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Eagle, M.N. Gallese, V. Migone, P. (2009). Mirror Neurons and Mind: Commentary on Vivona. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(3):559-568.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(3):559-568

Mirror Neurons and Mind: Commentary on Vivona Related Papers

Morris N. Eagle, Vittorio Gallese and Paolo Migone

In addition to its substantive contributions, Jeanine Vivona's “Leaping from Brain to Mind” provides a valuable service in cautioning us against uncritical attitudes toward neuroscience findings and perhaps overhasty application of these findings to the psychoanalytic situation. Although she is critical of our 2007 paper (Gallese, Eagle, and Migone), there is much in her paper with which we would agree. For example, we agree that the premature or simplistic importation of neuroscience findings into psychoanalysis is ill-advised and only pseudoscientific. We are also in accord with Vivona's challenge to any view that maintains that neuroscience necessarily offers empirical evidence that can be applied directly to psychoanalytic theory or practice. Indeed, we would take the general position that neuroscientific data are not necessarily more onto-logically privileged than reports of experience. As Searle (1992) has repeatedly maintained, subjective experience is as much a natural part of the world as neuronal processes.

Having stated our general areas of agreement, let us take a closer look at Vivona's arguments. Although our focus will be on her critique of our paper, we will also comment on other aspects of her paper. We turn to her specific arguments.

1.   Vivona maintains that “mirror neurons have not been identified in the human brain.”As she notes in the same paragraph, however, “studies of human brain functioning … yield findings consistent with the operation of a motor resonance or mirroring system in humans roughly analogous to the operation of mirror neurons in the macaque monkey” (p. 5). Further, there is evidence of a mirror neuron system in humans in the premotor and posterior parietal areas (Rizzolatti, Fogassi, and Gallese 2001; Gallese 2006; Buccino et al. 2001).

2.   Vivona states that recent “discussions can leave the impression that mirror neuron research offers empirical data with which we can test psychoanalytic hypotheses …” (p. 527; emphasis added).

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