contribution from Derrick De Kerckhove:
Action movies (often involving high emotional content and occasionally violent
and/or erotically charged scenes) directly address physical responses from the
audience. They work on your sub-muscular responses as if they were a peculiar
form of gymnastics. To understand the meaning of "sub-muscular" responses, try
to imagine yourself talking over the phone: can you "see" yourself mimicking an
actual conversation as if the person was there in a face-to-face conversation ?
What is happening there is that, even though there is no one to watch you, you
carry on the normal gestures and facial expressions that would accompany what
you are saying, not because you are attempting to convince anyone, but because
that is the way language operates on our bodies in normal circumstances. The
gestures and expressions are the extensions of thought and speech in the body
itself. There is a neurological mechanism within our bodies, connected to our
orientation, defense and decision-making abilities, that plans all our gestures
before they are actually carried out. This procedure is what conditions our
sub-muscular response. Even when we read, a residual sub-muscular activity
sometime helps people to "oralize" the reading process which makes
understanding easier for some of them (although not all). This tendency present
in many readers is called "sub-vocalization" and, according to speed-reading
experts is what slows down the activity of reading among slower readers. What is implied here is that an
interpretation process may be at work when we watch a movie or see a play, we "sub-muscularize"
point about this is that watching a movie evokes a similar response from the
viewer and translates the cognitive experience into neurological and muscular
activities that help to interpret the film or the TV show. For example, have
you ever caught yourself mimicking a facial expression or an attitude to help
you make sense of a quizzical facial expression or an uncanny attitude that you
see portrayed in a film? If you have, you will recognize that simply to imitate
the expression or the gesture allows you to know it better, to understand its
relationship to the story you are watching. Even watching a hockey game or any
sport competition will evoke physiological mimicking responses that help you
interpret physically and participate in the difficulties of the task. There is
no such thing as pure "spectator sport". Just try to handle that fierce body
check in a football or a soccer game without wincing somewhere in your body!
The same goes for the action movie. Every moment of fear, danger, violence,
imminent suspense and other common occurrences in an action film generates a
tension that is a kind of stress.
theory emerging from the research laboratory of Italian brain scientists may be
relevant here, that of mirror neurons. According to Wikipedia:
mirror neuron is a premotor neuron which fires both when an animal acts and
when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially
conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of
another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. These neurons have
been directly observed in primates, and are believed to exist in humans and in
some birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with mirror neurons has been
found in the premotor cortex and the inferior parietal cortex. Some scientists
consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings of neuroscience in
the last decade."
still controversial, if the theory turns out to be verified, it may have
consequences for the study of media, of performing arts and of the growing
practice of simulation in general. The acting profession from ancient Greek
theatre to television, cinema and virtual reality could be no more and no less
than a biological strategy to introduce new and complex human experience and
behavior in society. It would go at some length to explain the manner by which
the spectator accesses emotions that are quite literally projected into him or
her by the performance.---
A quote by Sandra Blakeslee (2006) commented in a blog by Charles
That Read Minds (January 10, 2006)
cells in question are "mirror neurons". They were discovered around
1990 in the laboratory of Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the
University of Parma, Italy. Researchers in the laboratory had been studying
brain activity in macaque monkeys.
monkey brain contains a special class of cells, called mirror neurons, that
fire when the animal sees or hears an action and when the animal carries out
the same action on its own. But if the findings, published in 1996, surprised
most scientists, recent research has left them flabbergasted. Humans, it turns
out, have mirror neurons that are far smarter, more flexible and more highly
evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects
the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities. The human brain has
multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and
understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social
meaning of their behavior and their emotions.
are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival
depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."
He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not
through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by
The discovery is shaking up numerous scientific disciplines,
shifting the understanding of culture, empathy, philosophy, language,
imitation, autism and psychotherapy. Everyday experiences are also being viewed
in a new light. Mirror neurons reveal how children learn, why people respond to
certain types of sports, dance, music and art, why watching media violence may
be harmful and why many men like pornography."
---The balance is in favor of accepting both the fact
that humans do have mirror neurons and that while they are not the only way to
do so, these neurons also contribute in helping to understand action and
perhaps intention. I think that the discussion is highly relevant to the issue
of simulation because it indicates that our technological innovations could be
part of an inverted function mirroring the mirroring action of the neurons. Go
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