Within our society, imitation and simulation are typically seen as inferior symbols of a distorted mediated culture – think of fake Rolexes, plastic Christmas trees, silicone breasts and imitation caviar. On the other hand, simulations also occur in old nature as countless insects, flowers, and animals use camouflage or imitation techniques to increase their chances of survival.
In his TED talk, neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran goes as far to suggest the foundation of the human civilization as we know it, lies in our ability to simulate.
Ramachandran outlines the fascinating functions of mirror neurons. Only recently described by Giacomo Rizzolatti, these neurons allow us to learn complex social behaviors through the internal simulation of actions performed by someone else; as though the observer itself were acting.
Ramachandran in his talk claims the emerging of the mirror neuron system allowed people to share accidental discoveries quickly among the population allowing to develop tool use, domestication of fire, shelters, language, in other words culture, over a relatively short time span.
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