That Humanist

Wired for Empathy
July 31, 2008, 8:17 pm
Filed under: All

I’ve just listened to a though provoking podcast by Dr Marco Iacoboni on mirror neurons, which made me think a little deeper about me, you, free will, empathy and what it means to be human.

Mirror neurons are fascinating. From wikipedia: “A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting.”

Some of the implications of this (discussed in said podcast) include questions about empathy. We might think someone is cruel, he just doesn’t “get” or empathize with our emotional state. But perhaps he is just wired with “fewer” mirror neurons. Meh.

Another question he raises is that about free will. If by just looking at you my brain fires off behaviour based on what you’re doing, do I really have free will? Perhaps I’m only truly free if I lock myself in a sealed box. Meh.

Finally, is the mirror neuron activity mirrored in animals? Perhaps that’s why we sometimes feel that they are aware of our emotional states. Meh.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I find it fascinating and somehow very relevant to living. We need to understand each other better if we’re to get anywhere.

PS. My linguist friends will be pleased to hear of a connection between empathy and Broca’s area…


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