Thursday, October 16, 2008

Waves of Mu

Photo: Trish Empey. Pictured: Amy Caron.

If you live in New York, you have until Sunday to catch Waves of Mu, an installation/performance piece by Amy Carron.

According to Wikipedia, mu waves are
...electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency range of 8-13 Hz and appear in bursts of 9-11 Hz. Mu wave patterns arise from synchronous and coherent (in phase/constructive) electrical activity of large groups of neurons in the human brain. This wave activity appears to be associated with the motor cortex (central scalp), and is diminished with movement or an intent to move, or when others are observed performing actions. EEG oscillations in the mu wave range over sensorimotor cortex are thought to reflect mirror neuron activity.
Mirror neurons, eh? Don't they control the universe? And other very important things?

But putting aside mirror neuron skepticism, some interesting work by Lindsay Oberman, Jaime Pineda and colleagues1 has examined mu wave suppression in participants with autism. Unlike control subjects, individuals with autism did not show the typical suppression of the mu rhythm when watching the hand movements of others, but they did show mu suppression when they moved their own hands (Oberman et al., 2005).

Fig. 1 (Oberman et al., 2005). Mu suppression in control and ASD participants. Bars represent the mean log ratio of power in the mu frequency (8–13 Hz) during the watching balls condition (light gray), watching hand movement condition (medium gray), and moving own hand condition (dark gray) over the power in the baseline condition for scalp locations C3, CZ, and C4 for typically developing individuals (A) and individuals with ASD (B). Error bars represent the standard error of the mean. For all values, a mean log ratio greater than zero indicates mu enhancement; a mean log ratio less than zero indicates mu suppression. Significant suppression is indicated by asterisks, *P less than 0.05, **P less than 0.01, ***P less than 0.005.

Unfortunately, the Oct 12 Waves of Mu post-performance panel discussion with real neuroscientists2 is in the past, but it's not too late to see...

Waves of Mu at Performance Space 122 (P.S. 122):

Fri, Oct 10 - Sun, Oct 19
Tue - Sat at 7:30,
Sun at 5:30

"Just when you thought science geeks and art snobs had nothing in common, along comes Waves of Mu."
- Sarah Henning, Anchorage Daily News.

"You don't know what you're in for. It's a surprise that tells you something about yourself that you already know, but are not aware of. You experience what being human is all about."
-Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran

"Kick off your shoes (literally) and step into a universe like none other. Informed by the monumental discovery of mirror neurons and created alongside world-renowned neuroscientists, (according to neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, "The discovery of mirror neurons is the most important unpublicized story of the decade," doing for psychology what DNA has done for biology), Amy Caron's beautifully complex two-room installation-performance drives multidisciplinary art headlong into new territory. Her warped lab/lecture/experiment gives a nod and a wink to hard science while cleverly activating her "test subjects" to cheer, cringe, and discover through experience, a new awareness of the profundity of our interpersonal world.

The Waves of Mu experience will offer a unique multidimensional education, demonstrating the scientific and empirical integrity of mirror neurons. It will also present thought-provoking connections between mirror neuron deficiencies and autism spectrum disorders, thereby challenging our cultural concept of normality and its effect on human evolution.


1 including Vilayanur S. Ramachandran

2 The panel included Lindsay Oberman PhD (Harvard): Mirror neuron researcher, co-author on many papers with V.S. Ramachandran; Massimo Pigliucci PhD (SUNY Stony Brook), Philosophy of Science, evolution, biology and representative for the Center for Inquiry; and Valentina Dilda PhD (Mount Sinai), cognitive psychology and motor systems specialist who was part of the Gallese/Rizolatti lab, where mirror neurons were discovered.


Oberman LM, Hubbard EM, McCleery JP, Altschuler EL, Ramachandran VS, Pineda JA. (2005). EEG evidence for mirror neuron dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders. Cogn Brain Res. 24:190-8.

Photo: Margaret Willis. Pictured: brain installation.

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At October 22, 2008 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I caught the Waves of Mu show at PS 122 last week - if you missed it you missed out. Amy Caron's multidisciplinary extravaganza was a well-balanced serving of learning, art, and surprises. The work operates under the facade of an academic setting and keeps its sense of humor about the charmingly boring yet nostalgically familiar format of standard education. Overall the work communicates the impact of the discovery of mirror neurons through a variety of visual, performative, and audial elements. Caron's installation and performance bring the research to a new level of experience. Catch the show on tour if you can

At October 28, 2008 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bummed I missed this show. Anyone know where it will presenting next?

At October 28, 2008 6:19 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Amy has informed me that the show will be in Salt Lake City in March/April and then Seattle later in the year.


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