Why our brains cherish humanity: Mirror neurons and colamus humanitatem

Cogprints (2008)
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Abstract

Commonsense says we are isolated. After all, our bodies are physically separate. But Seneca’s colamus humanitatem, and John Donne’s observation that “no man is an island” suggests we are neither entirely isolated nor separate. A recent discovery in neuroscience—that of mirror neurons—argues that the brain and the mind is neither built nor functions remote from what happens in other individuals. What are mirror neurons? They are brain cells that process both what happens to or is done by an individual, and, as it were, its perceived “refl ection,” when that same thing happens or is done by another individual. Thus, mirror neurons are both activated when an individual does a particular action, and when that individual perceives that same action done by another. The discovery of mirror neurons suggests we need to radically revise our notions of human nature since they offer a means by which we may not be so separated as we think. Humans unlike other apes are adapted to mirror interact nonverbally when together. Notably, our faces have been evolved to display agile and nimble movements. While this is usually explained as enabling nonverbal communication, a better description would be nonverbal commune based upon mirror neurons. I argue we cherish humanity, colamus humanitatem, because mirror neurons and our adapted mirror interpersonal interface blur the physical boundaries that separate us.

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