I know. You’re waiting to hear about mirror neurons and music and we’ll get to that. But the story of the discovery of mirror neurons is really too good to pass up because it was one of those serendipitous discoveries that has sometimes happened in the history of science. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is probably the best-known, but other revolutionary discoveries that happened quite by chance include insulin, quinine, the smallpox vaccine, nitrous oxide and ether as anesthetics, and the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In case you don’t know about PCR, it’s sometimes called “molecular photocopying,” and it is used to amplify a single strand of DNA, generating the significant amounts of a sample DNA that are necessary for molecular and genetic analysis, for detection of viruses and bacteria, and of course, for matching criminals to crime scenes as we regularly see on television and in movies.
You are at a concert and find that you are becoming increasingly tense, uncomfortable, and nervous as the performer experiences several memory lapses. You know by the look on a student’s face as he comes to your studio that he hasn’t practiced during the past week. A stranger smiles at you as you walk down the street and you smile back, suddenly feeling happier. You know when your spouse grabs the grilling tongs while you are enjoying dinner outdoors that he isn’t about to turn the vegetables on the grill, he’s going to throw the tongs at the woodchuck that’s gnawing on a tree in your yard (strange, but true).