The diverging force of imitation. Integrating cognitive science and hermeneutics

Review of General Psychology 12 (2):127-136 (2008)
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Abstract

Recent research on infant and animal imitation and on mirror neuron systems has
brought imitation back in focus in psychology and cognitive science. This topic has
always been important for philosophical hermeneutics as well, focusing on theory and
method of understanding. Unfortunately, relations between the scientific and the
hermeneutic approaches to imitation and understanding have scarcely been investigated,
to the loss of both disciplines. In contrast to the cognitive scientific emphasis on
sharing and convergence of representations, the hermeneutic analysis emphasizes the
indeterminacy and openness of action understanding due to preunderstanding, action
configuration, and the processual nature of understanding. This article discusses empirical
evidence in support of these aspects and concludes that hermeneutics can
contribute to the scientific investigation of imitation and understanding. Since, conversely,
some grounding—and constraining—aspects of hermeneutics may be derived
from cognitive science, both should be integrated in a multilevel explanation of
imitation and understanding. This holds also for explanations that are largely based on
mirror neuron systems, since these appear to be sensitive to developmental and
experiential factors, too

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Machiel Keestra
University of Amsterdam

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