Neural wi-fi is a real thing that I didn't just make up. A group of Italian scientists discovered it accidentally in the 90s, and the psychologist Daniel Goleman has since given the term popularity. If you've ever felt sad after consoling a heartbroken friend, or pumped after talking with someone inspiring, that's neural wi-fi in action.
The discovery came about the way everything good comes about, with ice cream. A team at Parma University were mapping monkey brains to see how specific areas functioned. One day they noticed a cell — which had fired whenever a monkey moved its arm — was firing even though its arms were still. They realised that the monkey was watching a research assistant eat an ice cream cone, and its brain was replicating those movements. They had discovered mirror neurons.
As Goleman explains: “Mirror neurons are a kind of ‘neural wi-fi’ that monitors what is happening in other people. This system tracks their emotions, what movements they’re making, what they intend and it activates, in our brains, precisely the same brain areas as are active in the other person. This puts us on the same wavelength and it does it automatically, instantaneously and unconsciously.”
"In short, our brains are constantly reacting to the environment and literally changing based on the people around us."
We've known for a long time that hanging around with inspiring people who make us feel good is better for us than hanging around with shitty people who bring us down. Neural wi-fi is the science which proves that what we already knew was correct. It's a bit like the time scientists discovered that your cereal goes soggy when you pour milk on it, because you've poured milk on it.
Every interaction you have with another human being shapes both you and them in numerous ways, both emotional and biological. Goleman adds: "The brain-to-brain link allows our strongest relationships to shape us in ways as benign as whether we laugh at the same jokes or as profound as which genes are (or are not) activated in t-cells, the immune system’s foot soldiers in the constant battle against invading bacteria and viruses."
"Those ephemeral moments that emerge as we interact [...] take on deep consequence as we realise how, through their sum total, we create one another." We tend not to think about those "ephemeral moments" all that much. But each interaction we have, no matter how small, has an impact.
A lot of the articles I've read about neural wifi are using the knowledge to tell people how to become natural public speakers or great leaders. But I think we can use it to become great humans instead. Ruby Wax recently wrote a piece on Huffington Post where she said: "If your mind is at ease it affects the next person, which affects the room, then the neighbourhood, the town, the country and eventually the world. If each of us can hold back their trigger finger before impulsively reacting in anger it would benefit all mankind."
I know we're all too cynical these days to believe that simply being nice to those around us can change the whole world. But maybe we should at least give it a shot. We might start a chain of events that makes the world a better place to live, we might not. But at least we won't be complete assholes like everyone else.