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Are You My Brain Double?

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Brain sync drawing Brain sync drawing

Robert kicks things off with a beautiful re-telling of a 2400-year-old love story from Plato, by way of Aristophanes, about the longing many of us feel for another half to make us whole. This ancient yearning gets us wondering whether the world around us is deeply and fundamentally symmetric, or...not. Zoe Keating's looping, lyrical cello scoring spurs us on our quest.

After looking for soul mates in Greece, we head to Princeton's Neuroscience Institute, where Lauren Silbert uses brain scans to try to zero in on what happens when two people click. In the process, she stumbles upon a subject who seems to be her brain double--and we go on a hunt for an Aristophanes-inspired happy ending. Joy Hirsch, a neuroscientist at Columbia, weighs in on our desire to pinpoint love in an fMRI lab.





Joy Hirsch, PhD, Zoe Keating and Lauren Silbert

Comments [37]

John from US

"I sort of, like, got in there..."

Or she could get say "I went in there..."

Jun. 09 2017 03:45 PM
F Horan from Ireland

Is it not possible that that just shows that the person listening to the story is just a very empathetic person. Why didn't she run a control with several stories?

There's nothing to base the results on.

May. 07 2015 09:32 AM
dirk from omaha

there is nothing in a brain-scan that shows that I'm having an "experience" only the person can confirm or deny that.

Mar. 04 2015 01:17 PM
Susan Cozat from United States

a great story. my little question is what is the name of the song played briefly at the end of the segment.

Mar. 02 2015 12:47 PM
Stevok from Fargo, North Dakota

Neuroscience aside, I was curious about Lauren Silbert's accent and the way she spoke. What part of the world did she grow up in? I could not identify where she could be from. Thank you for an interesting show.

Mar. 01 2015 09:08 AM
Wendy S. from Berkeley CA

Fascinating story - I REALLY wish that you would have links to the actual research you cover on your website. After some searching, I found the article for this story here: - On the Same Wavelength: Predictable Language Enhances Speaker–Listener Brain-to-Brain Synchrony in Posterior Superior Temporal Gyrus - Suzanne Dikker, Lauren J. Silbert,Uri Hasson, and Jason D. Zevin. The online article has links to many other relevant studies in their reference section. If you want to support the idea of scientific inquiry, PLEASE post the links to the research you are coverring.

Feb. 28 2015 05:21 PM

No, No. Scientifically it all distills to a quite simple syllogism: the brain can't distinguish a real event from an imagined one ( You perceive a dream or hallucination as a real event, that is why the CNS initiates sleep paralysis); a person highly focused on a story being told to them will be reliving the events thru their imagination similar to the person recanting the actually past, experienced event; thus, the same brain areas and neural circuits will be active.

Further, there are no soul mates in reality, but only in superstition, like faith or voodoo (probably only occurring in females under some delusional, endogenous, biochemical cocktail), fore the person you think is your soul mate would be out-mated if you were able to sample the 7 billion other people on the planet, considering that sexual reproduction produces a distinct organism upon each conception.

Jan. 31 2014 02:47 AM
mark carreno from Los Angeles, California

An absolute attention magnet, very well put and i enjoyed the "empathy genuises" part of the commentary as well.
Soul mates do exist, we each have 1. And if you know who yours is i encourage you to follow love and let them know your personal views and if the compatibility, respect, and mutual feelings are valid for both parties, even if the other half isn't where you're at, there's always that possibility of an emotional awakening.
Please let me know how you see me through you're eyes, i promise to give you my attention, opinions and insight, and who knows, i might possibly be sold on the idea. Don't let me make the wrong choice, i bite to quick on appearance, and the shallow animal at the end of the day still only ends up with a bowl of slop.
Well i could personalize this into my own life all i want, its only on attempts to strengthen her and possibly better are selves before i try and better someone who isn't where I'm at.

Nov. 29 2013 04:27 AM
Jess from Virginia

The neurologist in this story seems to be spot on. What Lauren (the undergrad) seems to be able to do is go into what's called "flow" when listening (and when reading, according to her interview). Thus, her involvement with the story is intense. Flow is considered the "optimal experience," wherein the individual is experiencing complete involvement (e.g., total focus, sense of time is lost). Thus, she is likely so fully involved with the story while in flow that her brain is behaving similarly to one who has actually experienced the events. The psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has proposed this notion of flow, and Lauren (the grad student) appears to have captured it in brain imaging. Check out some of Czikszentmihalyi's research; it will take this story to entirely new level.

