Neuro Humanities Studies

Marco Iacoboni, Deborah Jenson,

Literary Biomimesis: Mirror Neurons and the Ontological Priority of Representation

Source: California Italian Studies, 2(
Year: 2011
Disciplines: Literature;

Download size: 276.1 KB
This article traces the contributions of mirror neuron theories in neuroscience to debates on literature and related theories of mimesis or, as Erich Auerbach defined it, the representation of reality. The “ensemble” descriptor used for the visualization technologies on which we currently depend to chart the neuronal firing in the human brain is also an apt term for an additional translational issue between structure and what one might call the philosophical domain. The most carefully established data of brain activity is empirically confirmable on the micro level. Moving from it to the so-called “higher order” or more complex issues of meaning and use by humans, not least in cultural life, requires in effect a translation from micro evidence to ensemble evidence. Within the neurosciences, such translational processes are objects of seduction and suspicion at once. Yet an “ensemble” principle is not only active in brain mapping evidence, but in the “single brain” to “social brain” evidence field for neural mirroring. The brain in isolation represents only a slice of the field of the dialogic brain, the brain performing social cognition of others, the brain bringing the other’s existence into the individual’s embodied space through the individual’s internal simulation. This essay moves from the concept of the social brain to the suggestion of an ontological priority of representation in the mirror neuron paradigm. Is literature itself a relative of brain mirroring processes, and thus a form of biomimesis? And if we recognize literature and other representational processes as a part of “the human ensemble,” should we also recognize the capacity of literature and other art forms to mimetically influence our performance of physiological being?


The Neuro Humanities Studies Network aims at creating a multidisciplinary research community in order to develop and structure a linking platform for neuro-scientific, cognitive topics and humanities.

Click on each keyword to show papers related with it.

Research Network

Click on each point to show researchers involved. For more information about our research network, please check the Members section in the menu bar.