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The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience Of Communication And Cognition Hardcover – Aug 19 2014

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton (Aug. 19 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393089614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393089615
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.8 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 621 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #169,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

Every now and again an idea from science escapes from the lab and takes on a life of its own as an explanation for all mysteries, a validation of our deepest yearnings, and irresistible bait for journalists and humanities scholars. Examples include relativity, uncertainty, incompleteness, punctuated equilibrium, plasticity, complexity, epigenetics, and, for much of the twenty-first century, mirror neurons. In this lively, accessible, and eminently sensible analysis, the distinguished cognitive neuroscientist Greg Hickok puts an end to this monkey business by showing that mirror neurons do not, in fact, explain language, empathy, society, and world peace. But this is not a negative exposé—the reader of this book will learn a great deal of the contemporary sciences of language, mind, and brain, and will find that the reality is more exciting than the mythology. — 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

Gregory Hickok is a professor of cognitive science at University of California, Irvine, where he directs the Center for Language Science and the Auditory and Language Neuroscience Lab.


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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hickok makes a convincing argument that the wildly popular mirror neuron theories are wrong. This is a hardcore scientific book that discusses and references the original peer-reviewed literature, not some popular-science easy-reading stuff. An absolute must-read for professionals who have been captured by the mirror neuron meme, and a recommended read for everyone who is seriously interested in how the brain works.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is not what I expected.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d0f41ec) out of 5 stars 18 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cf8b840) out of 5 stars Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the best theory of them all? Sept. 6 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.
47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0090078) out of 5 stars How the latest research in neuroscience can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively Aug. 18 2014
By Robert Morris - 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 and sociopathic behavior?
o In a robotic arm situation, what is the significance of the fact 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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cbed828) out of 5 stars Scientific method at its best Oct. 14 2014
By sully - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I first saw the title of this book, I was taken aback. I had read various books written by science writers and researchers on various topics from consciousness, the sense of self, autism and even psychopathy and all of them had treated mirror neurons as firm established scientific fact. These authors then used mirror neurons to explain aspects of their subjects. Then I see this book entitled; "The Myth of Mirror Neurons", and figured it was written by a type of anti-scientific crank and was curious.
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.
63 of 80 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccdd1ec) out of 5 stars The New Mirror Neuron Myth Oct. 17 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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccbcc84) out of 5 stars Interesting Take on Both Science and Mirror Neurons Sept. 16 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.


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