On Dust, Mirror Neurons, And Discrimination

We’re discriminating against ourselves.

When I started “Where It Starts,” I was fascinated by a science book by Judith Horstman. In it, she mentioned “mirror neurons.”  I did some reading on the subject and fell in love with the idea. Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire up sympathetically. Let’s say you watch someone fall. As he topples over, he sticks his hands out to break his fall. When his hands hit the sidewalk, your own hands twitch in response. You may even flinch. You didn’t fall — so why do you have that reaction?

Mirror neurons allow you to place yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. Other things can make them twitch, too. A story can get their attention. If I tell you about my trip through the mountains, about how it was night and snow started to fall, and my car skidded into a snow bank and the engine died and wouldn’t come back, but I saw the lights of a gas station so I got out and walked, slipping and skidding, the snow soaking my tennis shoes so that my feet were wet and numb… Neurons fire in your brain in areas that would fire up if you were actually having that experience with me. The more vivid the story, the more you feel it.

As I worked on this sculpture, I heard another bit of information that seemed to relate — the composition of dust. Of course, there are different kinds of dust, but in general, everything is shedding and flaking off tiny bits, and those tiny bits become dust, which swirls all over the world on the wind. This includes shed cells from other people. Many of these bits are too small to see with the naked eye, but we’re all breathing them in. So what?

So we are all taking in minuscule pieces of each other constantly. The closer you are to someone physically, of course, the more you take in, but the school bully and his victim are literally part of each other. People from all over the world are walking around inside of you right now, and that’s not touchy-feely new age philosophy… it’s scientific fact.  Plus, that dust is deposited everywhere, including the soil where our food grows. The guy who thinks he’s better than everyone else? He IS everyone else.

Those people who say “we are all one?”  They’re right.

The first time this sculpture was shown, I saw a woman and her daughter contemplating it. They noticed me and asked about it. When I explained it, the woman laughed and told her daughter, “You’d better be careful who you breathe around!” Then I explained that we are all part of each other, even the people we don’t like. She said, “It would be hard for anyone to bully anyone else if they understood that.” Her daughter shared that she had been bullied in school, and wished the person who had bullied her had understood that they were part of each other.”

Everyone walking around carries a part of the rest of the world within him. The people in this sculpture are talking, sharing their experiences, breathing each other in. Both will leave changed whether they realize it or not.

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