A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

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

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


Atlas Gloves


  1. Anonymous

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