Russ Roberts Hosts this episode of EconTalk with guest Eric Jacobus. Jacobus is a stuntman, actor, and martial artist who also produces action code for movies and video games. In this wide-ranging conversation, Roberts and Jacobus talk about mirror neurons, violence, and the difference between animals and humans when it comes to violence.
Let’s hear what You think. Leave your thoughts on the prompts below in the comments, or use them to start a conversation of your own offline. We are there for that !
1- Roberts and Jacobus discuss the stark contrast in violent escalation between humans and animals. Animals avoid escalation and killing, as Roberts defines violence between animals as theatrical, where animals attempt to establish dominance instead of killing each other. Roberts and Jacobus discuss the idea of addressing intentions where humans have used “tools” to aid them in violent acts.
Along with the reality of accessible weapons, why are humans quicker to escalate violence than animals? Why might someone who consumes more violent media or just media content in general be indifferent or extremely concerned about the threat of violence?
2- Both humans and animals have mirror neurons, which dictate our conclusions about other people’s intentions before we can even think about them. Quoting Jacobus, we “virtualize everything”.
What everyday motor actions do you find difficult to anthropomorphize and virtualize to make accurate, instantaneous judgments about the intentions of others? Outside of Jacobus and Roberts’ discussion of Muhammad Ali, who can you think of who is a master of “virtualizing” the motor functions of others for their own benefit?
3- Jacobus and Roberts refer to the link between virtualization and advertisementwhere the media can play with the sensors of mirror neurons in humans to attract or manipulate their attention.
How does imagery in political ads use mirror neuron stimulants? Can you think of examples where the media uses mirror neuron stimulants unethically?
4- Roberts and Jacobus emphasize Adam Smiththe concept of moral feelings as being thelogically adjacent to the idea of mirror neurons.
How does the concept of virtualization relate to Adam Smith’s conception of moral feelings and the natural feeling of empathy that people have for each other? What do you think about the accuracy of mirror neurons over time? how do they develop in us?
5- Roberts talks about his revulsion towards more realistic violence in the media, which can evoke depression in viewers; instead, he prefers stylized violence like in Jackie Chan movies.
Why is realistic, brutal violence so popular in shows and movies today? What could this have to do with Roberts’ assertion about the darker parts of ourselves as humans? Can humans confront and temper the parts of ourselves that we hide vicariously through fictional characters or public figures? How does media violence contribute to humans’ enduring propensity to escalate violence in open conflict without external rules?
Brennan Beausir is a student at Wabash College studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics and is a 2023 Liberty Fund Summer Fellow.