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Sound Poem 10: Mirror Neurons

May 12, 2010

the neurons responding to a dramatic display
monkeys started disappearing

recognizing the chamber for understanding the experimenter
the hypothesis is captured

picture is the intention and f5 neurons were the analysis
neurons were the idea
projections and apes
surgical procedures

the region of intelligence

– April 8-10, 2010, supervised generation from type-based n-grams using stochastic beam search and phonemic evaluation.  Source Texts: Iacoboni M., Molnar-Szakacs I., Gallese V., Buccino G., Mazziotta J.C., Rizzolatti G., Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system., Public Library of Science, 3:529-535, 2005.; Rizzolatti G., Arbib M.A., Language within our grasp, Trends in Neurosciences, 21: 188-194, 1998.; Gallese V., Keysers C. and Rizzolatti G., A unifying view of the basis of social cognition., Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8: 396-403, 2004.; Luppino G., Rizzolatti G., The organization of the frontal motor cortex, News Physiol. Sci. 15:219-224, 2000.  Generator: epogees.

Hi again!  Gosh, sorry I was away for so long, my dev laptop finally died and it took a while to order a new laptop, decide what OS to run on it, set up software, etc.

OK, so today’s text was inspired by an interesting recent article and discussion in the Times about neuro and cognitive approaches to English.  (btw I love the picture of Emo Prof slouching in an empty lecture hall dreaming of using fMRI data to single-handedly “rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half”!) But seriously, I do love neuro and my dissertation was in cogsci, so I was down with the article EXCEPT THAT for some reason they didn’t mention mirror neurons.  What are mirror neurons?  Basically, they’re neurons that fire when you commit an action (such as raising your arm) as well as when you see someone else committing the same action (such as raising their arm.)  So they’re the cells in the brain that may be heavily involved with, among other things: empathy, language, and theory of mind.

wtf does this have to do with literature?  Well, consider that old traditionalist John Gardner:

“If we carefully inspect our experience as we read, we discover that the importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind.  We read a few words at the beginning of a book or the particular story, and suddenly we find ourselves seeing not only words on a page but a train moving through Russia, an old Italian crying, or a farmhouse battered by rain.”

and later:

“[The writer] at the very least should be sure he understands the common objection summed up in the old saw “Show, don’t tell.”  The reason, of course, is that set beside the complex thought achieved by drama, explanation is thin gruel, hence boring. … After our [reading] experience, which can be intense if the writer is a good one, we know why the character leaves when finally she walks out the door.  We know in a way almost too subtle for words…”

OK, there are probably some reader-response theorists who say it better, and this isn’t as relevant to those avant-post- forms that the kids are hip to these days, but the guy has a point.

Narrative fiction enables highly immersive virtual realities.  Mirror neurons play a part.  Today’s poem pays tribute.

P.S. if I were in an English department and wanted to “save the humanities,” I’d find a way to get funding from the military or the intelligence community.  But that’s probably not the kind of “saving” the humanities would care for.  :)

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