, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 385-401
Date: 02 Dec 2011

Movement and mirror neurons: a challenging and choice conversation

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This paper raises fundamental questions about the claims of art historian David Freedberg and neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese in their article "Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience." It does so from several perspectives, all of them rooted in the dynamic realities of movement. It shows on the basis of neuroscientific research how connectivity and pruning are of unmistakable import in the interneuronal dynamic patternings in the human brain from birth onward. In effect, it shows that mirror neurons are contingent on morphology and corporeal-kinetic tactile-kinesthetic experience. Accordingly, it poses and answers the overlooked but seminally important question of how mirror neurons come to be. The original neuromuscular research of Parma neuroscientists and the findings of Marc Jeannerod concerning kinesthesia support the answer that the "underpinnings" of visual art appreciation are themselves underpinned. An abbreviated phenomenological analysis of movement and its implications regarding the fact that the making of all art is quintessentially contingent on movement, hence a dynamic enterprise, further bolster the given answer as does a brief review of an empirical phenomenological analysis of the natural dynamic congruency of emotions and movement. In the end, the paper shows that movement and life are of a piece in the creation and appreciation of art as in everyday life.

A shorter version of this paper was presented in May 2011 as an invited lecture in a four-speaker series on the topic “Observer Effects: Conversations between Art and Science,” a series sponsored by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I thank Emily Bercir, Director of the Center, and Hèlène Listerlin, Dance Coordinator of the Center, for their invitation to take part in the series, and Linnda Caporael, Professor of Science and Technology, for invigorating discussions and for her kind and generous hospitality during my visit at the Institute.