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The history of neurosciences at La Pitié and La Salpêtrière J Poirier 

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Carey Lea
Elements of the philosophy of the human mind
Dugald Stewart


dugald stewart
chap 2
of the principle or law of sympathetic imitation.
Of our Propensity to this Species of Imitation.
The subject of Language leads, by a natural transition, to that of Imitation; a principle of human nature to which children owe their first acquisitions in the art of speech; and which, in every period of life, exerts a very powerful influence over our accent, mode of pronunciation, and forms of expression. It is not, however, solely, or even chiefly on this account, that I introduce the subject of Imitation here. The view which I mean to take of it relates principally to some other phenomena of our constitution, which, though equally important, have been hitherto much lees attended to by philosophers. The phenomena, indeed, which I first mentioned, are matter of daily experience, and force themselves on the notice of the most careless observer.
In ranking imitation among the original principles or ultimate facts in our constitution, it is, I presume, scarcely necessary for me to observe, that I do not use that term exactly in the popular sense in which it is commonly understood. I do not suppose, for example, that it is in consequence of any instinctive or mysterious process, that a painter or author forms his taste in painting or in writing, on the models exhibited by his predecessors; for all this may obviously be resolved, in the most satisfactory manner, into more simple and general laws. The Imitation of which I am here to treat, and which I have distinguished by the title of Sympathetic, is that chiefIy which depends on the mimical powers connected with our bodily frame; and which, in certain combinations of circumstances, seems to result, with little intervention of our will, from a sympathy between the bodily organizations of different individuals. Of various particulars connected with this class of phenomena, philosophy, I suspect, will never be able to give a complete explanation.
In general, it may be remarked, that whenever we see, in the countenance of another individual, any sudden change of features; more especially, such a change as is expressive of any particular passion or emotion; our own countenance has a tendency to assimilate itself to his. Every man is sensible of ths when he looks at a person under the influence of laughter, or in a deep melancholy. Something, too, of the same kind, takes place in that spasm of the muscles of the jaw, which we experience in yawning; an action which is well known to be frequently excited by the contagious power of example. Even when we conceive in solitude, the external expression of any passion, the effect of the conception is visible in our own appearance. This is a fact of which every person must be conscious, who attends, in his own case, to the result of the experiment; and it is a circumstance which has been often remarked with respect to historical painters, when in the act of transferring to the canvass the glowing pictures of a creative imagination.
1f this general fact be admitted, it will enable us to account for a phenomenon, which, although overlooked by most men from its familiarity, cannot fail to suggest an interesting subject of speculation to those who reflect on the circumstances with due attention. What I allude to is, that a mimic, without consulting a mirror, know by a sort of consciousness or internal feeling, the moment when he has hit upon the resemblance he wishes to exhibit. This phenomenon (which has always appeared to me an extremely curious and important one) seems to be altogether inexplicable, unless we suppose, that, when the muscles of the mimic's face are so modified as to produce the desired combination of features, he is conscious, in some degree, of the same feeling or sensation which he had, when he first became acquainted with tue original appearance which he has been attempting to copy.
Nor is it the visible appearance alone of others, that we have a disposition to imitate. We copy instinctively the voices of our companions, their tones, their accents, and their modes of pronunciation. Hence that general similarity in point of air and manner, observable in all who associate habitually together, and which every man acquires in a greater or less degree; a similarity unheeded, perhaps, by those who witness it daily, and whose attention, accordingly, is more forcibly called to the nicer shades by which individuals are discriminated from each other; but which catches the eye of every stranger with incomparably greater force than the specific peculiarities which, to a closer observer, mark the endless varieties of human character.
The influence of this principle of imitation on the outward appearance is much more extensive than we are commonly disposed to suspect. It operates, indeed, chiefly on the air and movements, without producing any very striking effect on the material form in its quiescent state. So difficult, however, is it to abstract this form from its habitual accompaniments, that the members of the same community, by being accustomed to associate from their infancy in the intercourse of private life, appear, to a careless observer, to bear a much closer resemblance to each other than they do in reality; while, on the other hand, the physical diversities which are .eharacteristical of different nations, are, in his estimation, proportionably magnified.
The important effects of the same principle, when considered in relation to our moral constitution, will afterwards appear. At present, I shall only remark, that the reflection which Shakapeare puts into the mouth of Falstaff, with respect to the manners of Justice Shallow and his attendants, and which Sir John expresses with all the precision of a philosophical observer, and all the dignity of a moralist, may be extended to the most serious concerns of human life. "It is a wonderful thing "to see the semblable coherence of his men's spirits and his: they, by observing of him, do bear themselves like foolish justices; he, by convening with them, isturned into a justice-like serving-man. Their spirits are so married in conjunction, with the participation of society, that they flock together in concert, like so many wild geese. is certain, that either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another; therefore let men take heed to their company."

In Buffon. Natural History, there is a passage from which one would be apt to conclude, at first sight, that he had in view the distinction between the two different kinds of imitation which I have here attempted to point out; and that what he calls l'imitation machinale corresponde exactly to what I have called Sympathetic imitation. On a more attentive examination, however, it will be found that by this phrase he means nothing more than the cause which gives rise to the uniformity in the operations of instinct among animal of the same species; a cause which, according to Buffon, consist, merely in the uniformity of their organization; and which, therefore, can with no propriety be denominated Imitatian, without departing entirely from all the common meanings of that word.
"D'ailleurs Il faut distinguer deux sortes d'imitation, l'une réfléchie et sentie, et l'autre machinale et sans intention; la première acquise, et la seconde, pour ainsi dire, innée; l'une n'est que le résultat de l'instinct commun répandu dans l'espèce entière, et ne consiste que dans la similitude des mouvemens et des opérations de chaque individu, qui tous semblent être induits ou contraints à faire les mêmes choses; plus ils sont stupides, plus cette imitation tracèe dans l'espèce est parfaite : un mouton ne fait et ne fera jamais que ce qu'ont fait et font tous les autres moutons: la première cellule d'une abeille ressemble à la dernière; l'espèce entière n'a pas plus d'intelligence qu'un seul individu, et c'est en cela que consiste la différence de l'esprit et l'instinct; ainsi l'imitation naturelle n'est dans chaque espèce qu'un résultat de similitude, une nécessité d'autant moins intelligente et plus aveugle qu'elle est plus également repartie; l'autre imitation qu'on doit regarder comme artificielle, ne peut ni se répartir, ni se communiquer à l'espèce; elle n'appartient qu'à l'individu qui la reçoit, qui la possède sans pouvoir la donner; le perroquet le mieux instruit ne transmettra pas le talent de la parole à ses petits."
Buffon, Histoire Naturelle