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The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition [Hardcover]

Gregory Hickok
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

12 Sep 2014
In 1992, a group of neuroscientists from Parma, Italy, reported a new class of brain cells discovered in the motor cortex of the macaque monkey. These cells, later dubbed mirror neurons, responded equally well during the monkey s own motor actions, such as grabbing an object, and while the monkey watched someone else perform similar motor actions. Researchers speculated that the neurons allowed the monkey to understand others by simulating their actions in its own brain. Mirror neurons soon jumped species and took human neuroscience and psychology by storm. In the late 1990s theorists showed how the cells provided an elegantly simple new way to explain the evolution of language, the development of human empathy, and the neural foundation of autism. In the years that followed, a stream of scientific studies implicated mirror neurons in everything from schizophrenia and drug abuse to sexual orientation and contagious yawning. In The Myth of Mirror Neurons, neuroscientist Gregory Hickok reexamines the mirror neuron story and finds that it is built on a tenuous foundation a pair of codependent assumptions about mirror neuron activity and human understanding. Drawing on a broad range of observations from work on animal behavior, modern neuroimaging, neurological disorders, and more, Hickok argues that the foundational assumptions fall flat in light of the facts. He then explores alternative explanations of mirror neuron function while illuminating crucial questions about human cognition and brain function: Why do humans imitate so prodigiously? How different are the left and right hemispheres of the brain? Why do we have two visual systems? Do we need to be able to talk to understand speech? What s going wrong in autism? Can humans read minds? The Myth of Mirror Neurons not only delivers an instructive tale about the course of scientific progress from discovery to theory to revision but also provides deep insights into the organization and function of the human brain and the nature of communication and cognition."

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (12 Sep 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393089614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393089615
  • Product Dimensions: 24.8 x 15.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

A bold look at one of the most exciting theories in neuroscience [and] an inspiring example of experimental science at work: The initial theory of mirror neurons may have had a false start, but it inspired an even more complex and interesting story that is just beginning to unfold. "

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I begin with an unconventional suggestion: Read Appendix A, "A Primer on Brain Organization," first; then proceed through Gregory Hickok's lively and eloquent as well as insightful narrative. I wish I had when I first read this book.

* * *

In the Preface, Hickok quotes this passage from V.S. Razmachandran's conversation (in 2000) with John Brockman, featured by Edge.org: "I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide the unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." Fourteen years later, in this book Hickok share revelations from recent research in neuroscience that can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively. Several of these breakthroughs occurred during research on pigtail macaque monkeys. Hickok suggests that the behavior of mirror neurons is modest, at least in the context of the human abilities they are claimed to enable...Mirror neurons are no longer the rock stars of neuroscience and psychology that they once were and, in my view, a more complex and interesting story is gaining favor regarding the neuroscience of communication and cognition"

In other words, the real neuroscience of communication and cognition repudiates and invalidates the myth of mirror neurons.

I very much admire the energy of his analysis and circumspection of his perspective. These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me that Hickok discusses with rigor and, when appropriate, restraint:

o Assuming that humans have mirror neurons, what are their primary functions and limitations? What differentiates them from mirror neurons of a macaque monkey?
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the latest research in neuroscience can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively 18 Aug 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I begin with an unconventional suggestion: Read Appendix A, "A Primer on Brain Organization," first; then proceed through Gregory Hickok's lively and eloquent as well as insightful narrative. I wish I had when I first read this book.

* * *

In the Preface, Hickok quotes this passage from V.S. Razmachandran's conversation (in 2000) with John Brockman, featured by Edge.org: "I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide the unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." Fourteen years later, in this book Hickok share revelations from recent research in neuroscience that can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively. Several of these breakthroughs occurred during research on pigtail macaque monkeys. Hickok suggests that the behavior of mirror neurons is modest, at least in the context of the human abilities they are claimed to enable...Mirror neurons are no longer the rock stars of neuroscience and psychology that they once were and, in my view, a more complex and interesting story is gaining favor regarding the neuroscience of communication and cognition"

In other words, the real neuroscience of communication and cognition repudiates and invalidates the myth of mirror neurons.

