Mirrors – A Manifest(o) for mirroring actions

November 25, 2014


In a word full of contradictions one can find it hard to have a clear agenda, to know exactly what one thinks and what would be the right solutions to a problem. One can always try to seek for answers though and propose ways to reach a goal. One might feel what is right or not. Now you might think that one cannot possibly feel what is right or wrong. But can one know by using logic? I’d say that we could learn more from emotions than we might think. Not that emotions should decide our positioning but rather that we, by logically analyzing our emotions (cognitively) can learn what methods might work.

“Before the discovery of mirror neurons, scientists generally believed that our brains use logical thought processes to interpret and predict other people’s actions. Now, however, many have come to believe that we understand others not by thinking, but by feeling. For mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. “[1]

A mirror neuron is not only a way to learn things but also a way of emphasizing with others. “When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly.”[2] This reflections creates mirrored actions, a kind of domino effect where how you act might trigger other actions or feelings. Not very surprisingly this means that you are most likely shaped, not only by your surroundings (environment) but also by the way people behave around you.

The feminist theatre group Potato Potato uses the idea of the mirror neurons as a pedagogical tool in their plays. Their idea is that the actions appearing on stage activate mirror neurons in the audience, therefore making the audience feel as if they where engaged in the actions themselves.

”– Publiken ska få vara med i utopin och förstå att de har den i sig.”[3]
( –”The audience shall be invited into the utopia and understand that it’s in them” (authors translation).

Judith Butler, a gender theorist that I myself have been very influenced by in my argument, created the idea of gender performance.[4] Gender is in her way of seeing it “constructed through the repetition of stylized acts in time”.[5] In this way gender is established through repetition of actions. If you believe in this idea you can change your world through actions, giving the possibility for others to mirror them, or as Potato Potato might say: make others discover what they already have inside themselves”. In this I think that both Potato Potato and Judith Butler are great row models: Potato Potato by engaging in political change through their theatre and Butler by her theoretical work as well as her activist engagement in political movements.

Other occasions were we might se a flow of mirrored actions is for instance in the overthrowing of the Shah of Iran (Mohammed Reza Pahlavi): in the demonstrations following the Black Friday in 1978[6] and in the Arabic spring where actions where spread through word as well as social media throughout the Arab world (2010-2011). The occupy movement is another, global movement, still ongoing in different parts of the world. In the contemporary movements the Internet and its “social medias” play a big part. Here technology works as a tool for spreading information when other channels might be too slow or just blocked or cut out (by for instance the government in a certain country). “We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they’.”[7] With these tools knowledge becomes something we more easily can share, across different boundaries. It’s an extension of the ideas of Walter Benjamin (“The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) where instagram might be a good example of “radical political transformations opened up by developments in technoscience”.[8] Not so much in the way it spreads political ideas as for how much it shapes our ways of experiencing photography as part of everyday life.

From a mirror neuron perspective we must be aware of our actions. They will be mirrored and they will have consequences. In everyday life you can choose to smile, to listen, to hug. You can share something you think is important, a story mouth to ear or an article you read on internet. In this way I don’t think feminist debate should focus only on gaining the same benefits as men; for instance to work 100%. Instead we should search for alternative utopias beyond the existing, that we, through embodiment and action, can spread and realize.

You can choose a study object or focus out of a feminist awareness. I choose to focus on emotions, senses not often focused on when talking about technology. I choose not to follow traditional waterproof disciplines but to seek inter-disciplinary cooperation’s. I choose poetry and storytelling rather than one-dimensional “truths”. I choose the waterbear as a surface for feminist projections, may those projections be truths or far-fetched utopias. I mirror others and I choose to act according to the idea that my actions might be mirrored.

/Tove Grönroos

[1] http://www.brainfacts.org/brain-basics/neuroanatomy/articles/2008/mirror-neurons/

[2] ibid

[3] http://www.sydsvenskan.se/kultur–nojen/vi-ska-framat/

[4]Sally Wyatt, ‘Feminism, Technology and the Information Society: Learning from the Past, Imagining the Future’ in Information, Communication & Society, 2008, Vol.11(1), p.111-130.


[6] Ryszard Kapuscinski, “Shah of Shahs”, 1982

[7] Wyatt, ‘Feminism, Technology and the Information Society: Learning from the Past, Imagining the Future’ in Information, Communication & Society, 2008, p.111-130.

[8] Wyatt


2 Responses to “Mirrors – A Manifest(o) for mirroring actions”

  1. wimwiklund Says:

    Interesting post. I believe you are right. We cannot perform an idea that we have not been exposed to unless we are slightly mad, which makes madness such an important factor of progress in society though it is widely frown upon. For neurotypicals, mirroring is our way of getting by in society and in our relationships with others.

    • Filip Mesko Says:

      *spoiler alert!*

      On the topic of mirror neuron madness (what a term!), I would like to mention the new series Hannibal, which focuses on the events in the life of the infamous cannibal serial killer with the same name made popular in the film The Silence of the Lambs. The main protagonist (that is, if one regards Hannibal as an antagonist) is Will Graham, a special agent consulting for the FBI on perpetrator profiling. He has a special “gift” – a condition resulting in a sort of excess of mirror neurons (I can’t really remember) that allows for a much deeper empathic immersion than most people, and this helps him to understand the perpetrators. As the story progresses, he progressively “emphasises” with the criminals, losing control of himself, believing that he indeed is the people he is profiling. It is all very ridiculously portrayed, and I would not really recommend the series as a whole, but I still find this aspect interesting. It also makes me think of Deleuze and Guattari’s work on de-territorialization and multiple identities (if I have at all understood it).

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