Mimesis

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Mimesis is a kind of imitation other than mere copying. It's a sort of "presenting again" or re-presentation. Colloquially speaking, it's "Monkey see, monkey do." For this reason, it is also called mirror symmetry, since the re-presentation is like looking in a mirror. Examples of mimesis include children mimicking gestures of their parents; birds learning to fly; and the camouflage patterns of animals like octopuses and chameleons, which re-present their surroundings.

Walter Benjamin wrote:

Nature creates similarities. One need only think of mimicry. The highest capacity for producing similarities, however, is man’s. His gift of seeing resemblances is nothing other than a rudiment of the powerful compulsion in former times to become and behave like something else. Perhaps there is none of his higher functions in which his mimetic faculty does not play a decisive role. Michelle Puetz, University of Chicago

David Hume wrote:

The human mind is of a very imitative nature; nor is it possible for any set of men to converse often together without acquiring a similitude of manners and communication to each other their vices as well as their virtues. The propensity to company and society is strong in all rational creatures; and the same disposition which gives us this propensity makes us enter deeply into each other's sentiments and causes like passions and inclinations to run, as it were, by contagion through the whole club or knot of companions.[1]

Arnold Toynbee wrote:

The problem of bringing the uncreative rank and file of a growing society into line with the creative pioneers, in order to save the pioneers' own advance from being brought to a halt, cannot be solved in practice, on the social scale, without also bringing into play the faculty of sheer mimesis—one of the less exalted faculties of Human Nature which has more in it of drill than of inspiration.[2]

References

  1. David Hume, Of National Characters, Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, Part I, Essay XXI, paragraph 9.
  2. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Part III.C.II.(a) p.245.
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