Look Mom, No Paywall! My Mirror Neuron Article Available for Free!

For the time being, my most current academic article “Of Looking Glasses, Mirror Neurons, and Meaning” is available from Perspectives on Science for free, free, free! Meaning no paywall, so you don’t need access to a university library account to get a copy, nor do I have to send out individual PDFs to whoever may request a copy. Please, download away!

The article has a heavy dose of “social science vs. natural sciences,” and asks why do neural scientists need an expensive MRI machine to judge whether and how someone is thinking. The general idea of their “mirror neuron hypothesis” is that when you watch someone doing something, you can imagine what they are thinking—and that this can be observed on an expensive MRI machine. My argument is that sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have been doing this for a hundred years by simply watching people, and talking to them. Indeed, in my view this is in fact “grandmother knowledge,” meaning that it is something that your common-sensical grandmother knows.   But because grandmother does not have the patina of “science,” so for some reason the expensive MRI is more valid.

The irony I point out though does not have to do with your grandmother. Rather it is that in proposing the “mirror neuron” hypothesis based on MRI data first generated in the 1980s and 1990s, the hot-shot scientists bypassed the exact same metaphor from 1902. In 1902, Charles Cooley an economist/sociologist/social psychologist described his 2 year-old daughter’s “looking glass self,” and the fact that she imitates those she observes. He and his successors have spun off a substantial literature as a result, which continues to go unacknowledged in the scientific literature. Anyway, that is my argument—please download a comment if you agree or disagree. Dowload here (if you did not click above).

2 thoughts on “Look Mom, No Paywall! My Mirror Neuron Article Available for Free!

  1. Cooley gets a bad rap for not being “scientific” enough but I appreciate his work and perspective and taught him anyway. The theory of the Looking Glass Self was a favorite means for teaching younger adults micro sociology and social interaction. He might be too determinist for some but he resonated with students (who after all, are in the thick of it social interaction-wise).

  2. Tony

    Cooley underpins Goffman, and others who do indeed resonate very deeply with students. He is one of the first to insist that context and culture are key to understanding how we become who we are. Is that deterministic? Yep! All of sociology and anthropology are deterministic to some degree–isn’t it a big part of the point to understand otherwise unseeable relationships that, um, determine consequences?

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