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The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition Hardcover – August 18, 2014
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― Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate
"A devastating critique of one of the most oversold ideas in psychology."
― Gary Marcus, cognitive psychologist and author of the New York Times bestseller Guitar Zero
"This book is the scientific analog of a courtroom thriller: against long odds, the brilliant underdog logically, methodically, and with disarming grace and hard facts takes down his fashionable opponent―the ‘Mirror Neuron’ colossus, long the darling of the don’t-look-too-closely crew. Hickok does not leave us empty-handed, however, but outlines what an alternative to mirror theory might look like."
― Patricia Churchland, professor of philosophy emerita at the University of California, San Diego
"[Hickock’s] impressive handling of basic neuroscience makes a complex topic understandable to the general reader as he delves into cutting-edge science."
― Publishers Weekly
"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."
― Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (August 18, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393089614
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393089615
- Item Weight : 1.39 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #769,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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A good deal of our cognition is embodied in the sense that it's heavily dependent on sensory and motor activity. But we have many high-level thoughts that don't fit this model well, such as those we generate when we don't have sensory or motor interactions that are worth our attention (often misleading called a "resting state").
Humans probably have mirror neurons. They have some value in helping us imitate others. But that doesn't mean they have much affect on our ability to understand what we're imitating. Our ability to understand a dog wagging its tail isn't impaired by our inability to wag our tails. Parrots' ability to imitate our speech isn't very effective at helping them understand it.
Mirror neurons have also been used to promote the "broken mirror theory" of autism (with the suggestion that a malfunction related to mirror neurons impairs empathy). Hickok shows that the intense world hypothesis is more consistent with the available evidence.
The book clarified my understanding of the brain a bit. But most of it seems unimportant. I had sort of accepted mild versions of the mirror neuron and left-brain, right brain hype, but doing so didn't have any obvious effects on my other beliefs or my actions. It was only at the book's end (discussing autism) that I could see how the hype might matter.
Most of the ideas that he criticizes don't do much harm, because they wouldn't pay much rent if true. Identifying which neurons do what has negligible effect on how I model a person's mind unless I'm doing something unusual like brain surgery.
For me its greatest value lies in that it is exceptionally as a critique. It points to mirror neurons strengths as well as weaknesses throughout the book, and the way to the conclusion underplays nothing as far as this lay-reader can see.
Now that I have read the book, I know that the author is far from an anti-science crank dismissing a firm scientific fact. The author is a professor of cognitive science and has written a very scientific and understandable book. This book teaches you about the origins of the idea of mirror neurons at first. Then in a very coherent and well argued style the book reveals that mirror neurons have been taken up by many researchers as an explanation of brain functions for which there is little real evidence that the mirror neurons are the true basis. Indeed, the mirror neurons may not actually exist, but such functions may be parts of other areas in the brain. The book relentlessly undermines the claims of mirror neuron believers with well done experiments which always refer to the original findings of the first discoverers of mirror neurons. Essentially, you realize that mirror neurons have lost touch with reality and have been taken up as a magic bullet which explain things way beyond its explanatory basis.
This book is all good science and the way things should work. Science must always self correct and not run off in unfounded directions. This not the work of a crank at all but it is a great example of the scientific method at its best. Good science must always think about the foundations of its facts otherwise the facts become beliefs.
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.