Mirror neurons: The biology of empathy

Since it seems to be brain day here at esnl, here’s a fascinating talk by Gustaf Gredebäck, psychology professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University and director of the school’s Babylab, explains one of the most intriguing discoveries of neuroscience, the mirror neuron.

Countless metaphors describe the phenomenon of empathy: We’re implored to walk a mile in her shoes, to see a situation through his eyes.

As Gredebäck explains, empathy is linked with goal-directed activity, and arises from the motor neuron system and the capacity it creates to allow us to put ourselves in another’s place by imputing goals to another’s actions.

Neuroscientists are slowing shedding light into the black box concealed within our skulls, providing a constant stream of evidence and insights into the way folks are much more alike than we’re encouraged to believe.

In contemporary American culture, we’re constantly encouraged to differentiate ourselves from the mass, to see ourselves as special and unique. The unspoken flip side of this semantic assault is the message that we are isolated and alone, only able to connect with other special and unique folk through the act of branding ourselves by the consumption of products.

The irony of these post-Modern times inheres in the awareness that the very tools we need to understand ourselves are being deployed against us to ensure that we never put them to use. Instead, we’re presented with endless consumable distractions. And because they can never truly satisfy the underlying needs the greed-merchants are peddling, all we can do is consume more, ensuring both profits for the peddlers and immiseration for their marks.

We’re born with a passion for learning, and science shows how the structure of our brains wires us in ways that compel us to crave understanding. There’s no greater ability than child’s astounding drive to master language. Infants learn at an astounding pace that parents sometimes don’t appreciate because, after all, the children are only doing what comes without thinking to mom and dad.

Consider: The human brain is the most complex object we’ve found in the universe. Neurons wire and rewire, sending out connective tendrils that link, disconnect, and link to yet more fellow neurons at an astounding rate, creating shifting patterns as our needs, abilities, and passions ebb and flow with changes in both the phenomenal and existential realms.

In a truly responsible culture, children would be encouraged to develop the art of critical thought, to refine and empower the hunger to understand and to connect both with our fellows and with the larger world into which we are born.

One of the words most associated with genius is childlike. The passionate mind, alert and willing to embrace the unexpected, is the child-like mind.

The discoveries of the neuroscientists have much to teach us.

H/T to The Situationist.

3 responses to “Mirror neurons: The biology of empathy

  1. Pingback: Empathy: Personal Growth and Beyond | Psychopoeia

  2. Pingback: Empathy: Personal Growth and Beyond | The Day Job

  3. Pingback: Mirror neurons: The biology of empathy | Empathic Education | Scoop.it

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