““All action is of the mind and the mirror of the mind is the face, it’s index the eyes.” - Cicero
The whole storyline of Inception revolves around dreams. Jonah Lehrer’s latest article at Wired, discusses the parallels between watching movies and dreaming. He quotes Devin Farci, who argues that a film is a dream shared between a director and an audience. Jonah Lehrer explains that the neurology of dreaming (in REM sleep) is very similar to that of sitting in a dark theatre and watching a projection on the screen.
Interestingly, brain studies of people watching the same film show that they “share” much of the experience and much of the brain activity – they are feeling the same things! Areas of the brain in synchronicity include visual perception, facial recognition and touch sensations. Importantly, the pre-frontal cortex, where logic, analysis and self-awareness are located do not show such activity and correlation.
Other research has shown that when we are very actively involved in sensorimotor processing (that is, we have strong sensory stimuli), our brains suppress higher level activity in order to free up the needed parts of our brain. That is, when we have intense sensory experiences, we are focused on the experience and not on thinking. Our behaviour in such contexts is emotionally driven, and it is difficult to rationalise an overwhelming sensory experience (I’m sure you can think of your own examples). Our brains need to focus on the experience itself. This is the basis of “losing yourself in the action” or what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”.
In such states our senses are hyperactive and our self-awareness strangely quiet. Similarly, in dream states, our visual perception and emotional brains are very active, although the stimuli are often more random than most films. However, we do care about our dreams. Have you ever woken in a cold sweat?
Caring (empathy) is the key to the power of stories to connect with our minds (and bodies). Great movies work because we care about the characters. Great presentations work because the audience connect with the stories that are told. Human civilization works because we are able to empathise and share with other people.
Communication works because we share many of the same feelings in our conversations. Scientific American reports this month on how listener brain patterns mirror those of the speaker. In work at the Princeton Department of Psychology, it has been shown that there is a remarkable synchronicity in the brain patterns of speaker and listener when we communicate face-to-face (with about a one second delay for processing). The more the brain activity coincides, the better is the understanding of the communication. In a parallel experiment, when stories are listened to with no face-to-face communication, there is no such mirroring of brain activity.
Effectively there is a “coupling” of the brains, although the experimenters do not yet know how much of the mirroring is due to non-verbal cues. The research does offer an intriguing insight into the positive power of empathy. Inspector Insight has written about both the positive impact of empathy on Homo Empathicusand the negative impact of lack of empathy in the Lucifer effect….”
- algemeiner – In Your Dreams: The Kabbalah of Inception “…The movie Inception “works” on many levels, as a philosophical puzzle and as sheer glossy entertainment. As a rabbi, I couldn’t help thinking of the Kabbalist teaching that while we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and ascend to their heavenly source in order to replenish energy. The Kabbalistic commentary...
- Wired – The Neuroscience of Inception “…The literary critic Frank Kermode famously argued that all successful works of art have the ability to inspire multiple interpretations. We read the classics, he said, because we believe they say more than the author meant. In other words, it is the ambiguity of art – this ability to inspire...