For no light matter is at stake; the question concerns the very manner in which human life is to be lived.
"Mirror neurons dissolve the barrier between you and someone else"
Vilayanur S Ramachandran
Mirror Neurons and Mimesis
Co-creating meaning since 2001
"One person's emotions activate another person's mirror neurons...our brains are constantly reacting and literally changing based on the people around us"
or “I’ll have what he’s having”
Are your choices influenced by observing the choices of others?
Our wants, desires, longings and dreams are all contagious and derived from others.
"In general...the minds of men are mirrors to one another, not only because they reflect each other's emotions, but also because those rays of passions, sentiments and opinions may be often reverberated, and may decay away by insensible degrees."
David Hume, "A Treatise of Human Nature", 1739
From the early 1960’s the French writer Rene Girard developed a theory of mimetic desire – the idea that we derive our desire for things and experiences from our social interaction with others. But Girard was perceived as an historian, literary critic and philosopher of the social sciences and the idea had little scientific support until the discovery of mirror neurons.
Why does this happen? How can desires be contagious? The answer may be that it is a social valuation that is transferred – and our mirror neuron systems act as mediator for the transfer.
Suppose I see you experience something – it could be anything that produces an emotional response - let’s say you hear music, taste wine, or see a picture. My mirror neurons help me tune in to your feelings and your emotional response – they allow me to understand your evaluation of that experience – I feel what you are feeling – and I too experience your evaluation of that experience.
“Mmm – this is good!” You didn’t even need to say that last word. The sights and sounds of your response are Emotionally Competent Stimuli. I already knew your evaluation, having read it in a flurry of little emotional clues in your face, gestures, intonation and other non-verbal messages. "I'll have a glass of the same" I say, not even knowing what it is, but knowing that I too will enjoy it.
The Evaluation of Behaviours and Attitudes
People tend to adopt the behaviours and attitudes that they see others value highly.
In every social group mirror neuron sytems of individual members constantly inform them of the emotions and feelings of every other member of the group. Emotions are contagious, and so too are behaviours and attitudes.
Mirror neurons are a kind of 'neural wi-fi' that monitors what is happening in other people. This system tracks their emotions, the movements they're making, what they intend - and it activates in our brains precisely the same brain areas as are active in the other person. This puts us on the same wavelength and it does it automatically, instantaneously and unconsciously.
Mirror neurons fire when an animal acts or when the animal observes the same act carried out by another - the neurons thus "mirror" the observed action. They were discovered in macaque monkeys and have since been found in other social animals.
Mirror neurons are the basis of imitation, empathy, understanding intention, learning, socialization, the development of language, and the growth of trust; they allow the brains of interacting individuals to literally mirror each other - in action, understanding and feeling.
The excitement and action of spectator sports is experienced and followed through mirror neurons - as is the shock, jolt or pain of witnessing an injury or fall.
Mirror neurons dissolve the barriers between individuals, providing a social 'cement' that both holds groups together and identifies strangers and strange behaviours.
The implications of this discovery are beyond imagining - they will change our view of what we are and how we work - both as individuals and as functioning members of social groups.
Whenever people come together, in groups of any size and for any purpose, it is through mirror neurons that they initially and fundamentally communicate.
The functioning of mirror neurons is a major determinant of the emotional ecology of a group.
Every couple, group, team or organization is bound together through their mirror neurons. Mirror neurons also provide the mechanism through which somatic mapping occurs between individuals.
Mirror neuron mediated mapping of others also facilitates conscious and unconscious changes of behaviour - so aligning, increasing or decreasing behaviour distance between people.
"At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing...with which I am not linked."
C J Jung