Q: As you do research on the extended mind, what do you think about the role of mirror neurons?
I don’t refer to mirror neurons. I am not convinced that we know enough about how they operate and how central they are to the processes of empathy and communication. And I don’t think it is necessary to understand. I say this in the book: Humans naturally engage in mimicry, subtle automatic miming of each other, when talking face to face. It’s by making those expressions and gestures, and by assuming the postures of the other person, that we then read off our own bodies what those postures and expressions make us feel. That’s how we get access to what another person is feeling and thinking. Research has found that people who are more attuned to their own internal signals can be more empathetic because they then feel more acutely the signals they read from the other person. I am fascinated by processes like this in which humans bridge the divide between us, so we are not as separate as we think we are. So in my case I didn’t feel the need to draw in the research about mirror neurons.
Q: You also touch upon sensing, labeling and verbalizing of emotions. One of the core practices of many meditation systems, including Heartfulness, is journaling at the end of a meditation session.
Q: We observe ourselves at the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels, and train ourselves in the vocabulary of journaling. We develop the capacity to have one eye always looking inward while looking at another person. We learn to become adept at witnessing through meditation and journaling.
So, I would like to know your thoughts on any research you have come across on journaling and how it helps.
That sounds like a really fruitful exercise, and it makes me think of two areas of research I write about in the book. One is around interoception. There is a suggestion that the most effective way to use those interoceptive sensations is to alternate or oscillate between attending to the outside world and attending to the inside world, so that you’re getting a constant infusion of information from both places. You don’t get lost in the internal sensations, but you are not so focused on the outside that you are not in tune to what is going on inside. That is an effective way to gain wisdom from both spheres. It sounds like journaling might facilitate that.
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