Feeling separate from others

More of the Firth podcast (here) that was the subject of the last post. Here he deals with the separation we feel not just from the physical world but from other people. Again, we are clearly embedded the social world.

If I could go back to the mirror (neuron) story, one of the studies I found particularly interesting, that Sarah-Jayne Blakemore did, was touch. We found that if you see someone being touched – on their face, for example – then the bit of your brain that would be activated if your face was touched lights up, even though it’s not being touched. So, in a sense you’re sharing their sensory experience by watching them. But what is interesting here is you’re not aware of this, that it’s happening in your brain.

If you are aware of it, in fact you’re a rather unusual person. There is a special from of synesthesia which a couple of people we know have, so that when they see someone being touched they actually say, ‘I can feel it on my own face.’ The interesting thing to us was that everybody actually has this happening to them, but they’re just not aware of it: we’re actually experiencing what’s happening to other people all the time, but below awareness.

…But nevertheless experience ourselves as independent agents who can do whatever we like; we’re not really influenced by what’s going on. But in fact we are.

One thought on “Feeling separate from others

  1. Look at the uncanny valley


    My hypothesis is that when people meet, they do a Turing test to determine if someone is “human enough”. That testing is done to see if their mirror neurons have sufficient consilience to be able to communicate, that is if their “theory of mind” has enough consilience.


    If it doesn’t have enough consilience, then the error rate goes up and xenophobia is triggered. The xenophobia of the uncanny valley. It can be triggered through cultural differences (common xenophobia), or by the lack of corresponding neural structures (the antipathy exhibited toward people with autism).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *