Our Brains – Mirrors to the World
We Are Living Expressions of the Word (2 Cor. 3:2)
Every story, every parable, every principle in the Bible is given to provide insight into the ways our hearts, minds, and bodies are designed to function. For example: Isaiah 53:6 talks about how we are like sheep – he does not say we are sheep. The listeners to Isaiah would have known that sheep like to wander, and when they wander away from the care of their shepherd, they don’t know how to come back. In those days sheep that were lost for weeks or months even forgot the sound of their shepherd’s voice. We are built to need the care of our God, to hear His voice, and feel His presence.
Christ in Matthew 11:29 said for people to come to Him and learn from Him. He validates that everyone has a learning capacity and that learning enriches, empowers, heals, and instructs each mind. The apostle Paul said we are living epistles others can learn from, that we are actually able to be instructed about beliefs by watching how people live their lives. We know this happens but what we now know from science is that God specifically designed our brains to be able to do this. Neuroscientist have discovered specialized neurons that actually do read others’ actions enabling us to learn from their behaviors. We are able to mirror actions and beliefs because of our brain design.
Remember a time in school when you just could not figure out that new concept in math class? Your friend showed you how to work it and all the sudden it made perfect sense. Or the teacher asks a student to break the problem down into steps – when you worked the problem again you walked through the picture of those steps in your head. Now you understand, the lightbulbs go off in your head! Learning was happening as you watched. As we watch others do things our brains record the information as though we were the ones doing the tasks. This also explains why we hurt or get upset when we see someone else get hurt or upset. Watching their pain activates similar emotions in our own heads.
Today technology is tapping into the abilities of these neurons. Social media helps us learn new things, encourages and rewards us as we imitate the newest trends in fashion, relationships, beauty etc.
One problem with imitation is it often happens without filters. Personal internal filters are built by experience in what we believe is true. They help us recognize untruths, fakes, or even propaganda. Today youth and adults speak of feeling more isolated and lonelier than generations before. How is this possible when we spend large parts of our day digitally connected watching how others are living their lives? Virtual reality in place of a personal reality can leave us feeling unconnected and distant from our daily experiences.
When we look into a physical mirror we see our image. When we look at others’ lives and events we see ourselves reflected through their images. We then often compare ourselves to others’ physical qualities, accomplishments, and attitudes and may feel we fall short. There are positives in this age of social media but how can we protect ourselves from ways it contributes to isolation and loneliness?
A start is to spend less virtual time and more real time interacting in real relationships. Friendships are more than a screen shot or a you tube video. Real time relationships build and strength who we are and teach us how to care for ourselves and others. Also consider how your differences are your gifts and being an imitation is never your destiny. Paul told the Corinthian church to imitate or follow him as he followed Christ. As Paul followed Christ’s teachings, he left footsteps for others to follow – not blind devotion, but a relationship built on belief in Christ.