Graduate Student Profile: Benjamin Hole
The Cognitive Science Society Conference is not where you would expect to find a philosophy graduate student whose dissertation is on the intersection of ancient philosophy and ethical theory. However, that is where UW philosophy graduate student Benjamin Hole was presenting his paper "Mirror Neurons and Simulation-Based, Low Level Mind Reading". Ben also presented this paper for "Knowing-How and Knowing-That" a project sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, in Bonn, Germany, which studies cognitive abilities of biological and artificial systems. His research is on mirror neurons, which are nerve cells, that fire when a person does something and when a person observes the same action being done by another. Since mirror neurons were discovered in the 1990's, some philosophers of mind have been using mirror neurons to support simulation-theory, which is based on one's ability to understand another person's mental state because we empathize with that person by imagining ourselves in their "shoes". Benjamin argued that mirror neurons support "theory-theory". His paper argues that mirror neurons fire because you are developing reasons why someone has an intention, and are creating a fuller explanation of folk psychological laws about how other minds work.
As a result of Benjamin's work on mirror neurons he received a paper award and was invited to be part of "Knowing-How and Knowing-That" research project at Universität Bonn, Germany. He also received an International Travel Grant and Paper Award from the Association for Scientific Study of Consciousness for their meeting at Kyoto University. Unfortunately he had to decline this award due to travel difficulties caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.