Mark D. White
Over at Knowledge Problem, Lynne Kiesling talks about mirror neurons, Adam Smith, and her new paper on both, titled "Mirroring and the Sympathetic Process: Some Implications of Mirror Neuron Research for Sympathy and Institutions in Adam Smith":
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith asserts that humans have an innate interest in the fortunes of other people and desire for sympathy with others. Recent neuroscience research on mirror neurons has now provided evidence consistent with Smith’s assertion, suggesting that humans have an innate capability to understand the mental states of others at a neural level. This capability provides an important foundation for the Smithian sympathetic process, which has three components: sympathy as a synthesis of empathy with reason-based judgment, an external spectatorial perspective on the actions of others (and one’s own actions), and an innate imaginative capacity that enables an observer to imagine herself in the situation of the agent. This sympathetic process, and the neural framework that the mirror system appears to provide for it, predisposes individuals toward coordination of the expression of their emotions and of their actions. In Smith’s model this decentralized coordination leads to the emergence of social order, bolstered and reinforced by the emergence and evolution of informal and formal institutions grounded in the sympathetic process. This paper presents an argument that a sense of interconnectedness and the shared meaning of actions are essential foundations for the Smithian sympathetic process and the resulting decentralized coordination and emergent social order. The mirror neuron system appears to provide a neural framework for those capabilities.