20 January 2007

Mirror Neurons: an (allegorical) teen comedy

(don't look for mirror neurons
in the allegory itself

they come after)

the highschool quarterback's girlfriend
is a classic stuckup mean teen queen
who fancies herself a great dancer
and wishes her boyfriend would learn how
but he won't unless the whole team does

and one day she's busted
for teasing some poor nerds
and her punishment is a choice of
community-service tasks
one of which is
training some school group
for the year-end talent show

so she proposes to teach the football team to dance
but the judge substitutes 'av club' for 'football team'
to stick her with the type of nerds she'd insulted

they're hopeless at dancing
so she keeps lowering her sights
finally bottoming out
with the loathed macarena
which they still screw up
until one nerd writes a computer program
that breaks the steps down

and of course they finally triumph
dancing like devo
standing ovations
girls going wild

but that's just the first half-hour

the allegory kicks in
when a few of the nerds
head off to science summer camp
at a nearby university

and in the afterglow of their triumph
they opt to work with an anthropology professor
applying their dance software
to a fortuitous local festival of world dance

and in a zippy montage we see
first the graceful world performers
then the blocky computer breakdown
and finally the nerds' clumsy imitations

(sneaking in some side criticism
with videos of madonna or britney spears
doing their own by-the-numbers routines)

and for comic effect
they also apply the program to non-dance activities
like football and sex

but the second climax comes
when the mean teen queen re-appears
and drags them off to a concert
by a grateful-dead/phish-type band
secretly dosing their pepsi
with lsd

and now they're overwhelmed by the
absolutely freeform dance

no 'steps' their program can enumerate

but they begin instead to explore
the kinematics of each of their limbs
how many different ways
they can set them swinging
breaking down their habitual rigidities

and the imagined computer versions
transition from blockiness
off the scale in all directions
(think 'peanuts' tv-special dance-party times infinity)

and the resolution presumably requires
some little anti-drug cop-out
plus the roaring financial success
of the improved dance software

with the nerds dancing like deadheads
under the final credits

now the allegory
strange to say
is to academic 'psychology'
(the awkward nerds)
vs novelists' fictions
(the deadheads)

and a lively current example
is the excitement over
'mirror neurons'

where psychologists are trying
to showhorn the new insight
into their old paradigms
thereby unintentionally making vivid
the poverty of those paradigms

mirror-neurons seem to compare
inner- and outer- viewpoints
on similar phenomena

reconstructing which specific preconditions
explain why an actor
viewed from outside
might have chosen those actions
when viewed from inside

but novelists know too
that one compares actions' effectiveness
trying to imitate more-effective strategies

perhaps to re-train others
if they're less effective

perhaps to sneer at their clumsiness
dismiss their successes

perhaps to beat oneself up
over one's own perceived clumsiness

perhaps to turn a blind eye
and fool yourself
that your performance is best
(optimism as ego)

perhaps comparing actions' virtue
criticising (or not)
their (or your) selfishness

honoring (or not)
their (or your) selflessness

motes and beams in the appropriate eyes
learning to see yourself
as others see you

perhaps comparing trustworthiness
is this actor conning me?

perhaps seeking the best for others
(perhaps the worst)

assigning each of these categories
a color on the worldtree

few or none of these
yet imagined by the psych nerds