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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."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-05
- Reviewer: Staff
Hickok, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, frames his book around a straightforward question: “How is it possible that a cell in the motor cortex of a monkey can provide the neural blueprint for human language, empathy, autism, and more?” His answer, presented with great clarity and detail, is equally straightforward: it can’t. Hickok balances his exploration of the hype surrounding the importance of mirror neurons with a careful analysis of the scientific literature, always attempting to ensure that conclusions are well supported by available data. In fact, he firmly believes that conclusions have far outpaced data. When he takes on the assertion that problems with mirror neurons are the cause of autism, he does not sugarcoat his finding that “the broken mirror hypothesis does not fare well in light of empirical facts.” He is equally confident that mirror neurons have not provided clues to the evolution of language, empathy, or theory of mind. Hickok’s skepticism toward the claims associated with mirror neurons began when he taught a course on the subject, and thanks to those origins his impressive handling of basic neuroscience makes a complex topic understandable to the general reader as he delves into cutting-edge science. (Aug.)