Farrar, Strauss and Giroux 2008
What do we human beings do all day long? We read the world, especially the people we encounter.
For centuries, philosophers scratched their heads over human‘s ability to understand one another. Their befuddlement is reasonable: they had essentially no science to work with. For the past 150 years or so, psychologists, cognitive scientist, and neuroscientists have had some science to work with - and in the past 50 years, a lot of science - and for a long time they continued to scratch their heads. No one could begin to explain how it is that we know what others are doing, thinking, and feeling.
Now we can. We achieve our very subtle understanding of other people thanks to certain collections of special cells in the brain called the mirror neurons. These are the tiny miracles that get us through the day. They are the heart of how we navigate through our lives. They bind us with each other, mentally and emotionally.
Mirror neurons undoubtedly provide, for the first time in history, a plausible neurophysiological explanation for complex forms of social cognition and interaction. By helping us to recognize the actions of other people, mirror neurons also help us to recognize and understand the deepest motives behind those actions, the intentions of other individuals.
page 26 We humans, however, do pantomime, and indeed our mirror neurons areas are activated by more abstract actions than are those of the monkeys. The several evolutionary steps dividing monkeys from humans can easily account for such difference. A subject for future discussion will be the theory by computational neuroscientists Michael Arbib that mirror neurons at key precursors of a neural systems for language. He proposes that pantomime plays a critical role in the evolutionary progression from the relatively simple mirror neuron system in monkeys to the much more sophisticated neural system that supports the high level of abstraction in human language.
page 91 The fact that the major language area of the human brain is also critical area for imitation and contains mirror neurons offers a new view of language and cognition in general.