“Top Chef” and Mirror Neurons

I’m an avid “Top Chef” watcher, as well as a fan of any other number of ridiculous shows on Bravo. I’m a little ashamed to admit that network has my number—on speed dial.

Last night the final three chefs, Stephanie, Lisa and Richard, were cooking the “meal of a lifetime” and trying to win $100,000. The show’s clear villain, Lisa, says to these other chefs, who are hunchbacked and squinting and sweating, something to the effect of: “You guys seem really stressed out.” And the other chefs say in low, beat-up voices, “Yup. I’m totally freaking.” And then she says, “I’m not. I’m totally fine.”

And I couldn’t figure out why this really torked me. But then today I read David Byrne’s journal entry on mirror neurons. He explains: “When we see another person performing an action or reacting in a certain way, and we feel like we are experiencing some of what they are feeling, it’s because — at least to some extent — the identical set of neurons fires in our brains.”

That’s also called empathy. Byrne goes on to talk about why mirror neurons are vital to audiences and performers and art, generally. It’s a good read.

Chef Lisa’s lameness stems from a lack of mirror neurons, I’m sure. Which is why I’m so glad Stephanie won, making her the first-ever female Top Chef.