Centre of empathy

Area of the human brain, scientifically identifiable through brain scanning techniques, which becomes activated when a person recognizes a fellow human being as such. The activity is absent in people with autism, who don’t differentiate between people and objects. Its absence is also a common characteristic of bad acting; often presenting as "acting over the shoulder." In the stress of performance, it is not easy to allow your colleague on the stage to be more than a simple piece of talking scenography. The ability to recognize an independent parallel universe lying behind another person’s eyes is sometimes referred to as “ theory of mind.” The initiating neurological protocol is referred to by brain researchers as “handshaking,” a term borrowed from computer engineers who use it to refer to a similar process that occurs when separate sections of a computer, or for instance a computer and a printer, prepare to establish communication.

(Computer engineers in turn, no doubt, derived the term from their observation of small town politicians and used-car salesmen - gentlemen well known for their firm handshakes and excessive empathy!)

This might also explain why portrait photographers will often insist that their subjects look into the eyes of a real human being, and not at some dead piece of studio equipment.

"What do we know but that we face one another in this place?"

- William Butler Yeats

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Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010