Mar. 25 2013 09:10 PM
Margaret from Chicago

MRI research like that is fascinating, but the downside is that several studies have shown that MRI signals can open the blood-brain barrier, which can let toxins and pathogens pass into the brain's bloodstream where usually they would not. One should not be too cavalier about peering into the brain for non-medical reasons.

Feb. 03 2013 10:52 PM
CB from 47401

I think it would be interesting to do a test where Lauren 1 listens to a story by Lauren 2. It may be that Lauren 2 has the capacity to mirror many people but Lauren 1 does not, and this test would not yield the same result.

Feb. 03 2013 11:30 AM
Jake from Reno, Nevada USA

I heard this segment for the first time today. It gave me the chills the hear such a romantic explanation for finding your symmetry in another soul. What an excellent way to kick-off Valentine's month!

Feb. 01 2013 12:33 PM
JD from mckinney tx

i just listened to this episode and when Lauren 2 was talking about being sucked into the story i completely understood her because that is how i feel on a daily bases. when hearing story's or even watching TV or movies i just automatically place myself in the guise of the main character and i feel the same emotions when they do whether that's a sad moment or a happy one or even embarrassed.
another example is like when im reading a book or listening to radio lab i picture everything like when you guys are doing your show i picture you sitting in a studio talking the entire time or if you go somewhere else i picture that new place with as much detail as im given.

Jan. 26 2012 01:27 PM
Keith from Milwaukee

The presentation of this research made me think of this passage from G.H Mead, Mind, Self, & Society

“The telescope in the hands of a novice is not a telescope in the sense it is to those on top of Mount Wilson. If we want to trace the responses of the astronomer, we have to go back into his central nervous system, we have to go back into his central nervous system, back to a whole series of neurons; and we find something there that answers to the exact way in which the astronomer approached the instrument under certain conditions, That is the beginning of the act which we do observe is apart of the process which has started within; the values which we say the instrument has are values through the relationship of the object to the person who has that sort of attitude. If a person did not have that particular nervous system, the instrument would be of no value. It would not be a telescope. “

I don’t want to mount a philosophy here, but what interests me is the symbolic interaction between the two Laurens. I’m not sure empathy is useful, as is the idea that Lauren 1’s story is an individual “I” from her viewpoint. The pattern of neurons imaged in the MRI is the social Lauren 1’s ‘Me”. Lauren 2 is the ‘generalized other’ . There seems to be no reason to expect a similarity of Lauren 1 to Lauren 2 no more than Lauren 1 is similar to the mirror she gazes in. What this research may evidence is process of the mind. Since this seems to be done a cultural product: story telling, I wonder if what this shows is transmission of culture?

Nov. 28 2011 07:15 AM
Murray Kohn from Boston MA

The subject is fascinating, but the experimenter's theory does not seem to be borne out. From what we learn of Lauren 2, it appears that she is not the experimenter's brain double, but rather someone with the great emotional intelligence and empathy whose brain scan would mirror that of most people she was listening to. Perhaps the researcher has actually identified a "syncing" brain pattern phenomena characteristic of those with high emotional intelligence.

For insightful sociological research into what fosters meaningful connections, see "Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do", By O. Brafman and R. Brafman. The authors describe five “accelerators” that foster 'clicking': vulnerability in communication, proximity, resonance, similarity, and environment. It would be most interesting to subject their theory to brain research, to see if it has a physiological basis. For a good summary of the book, see Zachary Burt's blog, at

Aug. 28 2011 10:42 AM
Belinda from Sydney, Australia

When I was listening to this, I wondered if maybe Lauren 2 could picture everything in her mind and empathise more with Lauren 1 because she DIDN'T go the prom herself? Perhaps all the others did, and they had their own memories and found it hard to "over write" their memories with Lauren 1's story, whereas Lauren 2 was more of a blank canvas to start with?

