Mirroring People

Marco Iacoboni, Mirroring People. I found out about this book through Charles Mudede's review of it. Actually, I didn't read the whole review. I read the first sentence. Halfway through the second sentence, I had already ordered the book from Amazon. Yep, it's an interesting book.

Lakoff and Johnson's 1999 book Philosophy in the Flesh persuades that a philosophy of mind should be motivated by our knowledge of cognitive science and neurology. That is, what we believe about minds should be consistent with what we know about brains.

Iacoboni's work on mirror neurons, described in his book, thus provides a new foundation on which to address critical philosophical questions. What does one person really know about another? How do we know that we understand another person, or have been understood? In mirror neurons, Iacoboni and his collaborators have uncovered the specific neurological machinery by which we comprehend and imitate the actions of others, and by which we empathize.

The answer is fascinating and unexpected: when we perceive an action by others, we experience the action as if we had performed it ourselves. In a real and visceral sense, we empathize with others by experiencing what they experince. We are far less trapped in our own brains than was once thought. Specific neurological mechanisms allow us to understand the actions and emotional states of others as if they were our own. Iacoboni shows us a world far less lonely than almost anyone has ever imagined.

Good Name for a Band

One of my guilty pleasures is taking the news commentarium as an I Ching of names for popular music acts. Here are new arrivals:

Amish Mantle David Eugene Edwards' hot new Pennsylvania-based band.
Blago Midwestern power punk.
Trample Mart Thrash metal with a pop edge.


Why is Sex Fun?

Jared Diamond, Why is Sex Fun? My friend Heather Holmback loaned me this book, after a typically interesting discussion. (Aki and Heather are old friends, and used to work together.)

In this case, the discussion was on the evolutionary value of menopause, a phenomenon (nearly) unique to humans. Diamond raises and dismisses some typical arguments that don't make much sense, then advances the one widely-heard argument he (and FWIW I) find sensible: by skipping the last child or two, old women can help raise their grandchildren, and do more to ultimately increase their genes' survival than would a risky pregnancy. Grandmothers help not just with childcare: in some traditional societies such as the Hadza of Tanzania, grandmothers are the most economically productive people.

But then Diamond raises an argument of his own, a very interesting argument at the heart of Heather and my discussion: in traditional societies, old people are the library people turn to in times of crisis.
Any human societies that included individuals old enough to remember the last event like a [hurricane] had a better chance of surviving than did societies without such old people.... At times of crisis... prior death of such an older woman also tended to eliminate all of her surviving relatives from the gene pool.... The importance to society of the memories of old women is what I see as a major driving force behind the evolution of human female menopause.

The book is about a good deal more than menopause. And, like sex, the book is also fun. Thanks for loaning it to me, Heather. I'll have it back to you real soon now.