Mirror Neurons and Morality

Okay, we seem to have established certain things as true:

1.Existence exists

2.I exist

3.Consciousness exists(because it would take a conscious person to deny consciousness, therefore consciousness exists)

 In the midst of this philosophical recognition, we begin to learn physical things about the brain, like mirror neurons.

 If a person wishes to learn how to pick up a glass, and s/he sees another person pick up a glass, researchers now know that the same neurons will fire in the brain if we watch another person picks up the glass, as will fire if we ourselves pick up the glass.

 If the same neurons fire, how do we know it is not we who are picking up the glass, rather than the person we are watching?

 Researcher VS Ramachandran says that we know there is a difference in our doing it and watching others do it because we do not feel the glass in our own hands. The sensory nerves that send the messages back and forth to our brain do not register the “feel” of the glass, so we know that it is not our body that is performing the action.

 Scientists have documented this “empathy” experiment from watching the behavior of an octopus. The scientists discovered that the could place something like a teddy bear in front of the octopus in a tank, and then shock the octopus with a small electric charge.

 Eventually, on sight of the teddy bear, the octopus will show avoidance behavior. If another octopus is placed in the same tank, it will also develop the same avoidance behavior simply from watching the other octopus. The mirror neurons activate behavior in the octopus, apparently, in the same fashion.

 Over time, certain behaviors are absorbed as social cues, and the reason for those behaviors originally are forgotten.

 There are also examples of social behavior among animals, for example a certain type of bird in England began to peck a hole in the paper tops of old milk bottles delivered by milkmen to each house, and this behavior rapidly spread among the other birds of the species.

 The story of the “hundredth monkey” which has been often challenged, tells of  a group of monkeys on an island, in which scientists scattered wheat on the beaches. The monkeys liked to eat the wheat, but they had problems separating the sand from the wheat.

 A very intelligent monkey one day decided to take the handful of wheat and throw it into the water, where the wheat floated and the sand sank. He then scooped up the wheat and ate it.

 That behavior was soon copied by the group of monkeys.

 Mirror neurons obviously have survival benefits that allow groups to learn simply by watching and copying, and by having the same neurons fire in the brain of the watcher as the doer, behavior is quickly adapted into the social survival patterns.

 The problem, however, occurs when a group of humans decide that certain behavior is “moral” simply because they watch others in their group do the same thing. Even worse, the behavior is damaging to individual behavior when individuals are controlled or condemned by being forced to determine the value of their own behavior by looking for a “mirror” in the community in which they are born.

 By focusing on the behavior as a collective pattern, individuals are able to separate individual feelings from the social actions, just as a child watching a person pick up a glass does not experience the feelings of actually picking up the glass.

 “Rules” gradually replace “feelings”, and the individual begins to behave mechanically. The more people can successfully behave mechanically, the greater the chances for survival of the “species” as a whole.

 By behaving mechanically and therefore collectively, social groups can preserve their identity as a group even if individuals are lost in that group.

 Psychoanalyst Philip Slater wrote in “EarthWalk” that a machine-like response in the face of danger had little value until men began to make war on each other. By placing mechanical rules ahead of personal feelings, humans were able to collectively “transcend” the feeling of individual loss.

 This is what Eric Hoffer referred to as “estrangement from the self”, where individuals, now belonging to the group, were “free” to lie, murder, bully, or torture those of different groups. It is the very act of unification itself, wrote Hoffer, that creates evil acts in the name of goodness.

 If our own individual lives, by joining a cause, cult, or movement, have less value to us, then the lives of those outside that cause, cult, or movement, will also have less value to us.

 As Jesus pointed out, those who kill you will think they are doing God a favor.

 The flaw in Western religion,  it would seem, is that individuals lose their individuality in the identity of a mass movement, and that loss of individuality occurs when we take more cues from those around us than from our own personal feelings in the matter.

 In other words, when sacrifice becomes the standard of social behavior, men become enslaved to other men, and sacrifice can only become the dominant factor when we become so conscious of acceptance of others that we lose the truth of our own personal existence.

 because of the mirror neurons that shape social survival patterns, it is easy to forget our individual selves, since the same neurons trigger copying patterns in our behavior.

 Humans become statistics and not individuals, and we become numbed to the sheer weight of the numbers themselves.

Why do you think they’re called NUMBers?

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