There is a concept – mirror neurons, which like to explain how people copy each other’s behavior. This is how learning, fashion, trends, synchronized dancing, and viral videos work. And understanding – what exactly I want to do – can arise from observing what other people are doing. I want to do that, too! How am I any worse? I want to do it, too.
I have long been interested in why it is now so fashionable to talk about “mirror neurons” and what this actually means from a scientific point of view. Do mirror neurons exist? Do they help you look at people like a mirror and see yourself, your reflection? Why do I understand what I want to do by watching what other people are doing.
The term “mirror neurons” itself appeared in 1992, when scientists accidentally discovered a new type of neurons in monkeys that are activated both when performing an action and when observing another performing that action. That is, the observer encodes the observed action into the nervous system.
By 2011, it became clear that humans also have such mirror neurons. There were even some scientific theories that mirror neurons can be used to read people’s thoughts and control their behavior in society.
Among the scientific justifications for the function of mirror neurons, the main ones were action understanding, speech perception, imitation and learning. Theories have emerged that autism may be related to an underdevelopment of the mirror neuron system.
Although the term “mirror neurons” is now often used in popular psychology, I think mainly because of the catchy name, the meaning of these neurons themselves is more low-level than previously imagined.
With mirror neurons, a person can recognize the type of action (what exactly a person is doing), but not predict the intentions of others (cannot be telepathic or more gifted intuitive).
Also, no evidence has been found to link “broken mirror” with autism, and even the opposite – examples of more developed mirror neurons in autistic people have been found.
Mirror neurons are even thought to be a byproduct of evolution and adaptation to learning and making predictions about the future. And such neurons are not given to a person at birth in an unchanged form, but instead develop over the course of life at the expense of sociocultural experience.
All this has led to the reduction of scientific interest to the topic of “mirror neurons”. While the number of publications on this topic peaked in 2013-2014, the number of publications has already more than halved and continues to decrease every year.
Mirroring the Search for Yourself
Okay, we’ve got another buzzword figured out. What’s the bottom line? When I’m looking for something to do that interests me – am I always guided by what other people are doing?
How did I decide as a child to play the piano? – I saw my mom playing and I wanted to too. How did I decide to go to chemistry class? – My best friend decided to become a medic. Why did I want to learn Spanish? – I liked Ricky Martin songs, which my other friend also listened to. Why did I want a pair of bell-bottom jeans? – All my classmates were wearing them. Why did I decide to start a YouTube blog? – I liked the bloggers who did beauty reviews.
The list could go on and on and on. I just wondered – have I ever done anything in my life, not because I saw others doing it, but because I just wanted to do it. Just how? How can a person know about a thing if they haven’t seen it anywhere? Make it up. To imagine. To do something that no one has ever done before.
For example, an artist might start painting in a new style… but he still paints. Just as many people have painted before him. He saw other people’s paintings, learned that there was this type of activity – drawing. He had a desire to try it. Some idea. It is believed that everything new is well forgotten old. Since the human species has existed on Earth for a very long time and people interact with each other. There is a history. There is the means of communication.
Compilation, copying, repetition, borrowing, imitation – this is what every human being does in one way or another. We adopt patterns of behavior from people we like. We copy the elements of style, presentation, voice. At the same time, everyone considers himself unique, because that is also the idea. To be unique, unique and inimitable. To have your own style. This is how those who we are so interested in watching behave.
And we want to, too. To take ownership of their looks, successes, deeds, achievements, power, attention, money, popularity, love, way of thinking, way of life… What we personally lack. And so we choose our own path. I will become a doctor, so that I too can have status and respect, be useful and important, intelligent and attractive… and, of course, to make good money. Like the one – my reference image – whose footsteps I once decided to follow.
And I will become a blogger – a carefree cutie living in a house with white walls. I’ll finally get the attention and popularity I so lacked as a child, because I was always the shy, modest quiet mouse whose parents admired anyone but me. And that girl in the computer – beautiful, bright, charismatic, confident, direct, rich and successful – was the main reason for me to record my first video too.
The True Search for Self
Can a person have something of his own at all? Is it his own, so much so that it is his inner need to do something, to realize his own unique talents? Not to do as he or she does. Not to prove something to the world. Not out of envy. Not out of malice. Not for the sake of liking someone. Not for the need to make money. It’s for me-because I want to, and I’m the only one who wants to. Because this business is my purpose in the world.
Finding myself ultimately comes down to answering a simple question: what do I want to do? And not in general. But right now. My main problem with finding myself was that I was looking for the answer to the wrong question. It seemed to me that it was possible to find a general answer to the questions – who I am, what I want, what I do, what I do. And that was leading me to a dead end. I started looking around – how other people were answering those questions.
And really, it becomes almost impossible to give a general answer to such general questions. It’s one thing when you talk about a person in the past, you can generalize it somehow – he was an artist and did this and that. And it’s another thing when you’re trying to generalize yourself in your lifetime, to figure out who you are. But the funny thing is that today you’re one, and tomorrow you’re another. And right now you can’t know everything about yourself to give such a general answer.
Lack of information, personal changes, changes in the external environment all suggest that you need to answer a narrower and more specific question – what do I want to do right now? Not in general in life. But at this current minute, at this moment in time. And each time, before choosing a thing – you need to highlight the answer options based on mirroring.
Who do I want to do this thing for – for myself or for someone else? Who do I want to please? Who do I want to surprise? Who should admire or envy me? Who do I follow? Who do I want to copy? To what end? What’s in it for me? Why do I need it? Do I need it at all? What’s it for? What needs do I want it to meet?
This doesn’t mean that mirroring the world is necessarily a negative pattern. If you realize that you’re doing it and you understand why you need it, why not? Artists learn to paint by copying classic works. You can hone your skills by copying the best ideas. If you need it for a purpose you find meaningful. Do you believe in what you’re doing?
Understanding yourself, your motives and desires is the first step. The second step is how do I realize what I want. But if you don’t know what you want, you’ll be tossing and turning, grasping at one thing or the other. And you won’t get any closer to realizing yourself. Or you will give up, watch soap operas, and go into degradation, thinking that “it won’t work anyway,” “it’s not given to me,” “it’s too late,” and so on.
Examples of my mirror wishes (for others): I drive an expensive car like my friend, they send me free cosmetics like that beauty blogger, I was recognized in the street like a star, I got married like my mother, I have pregnant pics in social networks like that popular girl, I draw unusual paintings like Van Gogh, I sell my art like Salvador Dal, I have a million subscribers like top bloggers, they take my picture like a model, etc.
Examples of wishes for myself:
- baking myself a cake that I love
- making myself bread like a bakery
- writing down things that interest me
- writing down my reality
- learning new and interesting things
- have a passive income
- I can do what I want to do