The Myth of Mirror Neurons

  • by Gregory Hickok
  • Narrated by Eric Martin
  • 10 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An essential reconsideration of one of the most far-reaching theories in modern neuroscience and psychology.
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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Something to offend all mirror neuronscientist

You get two things with this book. You get an incredible interesting exposition on the workings of the mind (consciousness) and a narrative that ties that story together by showing how mirror neurons almost certainly aren't what you thought they were.

The author does not reject the existence of mirror neurons in humans, but he does poke holes in most of what you probably have been told about them in a host of other books and articles. He gives very nuanced arguments to how the available data doesn't always mean what mirror neuron experts say they do. The author is an expert in the understanding of how we communicate. He'll delve into the "motor theory of speech" and how that deservedly fell out of disrepute over time and was resurrected only because that gave mirror neurons such a central role. The results of various experiments supporting that hypothesis are not always best explained by the ways mirror neuron advocates claim and sometimes they ignore the better explanations.

This is a real strength of the book. While showing how better explanations for the experiments and data are available which don't excessively rely on mirror neurons the author never shies way from educating the listener on the embodied processes of thinking.

I love neuroscience and books about the workings of the mind and human behavior. While reading such books, mirror neurons kept popping up in sections of those books, but over time, I started to realize that the advocates for the magical workings of the mirror neurons did not always make sense and there seemed to be better explanations available. This book tells me why my caution radar was beeping.

I'm sure a lot of experts in the field probably hate this book, but I can recommend this book because it will teach the listener to be cautious about mirror neuron claims, and help the listener learn a little bit more about the way the brain works without overwhelming the listener with too many names of brain parts which I only end up forgetting.
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- Gary

Refreshing and Rare Science

Brilliant overview and analysis of the science and literature regarding the mirror neuron debate. I enjoyed very much.
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- Benjamin Davidson

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-18-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios