Reflections on the Mind:  Experiments with a simple mirror setup can reveal much about the brain

You probably look in a mirror every day without thinking about it. But mirrors can reveal a great deal about the brain, with implications for psychology, clinical neurology and even philosophy. They can help us explore the way the brain puts together information from different sensory channels such as vision and somatic sensations (touch, muscle and joint sense). In doing so, they can reveal a lot about our sense of self. Would a person who has never looked at his reflection—even in a pool—ever develop a sophisticated self-representation?

Using two bricks, or some duct tape, prop up an 18-inch-square mirror vertically on a table. Sit so that the edge faces you. Now put your left hand on the table at the left side of the mirror (either palm up or down) and match your right-hand position on the right side. If you now look into the right side of the mirror, you will see the right hand’s reflection optically superimposed in the same place where you feel your left hand to be. (You may need to adjust the position of the left hand to achieve this sensation.) It will now look like you are viewing your own left hand, but of course you are not. Now try the following experiments.

While continuing to look in the mirror on the right side and keeping your left hand perfectly still, move your right hand, wiggle its fingers or make a fist. The “left hand” in the mirror will appear to move in perfect synchrony with the right but, paradoxically, feel completely still. The conflict creates a slight jolt; it feels spooky, sometimes mildly uncomfortable. The brain abhors discrepancies.

Now do the opposite; keep the right hand still and move the left hand. The left hand appears still but feels like it is moving. You will feel the same kind of jarring sensation, but it will be less powerful than in the preceding case. The reason for the asymmetry is not clear.  Read Article

By Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran
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