I very much admire the energy of his analysis and circumspection of his perspective. These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me that Hickok discusses with rigor and, when appropriate, restraint:

o Assuming that humans have mirror neurons, what are their primary functions and limitations? What differentiates them from mirror neurons of a macaque monkey?
o For example, to what extent do they "unlock the secrets of language, mind reading, empathy, and autism"?
o What is the Parma Theory and why is it significant?
o What are the most significant anomalies in the search for mirror neurons in humans?
o What does each of these anomalies suggest? So what?
o What are the defining characteristics and primary functions of a "talking brain"?
o What is an embodied brain"? What is its relevance to "the real neuroscience of communication and cognition"?o What are the core principles of a neural base of action understanding?
o Why and how is imitation "at the core, the very foundation of what it means to be human both culturally and socially"?
o Why do humans "ape better than apes ape"?
o To what extent (if any) is there a causal link between autism? Between autism and sociopathic behavior?
o In a robotic arm situation, what is the significance of the fact that that the brain "models or predicts the current and future state of the limb internally using motor commands themselves rather than sensory feedback alone"?
o To what extent will mirror neurons have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition"?

Although to the extent possible, Hickok presents the material in language that non-scientists such as I can understand, this was by no means an "easy read" and I plan to re-read it again in a few weeks, first re-reading the two appendices: "A Primer on Brain Organization" and "Cognitive Neuroscience Toolbox." (I wish I had done so the first time around.) Brilliantly, they frame the issues and ambiguities that are discussed with consummate skill.

I agree with Gregory Hickok: "Placed in the context of a more balanced and complex structure, mirror neurons will no doubt have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition." So much more research in neuroscience remains to be conducted and evaluated. I am grateful to anyone who increases my understanding of "mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." In other words, I am grateful for whatever helps me to gain a better understanding of myself.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of the subject and solid arguments to support his view. 12 Sep 2014
By Ron Porter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very engaging overview of mirror neurons and their role. As made clear by the title, the author contends that mirror neurons are not the foundation of understanding the motivations of others or learning new skills. He makes a solid argument that seems to give fair consideration of the opposing view.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the best theory of them all? 6 Sep 2014
By The Professor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This was a fantastic read. Mirror neurons have been a hot topic in neuroscience the past decade or so. Discussions of mirror neurons and theories around them are often presented as far more certain than the evidence really allows for, and this book is a great antidote to that. On top of that, this book features fantastic discussions of language and embodied cognition. It is written in a very easy to follow way, but the discussion is analytically rigorous. For the layman outside of the world of neuropsychology it features an appendix at the back to prime you on brain anatomy.

I would highly recommend this, especially those interested in social behavior and/or language.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Take on Both Science and Mirror Neurons 16 Sep 2014
By Book Fanatic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While the subject of the book is mirror neurons and you get an good explanation of claims being made for them as well as the evidence or lack thereof for such claims, you also get a nice example of how science works. I was interested in the book because I have heard so much about mirror neurons and I wanted to understand what they were really all about. However, I found myself drawn to the author's contrary view which is very well articulated and argued.

I think people interested in the brain and science in general will enjoy this book, but if the idea of a book about a very specific topic within neuroscience doesn't sound appealing, you probably aren't going to like it. Otherwise I easily recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The New Mirror Neuron Myth 17 Oct 2014
By Wayne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
And now for a research neuroscientist's academic review of pertinent literature, rather than a cognitive scientist's bias: (although he raises many excellent caveats)

The book you should be reading--

"The discovery of mirror neurons has had a profound effect on the field of social cognition. Here we have reviewed what is currently known about mirror neurons in the different cortical areas in which they have been described. There is now evidence that mirror neurons are present throughout the motor system, including ventral and dorsal premotor cortices and primary motor cortex, as well as being present in different regions of the parietal cortex. The functional role(s) of mirror neurons and whether mirror neurons arise as a result of a functional adaptation and/or of associative learning during development are important questions that still remain to be solved. In answering these questions we will need to know more about the connectivity of mirror neurons and their comparative biology across different species."
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898692/)
"What We Know Currently about Mirror Neurons"
J.M. Kilner and R.N. Lemon, Curr Biol. Dec 2, 2013; 23(23)

Hickock does well to argue for a complete picture when it comes to mirror neurons, including the contiributory role of the sensorimotor system. His outcome however is not to integrate mirror neurons into a bigger picture (what role does he ascribe to mirror neurons if he is being genuinely constructive) but to argue for the primacy of the sensorimotor system to the exclusion of the role of mirror neurons. This exclusionary viewpoint is divisive and not in the scientific mode of Kilner and Lemon.
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