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Mirror Neurons, Embodied Simulation and Aesthetic Experience, April 24

George Chauncey

The Italian Academy proudly presents Vittorio Gallese in the lecture “Mirror Neurons, Embodied Simulation and Aesthetic Experience” on Tuesday, April 24 at 6:00 p.m. in the academy's teatro. Gallese is one of the discoverers of mirror neurons. The importance of this discovery, made along with Giacomo Rizzolatti and colleagues at the University of Parma, has created tremendous excitement in the field of the neurosciences and in areas ranging from the humanities to the social sciences.

In a much-heralded study, motor neurons, located in the pre-motor cortex of the brain, were shown to fire both when a monkey performs an action and when it observes another animal performing that same action. Mirror systems have subsequently been discovered in the human brain as well, casting light on the empathetic understanding of action and touch. The discovery has strengthened hope for a deeper understanding of language, empathy, autism and the intentions and goals of others. Mirror neurons are also being studied in the field of theory of mind.

Gallese has continued to build on that initial research, broadening our understanding of social interactions and the variety of embodied responses that underlie our understanding of others. His work on embodied simulation and the felt imitation of observed actions also raises important questions about the making and experience of art, as he will discuss in this lecture.

Respondents to Gallese’s lecture will be David Freedberg, author of The Power of Images, professor of art history at Columbia and director of the Italian Academy, and Kevin Ochsner, a leading expert on the cognitive control of emotions and associate professor of psychology at Columbia.

The Italian Academy is located at 1161 Amsterdam Ave., between 116th and 118th Streets. The lecture is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to wb2149@columbia.edu.

Gallese is a professor of human physiology at the University of Parma, where he teaches cardiovascular physiology and neurophysiology in the School of Medicine. He also teaches neuroscience in the graduate program in philosophy of mind at the University of Bologna. His main research interests lie in the relationship between action perception and cognition and in developing an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the embodied bases of inter-subjectivity and social cognition. Current research projects include the study of: the phylogeny of intentional behavior in nonhuman primates and its ontogeny in normal and autistic children; the mechanisms enabling the human capacity to understand the emotions and sensations of others and how these capacities may be altered in autism and schizophrenia; and the role of the sensory-motor system in understanding language.

Published: Apr 20, 2007
Last modified: Apr 20, 2007