Sunday, March 12, 2006


Had kept neuroscience and psychology links in another blog, but this morning, checking mindhacks, it seemed silly not to put them here too. One reason: listening to Radio 4, a piece on mirror cells, which have been a of constant interest to me since learning about them 3-4 years ago, since connected to another subject I read about a lot: empathy.

Mirror cells, as the programme briefly retold, (1) fire when you act or see the action done, (2) are not connected directly to muscles (i.e. there is an inhibition on re-enacting what you see done).

In evolutionary psychological terms, someone posited the individual who had a mutation which giving him or her a mirror cell or cells, having such a distinct advantage over others because of his ability to empathise (N.B. the discovery of mirror cells provided a mechanism for empathy hitherto lacking). Sure enough, within (who knows how many generations) everyone had mirror cells.

One of the philosphers roped in on R4 to discuss mirror cells pointed out the information received from them should be treated as morally neutral. In other words: just like all the other information the brain recieves.

You're there ahead of me: has any research been done on the effect on the mirror cells of reading a good book?

Being made aware of mirror cells {2 } and knowing what we do about language and communication, it is hard to prevent the idea that, how can it be put, there is a society of minds by default. Things can't help spilling out of one brain into another. In other words the sum total of all minds is tending toward a super-mind, which just happens to have the the total set of facts and ideas stored in separate brains, with information being constantly passed back and forwards. Though this would only apply to the basics : you only have to think Chinese Whispers to realise this cannot be applied universally.

The whole idea of individuality (part of which is having a unique mind) militates against this default mode. People are both individually different in personality, aptitudes, character, preferences, propensities, etc, but also in what they find worth storing away in their brains, as exemplified by what books they might chose to read.

An analogy: the counter-intuitivess of genetics with its ability to maintain integrity while at the same time allowing for change through the evolutionary mechanism.


What Do We Know
evolutionary basis of deception

Audio from Robert Trivers. Prof. Anthropology and Biology, Rutgers U.


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