What Makes Us Human? - Copycats

Homo sapiens are unashamed and relentless imitators. If there is one thing we're good at, it's copying the behavior and mannerisms of others. Just look at your clothes... you're probably not wearing a toga ancient Greek style, right? And yes, your obsession with texting and twittering probably also count as the infection of a recent cultural meme that has spread faster than wildfire.

This lack of originality may be annoying at times, especially when we consider the ubiquity of dumb trends and fashions, but when combined with memory and the accumulation of knowledge learned in the past, it becomes the fuel responsible for the unprecedented and unmatched mental evolution of our species (so do our big heads). Maybe you and I are not quite as creative and intelligent as Einstein, but we can make further contributions to our stock of knowledge by building on the foundations laid down by the man.

But how do we do it? How has the ability to represent the behavior of others in our minds evolved? What are the neural processes involved? Despite the similarities with other animals, what accounts for the uniqueness and the power of these faculties when deployed by humans? And most importantly, what do cheerleaders have to do with any of this? Today's documentary tries to answer these and similar questions.

More importantly perhaps, it also explores some of the natural implications of this instinct, including its darker side (think suicide bombers), how it is constantly being manipulated (think marketing and religion), and the evolutionary paradox to which it leads (think birth control and the modern lifestyle).

Special appearances by Steven Pinker, V.S. Ramachandran, Susan Blackmore, Nim Chimpsky, Kanzi the bonobo and the late Alex the parrot.



Check out this great entry with Robert Krulwich to learn more about mirror neurons.
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