Back in 1991, the Italian neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese and his team made an accidental breakthrough. All morning in their Parma laboratory they had been studying a macaque monkey wired up behind a glass wall with probes to measure the monkey’s brain activity. They then all took a lunch break, leaving the probes still in the macaque, and still recording.

And then in walked another researcher, in full view of the macaque, carrying an ice cream. What happened next, the recordings subsequently showed, was that the monkey’s brain lit up, with a pattern (in the F5 area of the cortex) that was ...


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