July 19NextPrevious   

“Mirror Neurons and Nonviolence”–Daily Metta

“Ahimsa is a science.”

-––Gandhi (Harijan, May 6, 1939)

Modern scientific research has begun to corroborate Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence as a science, or rather, to supply the scientific foundation for some of Gandhi’s core ideas. One such breakthrough is the discovery of mirror neurons in Parma, Italy in the 1980s in a laboratory working with macaque monkeys, but they are not limited to primate brains alone–they are found in species of birds as well as the human being. Neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran goes so far as to call them “Gandhi neurons” because of the interconnectedness they somehow reflect somatically.

While the relationship between mind and body is far from perfectly understood, indeed quite controversial, neurons ‘network’ with one another to transmit information (electrochemical impulses) that in some way embody or at least correspond to our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual experiences. A “mirror neuron” fires both when one performs an action and when he or she sees an action performed by someone else. When you lift your arm, my motor neurons fire that would lift my arm (but that’s when super mirror neurons come in to tell me that you, and not I, are doing the lifting). Similarly, when we see a state of affection or an act of violence, mirror neurons live out that state or that act in our own bodies. That’s why, for instance, it “hurts” when we see someone take a fall (and why, as neuroscientist Mario Iacoboni points out, we may think torture is something we can inflict on another but we are also experiencing it subliminally in our own nervous system). But what about when we see someone in front of us who is afraid, or threatening, and we process that fear but override it with a secure confidence? If we knew how that works we’d be seeing the neural basis for nonviolence in action.

The power of this discovery, which still has a long way to go, is that it helps us to understand in scientific terms the hypothesis of our fundamental interconnection.

Experiment in Nonviolence

Become aware of a situation today in which your mirror neurons are active in response to someone else’s mood or action



The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 info@mettacenter.org