27 August 2007

Complex evolving systems

Mimicry plays a key role in our development. It has been through mimicry – or imitation – that we humans have learnt and evolved over 50,000 years. It was probably by imitating, i.e. following and repeating another person’s movements and actions, that we first developed a language of gestures, which then evolved into an early verbal language (a protolanguage). And, finally, into a fully functional language of the kind we use today.

Mind you, all these changes in human beings had taken tens of thousands of years… something we may not give credence to today when we see a baby imitating its mother and learning from her in a matter of days and weeks. There are many theories on how this happened, one of which, based on the discovery of mirror neurons (see my previous post), suggests that mirror neurons in our brains make complex imitation possible in humans, resulting in our ability to learn and use language.

As it said in the Beth Azar article, ‘How mimicry begat culture’, from which I had quoted in my previous post: “Then, once we had the ability to imitate, and learn through imitation, transmission of culture could continue by leaps and bounds.” Still, it was something that happened gradually, over tens of thousands of years, through a cumulative mixing of the cognitive processes in the brain with the processes of human social interaction and communication.

What also contributed to human evolution in a big way was the transmission of these continuing processes from one individual to another, from one group to another, and from one generation to another, in the form of culture. What seems commonplace today, and is taken for granted, is really a network of complex evolving systems in our brains, developed and transmitted over tens of thousands of years. And, it is happening even as you read this post.

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