"Empathy, Mirror Neurons, and Imitation"

On September 29, 2010, Dr. Ken Aizawa will be present "Empathy, Mirror Neurons, and Imitation" as part of the Cognitive Science Seminar Series on "Other Minds" at the University of Memphis. The Seminar is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and the Institute for Intelligent Systems.


Philosophers and psychologists have recently been exploring the hypothesis that humans recognize the minds of others by a method called “empathy,” wherein a person understands another by imitating what it is like to be that other person. The recent discovery of mirror neurons has widely been taken to support this view. Mirror neurons are active both when a person performs a particular act and when a person sees another person performing the same act (hence the “mirroring” of the neurons). This talk will focus on two popular types of theories of the imitation involved in empathy. Vittorio Gallese has argued for what I will call “bodily imitation” in which empathy requires the empathizer to go through the bodily motions of the empathized. (This view of the perception of other minds is closely associated with certain views of the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.) By contrast, I will suggest that experimental results with neuromuscular blockade (in conjunction with the work on mirror neurons) at most support “mental imitation” in which empathy requires only that the empathizer think through the bodily motions of the empathized.

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