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Editor's note: This chapter from A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert A. Burton (Saint Martin’s Press, April 23, 2013) relates that one of the most-heralded developments in neuroscience in recent years—the discovery of “mind reading” mirror neurons—fails to live up to the assertions of some researchers that these brain cells afford profound insights into the intentions of another individual.
Excerpted from A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us about Ourselves,by Robert A. Burton. Copyright © 2013. Available from Saint Martin’s Press.
Talking in Tongues
The original is unfaithful to the translation.
—Jorge Luis Borges, concerning the
Vathek, by William Beckford
The recent surge in the public interest in neuroscience is largely driven by the hope that scientific investigation can provide us with a better understanding of human nature than previous psychology-based theories. But the basic language of present-day neuroscience can’t provide this understanding.
It does us no good to know, as described in a recent journal article, that a person is experiencing “increased activity in regions of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the supplemental motor area, anterior insula, posterior insula/somatosensory cortex, and periaqueductal gray and that the temporo-parietal junction, the paracingulate, orbital medial frontal cortices and amygdala were additionally recruited, and increased the connectivity with the frontal parietal network.”