're - we have much more robust than even the monkeys do.

Josh Clark: Right. So they - are you talking about the study where they had brain electrodes already implanted in epilepsy patients awaiting surgery?

Chuck Bryant: I did not see that one.

Josh Clark: Okay. These are the guys who showed it directly before it had been observed its activity had been observed, like in a MRI, but MRIs are falling a little out of favor these days, and rightly so. We just [inaudible] -

Chuck Bryant: In this room, at least. Yeah.

Josh Clark: Right? These guys had brain electrodes hooked up to the brains of epilepsy patients already. And they're like, "Hey, let's test this out." So they had people watch others do grasping motions, and then they had the people do grasping motions themselves.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Some neurons were fired when the person did the grasping motion himself, and other neurons fired when they watched it, but 8 percent fired both times.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Those are the mirror neurons. It was the first time - the first time they were ever directly observed in humans.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Yeah. And those are the synesthetes.

Josh Clark: No. They're just - they're just regular everyday people.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay. I thought that meant -

Josh Clark: Think about it. Let's go back to that sports metaphor. Okay?

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: All right. Chuck, have you ever seen somebody get hit by a pitch?

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.Josh Clark: And did you recoil in your chair, even though you were in no way in the line of that pitch?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a little bit. Sure.

Josh Clark: But have you seen other people do it? It's like oh.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: That's - that's mirror neurons at work.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: They're anticipating that this other person's going to feel pain.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You don't necessarily have to be a synesthete for - to have mirror neurons. You see what I'm saying?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah. Sure.

Josh Clark: Although, in synesthetes, it's just heightened, and so they're much more active.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And that's the theory.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: They also found through the - and I love this - this is like brand new stuff here in the past couple of years, which I really love. They found that it's - you don't actually even have to see it. You can hear it, like a piece of paper being torn, and they'll start firing like that. And when Galessi and Risolotti found that when they actually describe something happening in a sentence, the same mirror neurons were firing, as if they are actually performing the action!

Josh Clark: Really? Wow.

Chuck Bryant: So that's - I don't know if that's getting through to people. The neurons that fire,

if you would actually pick up Josh Clark: Tear a piece of paper?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Tear a piece of paper - happen when you hear it being torn.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Crazy.

Josh Clark: It is crazy. And you were talking about the - what was the Italian guy's name who made the prediction that it was gonna be the biggest thing since the Beatles?

Chuck Bryant: Ravioli.

Josh Clark: Okay, Ravioli. When he said that it was gonna be huge, he was absolutely right. Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Mirror neurons are at the center of what's being called the fifth revolution in humanity.

Chuck Bryant: I believe it.

Josh Clark: Will you - will you allow me? Will you indulge me a moment?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: So there has been four so far, and we're - we're at the beginning of the fifth revolution. The first revolution was Copernicus saying, "Earth is in the center of the universe."

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: The second revolution was Darwin saying, "Men are just clever monkeys."

Chuck Bryant: Even though he was 75 years after what's his face.

Josh Clark: Yeah, what's his face? I know who you're talking about.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Oh, Gerta.

Chuck Bryant: Gerta.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And then, the third revolution was Freudian, who suggested that we were nothing but a bunch of drives and desires that we were unconscious of and couldn't control.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Sure.

Josh Clark: The fourth was the genetic revolution, the DNA, Crick and Watson who showed like, "Hey, we're actually a bunch of genes," and all that that implies.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And Watson put it like, "There are only molecules. Everything else is sociology."

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And his - his partner, Frances Crick, said, "Huh, you know, that's really interesting that we came up with that. I'm gonna go ahead and predict the fifth wave." And the fifth revolution is neuroscience.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And that's where we're at now, that we are nothing but - this is how Crick put it in his book, Astonishing Hypothesis, "Even our loftiest thoughts and aspirations are mere byproducts of neural activity.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And mirror neurons are revealing that. Synesthesia reveals that because think about it, Chuck, if I watch you get pinched and I experience the pinching, just like I'm being pinched, that's my reality.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But it's not reality as everybody sees reality.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Or agrees that reality is, but it's still just as real, so it kind of - it kind of underscores just how feeble reality actually is.

Chuck Bryant: You're blowing my mind, man.

Josh Clark: And this is - well, this is what neuroscience is. This fifth revolution is undermining our conceptions and our perceptions of reality.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: I have a question for you.

Chuck Bryant: Let's hear it.

Josh Clark: There's a neuroscientist named Viez Ramashandran.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I saw that guy.

Josh Clark: Okay. He has a question that he likes to pose to people. It's not his, but he - he - he bandies it about a lot. Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yes?

Josh Clark: If a neuroscientist could keep your brain in a vat of liquid and maintain your consciousness so you had no idea you were just a brain in a vat of liquid, apply electrical impulses so that could make you the happiest form of yourself combined with Gandhi, Hugh Hefner, Einstein, and Bill Gates -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - and you were just as happy as you could be, and then one day, the neuroscientist says to you, "Hey, I'm gonna give you a choice. First of all, you're a brain in a vat of liquid and all of your experiences are just me applying electrical impulses."