Jul. 21 2011 12:05 AM
Ellemar from Vancouver, BC

I'm from Vancouver, BC, like Lauren the brain double. Just thought that was cool. I wonder what school she went to.

Jun. 29 2011 04:19 AM

Loved this show, it really was incredibly interesting. It would also have been interesting to talk about the concept of doplegangers.

Jun. 28 2011 01:02 PM
Jen from Cambridge, MA

I think this researcher needs to read Carl Rogers. This is not about people being the same. This is about people with incredible empathy.

May. 14 2011 03:19 PM

@Reed from Napa
Robert's monologue comes from Plato's Symposium. I recommend the Paul Woodruff and Alexander Nehamas translation, which is published by Hackett. (Link here :

But Project Gutenberg offers the Benjamin Jowett translation for free. (Link here:

May. 13 2011 03:51 PM
Reed from Napa

Anyone know where I can obtain an copy of Roberts monologue from Aristophanes? Which books or resource is a good Plato outlet? Thanks.

May. 13 2011 03:11 PM
Justin C from Georgia

It saddens me how little understanding of astrology and the intricacies within our energy makeup people have nowadays. As we've grown into a more scientific community as a society over the past couple hundred years or so, we have tried scientific measures and reasoning for behaviors that are simply understood by looking at one's natal chart. A Natal chart, or birth chart, does not predict how your day will go (nor could it), that is left for the stupid horoscopes that you find in junk literature, which only deepens the mistrust of the astrological field as it skews the actual reliable points in astrology. You see, everything is energy, and we are all part of this cloud, or collective unconsciousness if you will, and while we all share the cloud as a whole, we each have different combinations of the different energies. One day we will understand dark matter and how the energies are all fluid and influence living things within an orbital cloud, and maybe then the scientific community will once again embrace this shunned practice. When we find someone that we "click" with, most likely they share similar energies as we do.

As for the part in this cast when they were talking about being at a party and trying to promote small talk to someone and it just wasn't going anywhere - I'm sure we've all had these instances and you not only sense something within your mind, but if you pay attention to the energy within yourself, you'll find that your energy has a conflict with the other person's. Not everything can be explained intellectually. Sometimes you have to go by feel. It's the same reason why dogs can sense a friend or a foe almost instantly.

May. 13 2011 11:45 AM

I would like to suggest that the Silbert misunderstood her fiance's brain response. He was the outlier *as a function* of being her partner. Married couples (and also families) exhibit the phenomenon of "transactional memory" wherein partners begin to develop specialized sets of memories, to produce a super-memory when the partners are together. That is, I may not remember a particular event, but my husband does. Meanwhile, I do remember something else, which he does not. When we are together, we remember twice as much! Silbert's partner was demonstrating this cognitive efficiency. He wasn't attempting to duplicate her story into his own head because he already has the memory --in her head. I would be interested to see this hypothesis confirmed by duplicating her experiment with other couples. While transactional memory has been demonstrating through other experiments, I do not know if it has been shown on brain scans. I suggest that one's life-partner will often show up as "most inattentive" on brain scans. Your partner is listening --thus the comprehension scores-- but is not duplicating your experience because that would decrease the cognitive efficiency of your super organism/partnership.

May. 11 2011 02:54 PM
Sarah from Lowell

one part of the story stuck with me and I thought would become more developed, but it just fizzled...the part where Lauren 1 says that the brain scan least like hers was "someone she knows" aka her fiance. I really thought that was going to be the true point of the story! when it comes to symmetry in love, you are not looking for your mirror, but your opposite. Even our genitalia speaks this, the "male" and "female" are always two pieces that fit together. So I would assume that if you did the same study with many people you know, your best friends,lovers former and present, the people you "click" with most would be the ones who were most different from you. I know that for me, I can not explain to you why I love my fiance, in fact there are many things about him that i should hate. We are so opposite that we almost loathe each other. But we don't. We love each other so much that it is painful to be apart, and whenever we have arguments, there is a magnetism that forces us to make up and be together, like it is out of our hands. I thought this was more akin to the beginning of the segment. I am really surprised that you didn't discuss Lauren 1's and her fiance's brain images more.

May. 08 2011 08:13 AM

but about 10 minutes in, he says the voxels in the brain literally begin to mirror... I think he meant figuratively. No reflective surfaces actually happen in the brain. "Literally" doesn't mean "very much so," thank you.

