Mirror, Mirror On The Wall.

by Creative Food Therapy

Mirror Neurons and Pattern Recognition

The Science of Emotion

Em·pa·thy is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient (in fiction writing) being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.”

Many are mislead in believing empathy and compassion are one in the same, but that is truly not the case.  It is possible for one to be able to empathize yet still feel no compassion.  For example, a person who remains within a physical or emotionally abusive relationship, some may empathize as to why but still be unable to hold compassion for someone who refuses to seek help for him or herself.  It is common in these cases, especially the most extreme where compassion is needed but I find through my work that some within the general public adopt the belief of “Why should I feel sorry for someone who refuses to help themselves?”  Compassion is the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love. Compassion means, “to suffer together with” and so in order for an individual to feel compassion one must first feel empathetic towards another and their circumstances.  Those lacking the skill to feel compassion through empathy are commonly diagnosed with Schizophrenia or disorders such as in persons with extreme cases of Borderline Personality Disorder.

I truly believe our existence here is equally spiritual as it is scientific.  I do not believe we could exist with one and not the other.  With that said I would like first, to go a bit deeper into the biology and process of our emotions, specifically what is called Mirror Neurons and Pattern Recognition.  A Mirror Neuron is a neuron that fires both when a person/animal acts and when they observe the same action performed by another.  The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.  Many researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology consider that this system provides the physiological mechanism for the perception action coupling.  Some argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation, theory of mind skills and  language abilities.  However, Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people.  In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.  Let’s take for example, the relationship between a mother and child.  A baby learns through repetition.  Through the first months of life a child learns that if it cries its needs will be met, or not.  That depends on the baby’s life situation.  Either way, this is how the baby begins to understand emotion.  If a child gets a scratch the child’s learned behavior depends on their mothers reaction to the situation.  The child learns what emotions are “safe” in connection and as a response to what they are feeling.  If a common reaction for a mother is to over react and become agitated and nervous, screaming and reprimands the child then the child will learn that when he is hurt, it is not ok to show his pain or emotion.  However, if a mothers common reaction is to be compassionate and dotting, the child will learn that pain comes and goes and that it is ok to seek the aid he needs while expressing his fear, pain and emotion.  These learned behaviors are perceived through emotion, are mirrored and patterns are formed.

Mirror Neurons are crucial in order for us to empathize and form compassion, and so they are credited to our sustaining a highly functioning compassionate society.  If mirror neurons are a the base for our ability to feel empathetic along with other emotions, then our capacity to mirror must also help to create maladaptive behavior or counter productivity and emotion, for example the child whose emotions are stunted by an unstable mother.  Pattern recognition by the nervous system implies that the firing of specific neurons trigger specific emotions.   Science has reported that this occurs when a person experiences disgust, happiness, or pain. The same regions are activated, when they see another person experience the emotion.

The mirror network has been reported to be sensitive to perceived pain.   Pain cells in the human will normally fire when a person is hurt.   Researchers found that those cells will also fire when the person watches another experiencing pain.   The neuron in the observer “mirrored” the pain of the other.  So, when pain cells fire, a person experiences pain.   The same cells fire to make you experience imagined pain.  However, you yourself are not experiencing the pain first hand, it is imagined.  Upon soaking in this information I asked myself “How much of what we say, feel and do is ours and how much of it is a mirror?”  Obviously, if we are watching a gymnast perform a split and it causes a pained reaction and we gasp, we know enough that the mirrored pain is not our own, it is imagined.  But what if we were to look at the full spectrum of emotion and just how much our emotion fuels our passion and life and how our emotion manifest physically.  Really how we digest and we process our emotions is dependent upon our own individual cognitive behavioral patterns.  Cognitive behavior refers to our everyday function – remember, respond and so on. Usually, they are logical, learned things however abstract thinking comes into it.   Recognizing consequences of behavior is thought to develop as people grow older and can envision what might happen and avoid behavior that would cause it.  Yet, we all know this is dependent on the growth of an individual.  Right now, as you read this I am positive you can think of a few persons that have yet to develop a healthy recognition of their own behavior, resulting in stunted growth whether it is mentally, physically or spiritually.  Cognitive behavior is thinking behavior. There is also a form of therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which teaches you how to use thinking to change your behavior and mental health. The cognitive behavior is meant to be a meaningful behavior. The behavior has to produce a meaningful action useful to people.

Even so, with those of us that are able to produce behavior and action that are meaningful to others, and ourselves how much of our emotions and our intention behind our actions are our own?  How much of our emotion and our functioning is ours as opposed to the mirror of our environment and learned patterns?  The human mind contains powerful regions, which sense the behavior of those within its environment.   The process is supported by massive memories and myriad analytical subsystems.   Behavior pattern recognition enables the human mind to understand events as well enabling a person to comprehend the intentions, emotions and actions of people, without reasoning out these processes. They just know.  But, what if someone is acting on an old pattern?  When emotions resurface or reappear that have never truly gone away, how much of this is pattern?

It is the same for sound and speech.  It is no coincidence, that when you hear a particular voice of someone you know, certain emotions are automatically triggered.  Pay attention to this and observe, as when there is a particular person that may annoy you talks to you, your emotion and body language will change.  This is because pattern recognition feeds data to Mirror Neurons and you have connected a specific emotion to this specific voice, most likely an annoyed or agitated emotion.  Our voices are like our fingerprints, there are no two of the same and so if you were to go 4 years without hearing a particular voice, in hearing it again, all the mirrors and patterns connected to that voice would resurface.  Same goes for someone in love, when a person hears the voice of someone they love, voice pattern recognition feeds data to Mirror Neurons and all the emotions connected to their voice erupt.  Now, what happens when the relationship or situation of a neuron connection that was created in love, turns to something else?  How much of what remains is truth, will the voices of those we love or have loved always hold connectivity?  I can only assume that for those who answer no, it is the ability to re-program new neurological connections and pathways through self-cognitive therapy that is the answer.  A great example of this is the moment a person realizes they are better off without a specific person and is able to cut ties and never look back.   But how about in situations that do not appear to be as cut and dry?  Where patterns and a connection remain unchanged even though environments have shifted or changed through time.  Is it neurological? Behavioral?  Or is it something science can never explain?  Perhaps this is where spirit picks up and science leaves off.   I was never interested in the dissection of emotion, it felt unnecessary, cold and disconnected to me, but I cannot deny my undying curiosity into the science of emotion.  As humans, our capacity and ability to feel is limitless and so who knows, maybe this is my own attempt to explain some of the mystery and power behind my own emotions.

We are biological as much as we are spirit and so no one can deny the truths, that regardless of the science behind emotion, what we feel is real to each of us regardless of how it is formed.  It is up to us individually to decide if what we are feeling is our own or if in fact if it is a mirror or a learned pattern of some kind that serves us or needs to be disabled and rewired. Through my own life experiences, my advice wouldn’t necessarily be to run to the library and learn about every scientific bodily process, but more so to create and put forth emotion and actions that carry the best parts of you because I believe we all hold a responsibility to self and to others to do so.  If we are true to ourselves, listen to what it is our body and our minds “tell” us, regardless of whether we know the science behind it or not, our emotion will self regulate regardless of the situation.  Everything has its time, until then, just keep feeling it out.  🙂

♥ All of my love and light ♥

~ Jennifer