Chuck Bryant: Right. Like Futurama.

Josh Clark: Or like The Matrix.

Chuck Bryant: Or like The Matrix.

Josh Clark: Which was actually based on this - this thought experiment.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: So you can either remain this happy, deluded brain in this vat of liquid, or you can be your regular self, what you consider to be yourself, what you consider to be yourself right now.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: What would you choose?

Chuck Bryant: Blue pill or red pill, basically? I - I would wanna be myself.

Josh Clark: What's the difference?

Chuck Bryant: Okay, Morpheus.

Josh Clark: No, but really, it's true. And this was around before the Worshinski brothers -

Chuck Bryant: Wokowski.

Josh Clark: Whatever.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Lavowski. Before they cinematized it as the basis for The Matrix, this was - this was a philosophical experiment, and it - it -

Chuck Bryant: Well, if you would never know, you're right, what's the difference?

Josh Clark: Right. But it's not - it's not never knowing, Chuck. The point is that's what's going on with us right now. That's our conception of reality. It's just a - it's a neurological response to -

Chuck Bryant: External environment.

Josh Clark: External stimuli.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: But that's - none of it's real and mirror neurons are kind of pointing that out as a big flashing light, like buddy, if somebody can feel someone else being pinched and you can actually see the brain activity going and they're not imagining it, then reality isn't real.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And we're here to show you.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: I know. I'm depressed.

Chuck Bryant: See. I'm inspired. What does that say about us?

Josh Clark: I don't know.

Chuck Bryant: That means we complement each other. You blew my mind, literally, into next Wednesday.

Josh Clark: Yeah?

Chuck Bryant: I got a couple more things.

Josh Clark: I wanna hear them.

Chuck Bryant: You know how I was talking about the biological basis for empathy? They're also thinking that this is why yawns are contagious, laughter contagious, and moods are contagious, good and bad moods.

Josh Clark: Yeah. We didn't do that one? The Is Yawning Contagious or Does It Make You Empathetic?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but I - I don't think they knew as much even when we recorded that as they do now about mirror neurons.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Like you were saying, like this is cutting edge stuff! It's been advancing leaps and bounds over the last two years. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Leaps and bounds. And I got one more thing for you.

Josh Clark: Speaking of that, have you seen that cute little lamb? Where's B? The confused little lamb on YouTube!

Chuck Bryant: No, but Geri's nodding like a 5-year-old, so.

Josh Clark: It is so adorable. You mean I just sit there and watch it like - you'll watch it ten times.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: If that - as long as little B, the lamb's around, I don't care what's real.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know if I could ever watch anything as much as I watch the surprise cat - kitten or the - yeah - or the - the shocked gopher - groundhog or whatever it was.

Josh Clark: Where he turns around dramatic -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I can't remember what it's called.

Josh Clark: What about the weather guy? Pretty much everywhere it's gonna be hot.

Chuck Bryant: It's gonna be hot.

Josh Clark: Arthur.

Chuck Bryant: Arthur, yeah, he was good, too.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Boy that was a nice little sidebar.

Josh Clark: Well, have you seen keyboard kitty?

Chuck Bryant: We should just do a whole show on YouTube stuff.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: I haven't seen keyboard kitty. Josh, here's one other - one last thing. The mirror neurons, they think, a more complex mirror neuron system developed in humans about five to 10,000 years ago.

Josh Clark: Yeah. I remember.

Chuck Bryant: You know what else happened around five to 10,000 years ago?

Josh Clark: We - I - I've got everything I wanna say I can't say.

Chuck Bryant: It emerged roughly at the same time as modern communication and language.

Josh Clark: Beauty.

Chuck Bryant: So they think the mirror neurons, once they developed to that extent in early man, that crude, panamime gestures became more elaborate gestures - guesstures?

Josh Clark: I like that.

Chuck Bryant: I said guesstures.

Josh Clark: It's like a [inaudible].

Chuck Bryant: Right. And then, that became rudimentary language and then it just snowballed from there, so.

Josh Clark: Well, Chuck, think about this. We talked about Mesopotamia being the cradle of civilization.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: We started living in cities around that time, too.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah?

Josh Clark: And mirror neurons make us more empathetic, which is pretty much the glue that holds society together.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. Truly the fifth revolution!

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: It's so interesting. We should give a shout out, just so we don't get a thousand, million emails about Richard Sitowick. He -

Josh Clark: Yeah. Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He kinda says that he's the man when it comes to synesthesia.

Josh Clark: He wrote a book in '93.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. He's written a few.

Josh Clark: And I noticed all over Sax nodding to this guy, too.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. He - I mean, he seems like the real deal, although, his website is crude.

Josh Clark: Is it?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's just you go to it, and you're like, oh, man, I thought you were all like professional and -

Josh Clark: It's not synesthete.org is it?