May. 08 2011 06:33 AM
Mike from Boston, MA

Just putting this out there – maybe a person who empathizes so strongly with a particular story from your life is the same person who, when you offer a personal observation or complaint, will say, "I know exactly what you mean!" and MEAN it, which is a much stronger indicator of compatibility than, say, having the same name or having gone to the senior prom.

May. 04 2011 10:10 AM

I am very curious how the researcher got permission from the IRB (research review committee) to contact a subject in a study just to satisfy her own curiosity.

May. 01 2011 06:19 AM
marinne from Boston, MA

I wonder how Laureen 2 would respond to the question "does she got other people's voices stuck in her head after listening to them?" In the episode "Voices in Your Head
Tuesday, September 07, 2010 - 09:54 PM" You guys talk about how some people will think in other people's voices. I do, after talking to someone awhile or watching a movie. It fades after an hour or so. I bet Laureen 2 does that too.They should scan her again when she listens to someone else with an interesting story and see if that affect is repeated.

Apr. 25 2011 03:33 AM

Great show! I agree with the other commenters pointing out the "empathy" angle. Some one needs to repeat the experiment with a political twist: what portions of a story do republicans or democrats cllick with? Or, do republican or democrat brains show more empathy/clicking?

I'd be interested to see the results!

Apr. 23 2011 08:32 PM
Sarah from Vermont

Great show as usual! However I think the neuroscientist assumed too much about what makes people 'click'. The story mentioned that Lauren was questioning Lauren 2 about her background, looking for similarities, but common backgrounds or the ability to recall a personal story don't necessarily indicate how much people will like one another. A better experiment would be to somehow measure brain activity while people are meeting a number of strangers, then asking them who they enjoyed meeting the most, and comparing everyone's answers. Coordinating brain activity with common matches (where both people said they liked meeting each other) would give a more accurate picture of clickability.

Apr. 23 2011 07:19 PM

Arin... Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now I can finally find that piece when I want to, and I have added my newest Pandora station. :)

Apr. 21 2011 11:48 AM
Scott Cooper


I completely go with the Neurologist. As soon as the neurologist said "good listener" my brain scan lit up (if it wouldsta been being scanned just then.) Or "Story Lover" might work too. All hour appreciative fans have another Amazing one here. I've been mostly funds-low spirit-high .. but because it helps a great show like this keep going I'm going to be phoning in my pledge. Keep it up guys.

Apr. 21 2011 01:17 AM
Katie from Los Angeles, CA

there's an awesome musical animation of this very story at the beginning of the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Check it out, it's lovely.

Apr. 20 2011 04:28 PM

Adam: the music (I went searching for it too!) is "Stranger on the Shore" and it seems to be by Mr. Arcker Bilk

Apr. 20 2011 01:30 PM
Adam Pracht

Help! What's the music they play after this segment? I've had it stuck in my head for years and never known the name of it!

Apr. 20 2011 09:29 AM
el gallinazo

The Princeton research is very interesting indeed. It appears that both your team and Lauren Silbert got the significance of the high correlation scans backwards, which was finally uncovered in the latter part of the segment. I would suggest that Lauren 2, who obviously is not a "soulmate" of Lauren Silbert, is instead a person with what one might call a very high empathy IQ. She probably would show this correlation with most subjects, not just Lauren Silbert.

If I were a researcher here, I would regard this discovery as serendipity, and concentrate on this angle, trying to find additional "empathy geniuses." Then see how they interact with each other. If you had two empathy geniuses interacting with each other in the context of the original experiment, you would have very strong positive reinforcement of the results (in an analogy to waves interacting), and the outcomes would probably be truly startling.

Apr. 20 2011 09:24 AM
Carl Miller from Wisconsin

One of your best shows! Regarding Lauren's study of brain scans: she was looking at symmetry by finding similar brain patterns--and finding... incompatibility, or at least non-similarity. How about taking scans of like-minded people (e.g., deeply in love, long married people) and looking for congruities instead. What one person's scan lacks, the other person's does not lack. It's like reverse-engineering personalities at the brain-function level to find what makes two people "click."

Apr. 19 2011 12:20 PM

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