Essays for performers: Perception, Action, Empathy

I’ve begun writing what I hope will be a regular series of short essays on performance and cognition, intended for non-neuroscience, non-music cognition readers. These should be treated as exercises rather than properly-formed treatments of issues dear to my heart. I don’t like writing, but I need the practice, and sharing is a good motivator for editing. Given those caveats, here is the first. Sorry for the second person.

Note: MOTL stands for More On That Later, signalling a topic I hope to return to another day.

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Embodied perception, Mirror Neurons, and Empathy

Different parts of the brain are crucially involved in different cognitive functions. Sensory systems have key locations, auditory on the sides, vision in the back, and somatosensory arching between the ears. While thought doesn’t simply happen in discrete locations (MOTL), the sequences of neural activity (electric and chemical) that supports action, reaction, thought, and sensation concentrate in these areas, depending on what is going.

When we make an action, like when we say a word, the motor commands which run to the muscles in our face, throat, and abdomen are shadowed by efferent copies of the action to our sensory processing areas. The auditory cortex is readied to hear the acoustic consequences of speech, somatosensory cortex is prepared for our eventual lip and tongue positions (proprioception) and all the transient changes in how these sensitive areas are in tactile contact. Anticipated sensory consequences of our actions are then compared to inputs collected from our sensory organs such as the vibration of vocalisation through bone and acoustic reflections which reach our eardrums. Continue reading “Essays for performers: Perception, Action, Empathy”