The Diverging Force of Imitation: Integrating Cognitive Science and Hermeneutics

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