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Vivona, J.M. (2009). Response to Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(3):569-573.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(3):569-573

Response to Commentaries Related Papers

Jeanine M. Vivona

I am grateful to these esteemed colleagues for their thoughtful and thought-provoking commentaries on my paper, and for this opportunity to enter dialogue with them regarding an important concern of our field. I share with these commentators, among other things, an excitement for neuroscience and a belief that we can learn from brain studies in ways that enrich rather than impoverish psychoanalysis. For me, this requires respecting the limits as well as the potentials of the scientific data.

There is much to appreciate in these rich commentaries. I particularly enjoyed reading Olds's discussion of the problems with any assumed correspondence between brain activity and mental activity and Eagle, Gallese, and Migone's scholarly considerations of the role of emotional resonance and empathy in understanding the experience of the other. I will limit myself here to addressing two important overarching issues: (1) the distinction between “mirror neurons,” “the mirror neuron system,” and “mirror neuron and related systems” and (2) the bifurcation of “explicit inferential” and “automatic noninferential” processes of interpersonal understanding.

Mirror Neurons and Mirror Neuron Systems

I agree with the commentators that we need not restrict our thinking to neuroscience findings that are already well established, and that we can and should use emerging knowledge as “food for thought” (Eagle, Gallese, and Migone) until the “promissory notes” (Olds) of neuroscience are realized or defaulted. That said, I believe it is often unclear to readers of the psychoanalytic literature where a set of ideas from neuroscience falls on the epistemological continuum between “fact” and “theory.” Regarding discussions of the mirror neuron system, this lack of clarity sometimes comes from characteristics of the original papers, wherein authors may not discuss the relation of data to theory in ways that make its epistemological status clear, particularly but not exclusively to readers unschooled in neuroscience.

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