Mirror Neurons and the Exemplar

I’m in the process of writing a long article on mirroring which includes the function of mirror neurons, their relation to religious teachings and the Bahá’í concepts of the Covenant and Exemplar. These are my preliminary notes and a few sources.

Of Mirrors and Exemplars, a Brief Compilation


One of the most fundamental human social attributes is the ability to interact. Through interaction humans learn by imitation and share collective centers of attentions that lead to common knowledge. Social organization is based on the way we interact with one another. Previous sociological studies were focused on the development of those social processes but they did not concern those proximal aspects. The discovery that was made in the last decade of the twentieth century revealed the neurobiological mechanism that seems to enable social interactions. Mirror neurons are the motor neurons that function not only when we perform an action but also when we observe it. Moreover, mirror neurons allow us to understand intentions and emotions hidden behind actions. The ability to understand intentions of others is considered as a fundamental mechanism that determines social relations and, thus, influences social organization. Mirror neurons are the main factor that coordinates imitation and, hence, they are responsible for social conditioning. Mirror neurons provide explanation for social processes that are based on interactions such as common knowledge and social norms. Furthermore, mirror neurons are considered as a biological mechanism that makes social relations possible.
Original document in PDF format: http://www.valt.helsinki.fi/staff/jproos/ESABulinska.pdf

From Mirror Neurons to the Mona Lisa, Relating Art and Science
Artists have long looked to science for inspiration. Leonardo da Vinci studied anatomy and engineering and applied his knowledge to the creation of lifelike visual art. Today, artists use scientific iconography and concepts not only to produce realistic images but also to produce abstract and poetic images. The scientific lexicon can lend itself to visual experiences that have little in common with the methodical march of scientific inquiry. “Art is about uniqueness while scientific experimentation depends on repeatability,” said Suzanne Anker, a visual artist and department chair at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “What joins art and science together is the visual image.”
Click to open the original article in a new window.

Music and mirror neurons: from motion to ‘e’motion

Mirror neurons (wikipedia) Mirror neurons play a role in cultural diversity, imitation, understanding intentions, empathy, language, and gender differences. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_cells. Also see “theory of mind.”

An overview of the work of neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran on mirror neurons including their possible role in human evolution is here. The essayist is clearly a materialist who puts forward a non-theistic theory of the function of mirror neurons. What, we may ask, is a religious view of mirror neurons? The medieval Christian view was brilliantly put forth by Thomas á Kempis in his book “The Imitation of Christ,” one of the most widely read theological works in history.

Bahá’ís have the concept of the Covenant and the Exemplar. Briefly, the Covenant is God’s promise of a chain of unbroken guidance and our agreement to abide by it. The Exemplar is the perfect human whose traits we are instructed to emulate, a person who in this unique case in known religious history is the son of a Manifestation of God.

[Bahá’u’lláh’s] eldest Son was made the perfect Mirror reflecting His light, and the Centre of His mighty Covenant … This peerless Covenant revolves around its Centre, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, extolled by Shoghi Effendi as Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘most exalted handiwork, the stainless Mirror of His light, the perfect Exemplar of His teachings, the unerring Interpreter of His word, the embodiment of every Bahá’í ideal, the incarnation of every Bahá’í virtue, the Most Mighty Branch sprung from the Ancient Root, the Limb of the Law of God, the Being round whom all names revolve, the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity, the Ensign of the Most Great Peace, the Moon of the Central Orb of this Most Holy Dispensation’. — Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh

Bahá’í writer, Julie Swan, wrote:
“This tendency of creatures to mirror one another … helps us all learn vital skills. It helps us empathize, adjust our energy and feeling tones…our body language to match another person. This helps them feel understood and not as alone, and it brings forth a feeling of connection to us.
“With Abdu’l-Bahá as our Exemplar, we have a wonderful Example to try to mirror. Of course, we must accept our own nature and limitations. Because He is our worthy example for all time, I think to the extent to which we try to mirror Him, we do increase our capacities.
Mirroring is often an unconscious process, by which we learn many positive (and negative) things by mirroring those around us. When we begin to observe this consciously (which takes great effort, resolve, presence), we can use this to join with others whom we deem healthy, worthy of our emulation. Or we can use it to have empathy with someone in need. By consciously disengaging the process of mirroring (detachment) we protect ourselves from influences where we might be in danger.
When making art or enjoying art forms, we can create or absorb content we want or need to through use of the mirroring principle. [Cary] wrote about going into a painting, joining with it.
This would be more than mirroring I think, and take a real release of our boundaries. We all do this to varying degrees with film, music, and literature as well as other art forms. The physics of it probably has to do with the play of light that emanates from all and affects all.” (Reprinted with the author’s permission).

There may be real physics at work and definitely related to light as Julie Swan mentioned. Some researchers have found that living cells emit photons and theorize that it may be one of many communication mechanisms. I recommend The Field by Lynne McTaggart.

“McTaggart, an investigative journalist (What Doctors Don’t Tell You), describes scientific discoveries that she believes point to a unifying concept of the universe, one that reconciles mind with matter, classic Newtonian science with quantum physics and, most importantly, science with religion.”

The Field focuses on recent experimental work in the area of Quantum Physics. When and if such discoveries are exhaustively verified they will go a long way to explaining how art, poetry, literature, and even sacred scripture really work.

Click for a brief scientific overview of mirror neurons on Science Daily.

Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching — no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character — not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and skeptical age the supreme claim of the Abhá Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh. Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 66

A compilation from Baha’i sources on mirrors and the exemplar. 86 pages, 9.5 MB (large!)