Chuck Bryant: I can't remember.

Josh Clark: The synesthete battery?

Chuck Bryant: But - no, I don't think so. But he has - he does have some books. One's called The Man Who Tasted Shapes.

Josh Clark: Yeah. That's -

Chuck Bryant: Great name.

Josh Clark: I think that's the one from '93.

Chuck Bryant: And then, Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the brain of synesthesia.

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: And he proposes that it's - well, I - we should say there was another hypothesis that it's just crossed wires and that we're born like that with our neurons crossed.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And that almost all humans get it straightened out, and it becomes more complex.

Josh Clark: Around 12 months of age.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. But that it's just, oh, wires are crossed. That's why a baby - if you stick your tongue out at a baby, they might stick their tongue out back.Josh Clark: One - one other one - yeah, we were talking about Echopraxia.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: In the Tourette's episode and that apparently - it has to do with mirror neurons as well.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And then, one other school of thought for synesthesia is that synesthetes are picking up on something that's actually there. So like the wavelength of a piece of music also has some sort of light wavelength associated with it.

Chuck Bryant: That only certain people see.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting. I'm going with the mirror neurons.Josh Clark: Well, I don't think we have any choice, man. It's like evolution, Freud - I don't know if I accept him as a revolution, but -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - it's like evolution, Copernicus, the whole shebang.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Copernicus, the whole shebang.

Josh Clark: DNA.

Chuck Bryant: DNA.

Josh Clark: But don't you feel, Chuck that we are at this point where all the information's on the table, but we're just now starting to be able to put it together?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So it's a really depressing point right now because our place in the universe is as up in the air as it's ever been. We've been - we're - we've never been less sure about our importance or the meaning of our lives.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: It's entirely possible that once we put it all together, the meaning will be even bleaker.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: The reality will be even bleaker, but then we'll be able to grow from there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: I think that we exist right now in one of the bleakest periods of humankind.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. That's a nice way to leave things.

Josh Clark: Well, that's it for synesthesia. I think we've got more than just this one article on the site, but the one we were basing this off of is Can People Feel the Pain of Others? I think if you type synesthesia, S-Y-N-E-S-T-H-E-S-I-A into the handy search bar at howstuffworks.com, you're gonna get something, pal, something, maybe D. L. Hugly. You never can tell. So Chuck, that means it's time for listener mail. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Well, Josh, it would, if there was listener mail, but I didn't prepare listener mail today because we have just some things to talk about. T-shirt submissions!

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Designs.

Josh Clark: We've already gotten some pretty cool ones.

Chuck Bryant: We've gotten some really cool ones and some that aren't so great, but -

Josh Clark: Shh.

Chuck Bryant: - but we appreciate the effort.

Josh Clark: Yes, we do.

Chuck Bryant: But keep them coming. We don't have the details yet. We just wanted to say that -

Josh Clark: We - we archive all emails.

Chuck Bryant: We archive all the emails. I have a little folder called T-shirts and I'm throwing all the - all the ones in there that people send in.

Josh Clark: That's so crazy. I thought of making a folder called T-shirts.

Chuck Bryant: Leave it to me. It's - we're really getting some great ones, though, like I would want these T-shits.

Josh Clark: Oh, there's one that I know we definitely can't produce that I really want.

Chuck Bryant: The Magnum P.I. one?

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That was pretty [inaudible].

Josh Clark: Oh, my goodness.

Chuck Bryant: Pretty cool.

Josh Clark: All right. Well, yeah, if you want -

Chuck Bryant: So that -

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: That's coming and then we should - we should plug Facebook and Twitter, too.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: Because we - we're up and running now.

Josh Clark: So there's this - there's a social media site, called Facebook that you should check out.

Chuck Bryant: Uh-huh.

Josh Clark: And then, there's another thing, called Twitter that people should check out, too.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: The end.

Chuck Bryant: And you can find us at stuffyoushouldknow on the Facebook.

Josh Clark: Oh. You wanna talk about our Facebook and Twitter stuff.

Chuck Bryant: And you can find us at S-Y-S-K podcast on Twitter.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And you know, follow us, and sign up and become a fan and I'm kinda digging being involved. It's fun.

Josh Clark: We should put a subliminal obey in right here.

Chuck Bryant: Despair.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Oh, yeah, thanks for the despair pennant. You know who you are.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Thanks for everything we've gotten recently.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. We got a six-pack of microbrew from a guy. That was really nice. And the 9-1-1 people sent us things about - that work at 9-1-1 call centers. We got like hats and T-shirts.

Josh Clark: Yes. It turns out 9-1-1 isn't a joke.

Chuck Bryant: No, it's not.

Josh Clark: Well, thank you everybody for listening, at least. Those of you sending emails double thanks. And those of you who sent in actual physical stuff, triple thanks. If you want to contact Chuck or me or both of us, and Geri, too, you can send us an email, including T-shirt submissions, to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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