A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

Various personal interests and public info, gesture, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Month: October 2006

The Evolutionary Edge of Imitation

Not a few scientists and/or psychologists are quite excited by the discovery of mirror neurons. What is a mirror neuron? A mirror neuron fires both when you perform an action and when you observe the same action performed by another. The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of others, as though you were acting yourself. Why do we and other apes have this mirror system? It is speculated that we use it to understand the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation.

Do you want to feel your mirror neurons at work in a game of mind reading? Try guessing Rooney’s intentions over here.

But when it comes to imitation one wonders who benefits most from it? Animal or Man? It seems that at least one gesturing cat makes the most of it.

Will Garfield benefit from his gestural abilities in an evolutionary sense as well?
Will Jon be able to use his mirror neurons to understand Garfield’s intentions better next time? (

And then again it may not be a matter of out-evolving other animal species. We may have to go up against the machines one day. At Honda (maker of Asimo) and ATR they are equipping robots with abilities to read minds and imitate gestures.

Victory for the machines? (source)

At least for the machine it is clear how it accomplishes the task. It scans your brain with MRI. That brings us back to humans and their mirror neurons. How does it work? We do not scan other people’s brains. We merely have our eyes.

I believe that we see what we want to see as much as what is actually shown. We do not read minds but project our own minds unto others. So do our mirror neurons inform the visual system and the rest of the brain (and body?) what to see? Or does my visual system communicate directly with unknown human motion perception bits and pieces. Pieces that are as much about perception as they are about motor production?

It would be very interesting to see what happens to firing mirron neurons in cases of misjudged intentions. Suppose we think we see someone about to hit another man, whereas he was actually just scratching his armpit (for want of a nicer example). Would the right mirror neurons fire, because it is but the low-level motor programs associated with the actual postures and movements that are mirrored? Or would the wrong mirror neurons fire because they are under the control of our higher ‘mind projecting’ powers?

I thought I saw a terrorist
Acting suspiciously
So my neurons fired first
Triggered unhappily

Umpire insulted by gesture

More important than politics, semiotics, science and art is of course… cricket. The noble game of hitting a ball and running back and forth dominates the lives of countless anglophiles throughout the former commonwealth.

Men will be boys? (source)

And now it appears that Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq made an insulting gesture to umpire Darrell Hair, resulting in Hair’s leaving of the match against England, effectively ending it. Unfortunately, there is no picture of the actual gesture. It’s like with cricketer Darren Lehmann, the web is silent. There is only this strange description:

“Inzamam then made a waving gesture to which Hair took great exception and walked out. One explanation is that the Australian umpire felt the gesture was insulting to anyone who knew anything about Pakistani culture.” (source DNA Indiae)

Was it like this one from Shoaib Akhtar? (source)

So, has anyone seen it and are you willing to share an event so uncharacteristic of the grounds with this audience? Was the insult obvious to all bystanders or was Hair overly sensitive? Or did Inzamam think he could be clever and insult the umpire in a way that it would be clear for them both but not for anyone else. Did he think Hair would not be able to act on it if nobody else saw it? I think this sort of complex reasoning might be how the perception of insults sometimes works.

Storytelling in Sign Language of the Netherlands

There is a nice Dutch site with Verhalen in Gebarentaal, 10 stories told in Sign Language of the Netherlands (Nederlandse Gebarentaal, NGT) by Wim Emmerik, Marja Bönker, Tony Bloem, Harm de Vries, Dickson Sint Jago, John van Gelder, Leontien Koenders, Gert Stappenbelt, Gert-Jan de Kleer. They each last about 7 minutes. You’ll need realplayer.

(source Vi-taal)

The stories were part of television show De Gebarenwinkel broadcast by the VPRO from 1989 – 1990. One of the signers, Tony Bloem, is a very active storyteller here in the Netherlands, some of his works are available at Vi-taal. He also translated children’s books into NGT and sells them for a reasonable price on DVD.

Tarjani Mudra and Cornuta

An interesting similarity in form and meaning: The Tarjani Mudra and the Corna gesture (Horns or Cornuta). They are used in both cultures or gesture systems as a symbol to ward of evil.

If you are evil you should be warded off now (source)

The Tarjani Mudra is reported here to be made only with the index finger. And here is a source mentioning that the Tarjani-mudra is the same as the Abhaya-mudra.
(Thanks for the link Patto).

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