A story of a woman, a sword, and a handful of neurons.
It was a crisp September afternoon. I'd gathered with my church group at the local park for a picnic, we were welcoming new families into our congregation. Being quite childish for a 17 year old I decided to run around with the kids, not caring that I was too old.
I saw a nearby pile of foam swords and picked one up, challenged a kid my age to a duel just for the hell of it. He and I fought for about a half an hour, I expertly dodged nearly every swipe, and disarmed him several times. I "killed" him a couple times too.
After I defeated him for the umpteenth time he paused and lowered his sword. He asked "How long have you been training?"
To which I answered "What do you mean, training?"
"Fencing, you were clearly taught by someone very good. Who's your master?" He asked.
"Um, no one?" I was confused at this point. "Why, are you trained?"
"I've been fencing for six years, there's no way you just picked it up."
All I could offer him was a shrug, I really hadn't ever taken fencing lessons, I wasn't athletic at all. The sportiest thing I ever did was walk the dog. He didn't believe me. So he challenged me once more, promising that this time he would go full force, no mercy, real hits allowed.
I took him up on this, and we matched each other move for move for a long time. It drew a crowd. When I finally disarmed him and struck him in the chest people were just relieved that it was over. He was in total shock, I had my mother and sister confirm that I had never taken lessons, and he walked away totally defeated.
Now how could I, someone who'd never taken up fencing in my life, defeat a guy in combat?
After a bit of research I stumbled across "mirror neurons".
I'm not a professional by any means but I'll try to explain it as best as I can.
A mirror neuron is a type of cell in the brain that lights up when you perform an action, or watch someone else do that same action.
This is how children learn to do things like talk and grab things, they see the adults doing it and then copy it.
The purpose of these neurons give a direct form of action understanding, they allow us to "get" something by copying it while another person does it.
Have you ever attended a Zumba class? Or maybe watched one? Many people who go to these classes have not done much dancing before, and they certainly don't know the routine that the instructor has in mind, but once the music starts and the instructor starts dancing everyone falls into line. It looks pre-planned, they dance the moves well enough that it makes you doubt that they don't have prior experience.
That is an example of mirror neurons at work, the dancers neurons fire as they watch the instructor, and they copy her, and then copy everyone else around them.
Mirror neurons are also thought to be responsible for empathy. If you see someone get hurt, you might flinch and say "Ouch!", even though you were not actually affected. Your mirror neurons made you feel that person's pain for a split second.
Now think of people who lack empathy, who manipulate and hurt others. It is thought that these people's mirror neurons do not function correctly, there is even debate around the idea that malfunctioning mirror neurons may be responsible for autism.
Another neat trick that mirror neurons are capable of is predicting other people's moves and actions. If you've done an action before or observed an action enough, you may be able to predict what someone will do or say next, by calling on your predictive motor mechanisms. If you were to witness someone jump, you might be able to guess where they're going to land.
This is how I was able to do so well against that kid, my mirror neurons were firing, predicting the kid's moves milliseconds before he made them, allowing me to copy the move well enough to counteract it. It allowed me to be able to tell when he was going to swipe at me so I could dodge. And it gave me moves that he might have used seconds before against him.
I think it's pretty cool, what about you? Do you have any neat stories about when your mirror neurons enabled you to do something?