NeuroScience has some teachings called “mirror neurons” – and it goes like this. Our brains have the capability to imagine ourselves inside another (and well.. there are also stories about how the capability got there… but it don’t much matter to how we understand it and deploy it today). They say it is one of the key advantages the human race had over other stronger and faster predators – we could anticipate the actions of other beings by way of our imagination.
“A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.”
Incredibly useful for learning stuff, wouldn’t you say? It is how we develop still – through observation and mimicry, the baby walks and talks. Toddlers play house with mommy dolls and daddy dolls – imitating the behaviors they see – sometimes to the chagrin of their parents.
Jesus said this: “To the pure, all things are pure”. I have thought a lot about this simple, almost off-handed, statement over the years. I suspect he was commenting on our imaginations – and the power thereof to influence our spiritual life. When we deploy our mirror neurons and “see from inside” another – we are not actually entering their experience or motivations, we are only imagining we do. We observe past behavior and project it onto the future. And often it is our own past behavior we project onto others.
Take a moment and notice the things about other people that really tend to annoy you or piss you off. Chances are – if the science is correct – that those behaviors are yours as well. You may suppress them – in fact it may be the ones we suppress the most within ourselves which irk us the most when they come out in others. This psychological tendency is related to Jesus’ statment about the pure as well.
“To the pure, all things are pure” also implies it’s converse – to the sullied, all things are sullied. When we “see from inside” another and find the villianous, it is – at least in part – our own past behavior we are projecting on the other.
Our imaginations are far more powerful, and influencial in our daily lives than we like to give them credit for. We often want to push imagination back to our childhood when our favorite thing to do was watch Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood and Sesame Street. But in our everyday world, we are deploying our imaginations to solve problems, to communicate with others, to plan the future, to design that better gadget. Our imaginations belong to us – and they are stamped with our own enduring identity.
A good and proper post would wrap this thought up with some sort of application, but I think I will leave this open for further discussion. What do you think the applications are of these words – “To the pure, all things are pure.”