Today, as never before, we spend hours every day listening to audios or watching videos of different characters talking about it all. It enters the world through our senses. There is no shortage of fake news, these are known to us. Our minds are consulted online about the truth or falsity of what the interviewer tells us. We try to mentally question the face, voice, frown, and tone of the speaker. We construct a hypothesis about the perceived group and deal with it at that moment, or during the time that we somehow communicate with the interlocutor.
Neuropsychologists call this cognitive process “theory of mind.” Something inappropriate, because in reality it is only a “hypothesis of reason”. Without any certainty, we imagine an entire psychological profile of our interlocutor and the content of what it tells us, that guides our behavior: turn off the TV, nod, laugh or cry, or even vote.
What neuroscientists are asking themselves is: What is the brain mechanism that allows us to accomplish this complex psychological work? A major breakthrough was published earlier this year by a group of researchers associated with Massachusetts General Hospital. It was the discovery of “great neurons,” as I thought to call it myself. Neurons in the cerebral cortex that fire electrical signals when one tries to imagine what the axons are thinking inside.
The group used volunteer patients who underwent pacemaker implantation surgery to control tremors. This surgery can be performed on the patient awake and conscious, under local anesthesia. In order to accurately determine the appropriate location for implantation deep in the brain, it is necessary to cross the region of the cortex that is supposed to be responsible for the “theory of mind”. On the way, the researchers recorded the electrical activity of several neurons with very fine electrodes, and to test them, they gave the volunteer acoustics with simple pranks that made him think.
For example: “João gives Maria a closed shoebox with a book inside. What does Maria think in the box?” A more normal position would indicate the obvious answer. But, we think, Mariah could be smart and answer something else … At that moment, some of the volunteers’ neurons were intensely firing electrical signals. For clichés, the silence of neurons. Psychological tests confirmed in patients the mental search for a hypothesis about Maria’s thought. The work is very well controlled and the data is very powerful. I was convinced that so-called neurons did indeed exist in the human brain.
Some will say knowledge is useless. But the science is surprising. The discovery reveals that culture and education reach the hyperbolic point of imprinting highly complex properties on individual neurons. It remains to be seen how they work together. And how could they be wrong in their judgment of other people’s realities.