Consider this question:

Do porn and other remotely perceived entertainments work because of Mirror Neurons?

This touches on a very controversial topic in Cog Sci, the idea of mirror neurons.

Many pop-science books and magazines sensationalize mirror neurons, due to their parsimonious explanation of complex phenomenon (such as autism). This makes them accessible to non-academics, who are often not aware that the debate has not been settled.

In particular, there are still fundamental questions about the function and scope of mirror neurons, in addition to whether they exist at all in humans (see Hickok, 2009 for a review).

As I see it, there are two possible responses:

1) Answer the question by highlighting this debate and suggest that the OP's question is currently unanswerable.

2) Answer the question by taking the OP's assumptions for granted (i.e., that mirror neurons exist).

Both answers are biased. Though I feel the first gives a better expose on the broader issue, it does not answer the OP's question. The second answers the OP's question, but ignores the controversy (or at the least, seems to side with the mirror neuron camp).

The best possible answer might be able to provide the opinion of both camps, though I feel I'm often ill-equipped to answer questions unbiasedly from a position that I do not support.

Is there a better solution?

Hickok, G. (2009). Eight Problems for the Mirror Neuron Theory of Action Understanding in Monkeys and Humans. J Cogn Neurosci, 21, 1229-1243.

1 Answer 1


Controversial topics seem fine to me. Pointing out problems with the Mirror Neuron theories is fine but it's not a complete answer unless the asker's point is disproven or otherwise rejected by a consensus of the scientific community.

However any time the asker appears to be harboring a flawed assumption (e.g. that mirror neurons are accepted as fact) we should correct any flawed or false assumptions. These assumptions should immediately be brough to the attention of the asker and other users of the site through comments (you can upvote such comments if you feel they are important to future readers).

This applies to answers too; if an answer makes a flawed assumption or is based on incorrect information, leave a comment correcting their statements. Consider downvoting a post as well if it appears the incorrect information is due to a lack of effort or respect on the poster's part.

Back to answers; Neuro Lingustic Programming has been brought up (another controversial theory) and we have thus far been able to answer those questions properly without disregarding the asker's question. This answer is a great example of answering the question and pointing out that the specific proposal the asker asks about has not been supported by evidence.

If the question were about something like Homeopathy in regards to treating mental disorders we could and should answer such a question stating that the specific theory has been discredited and, is not supported by the scientific community and generally disregards the laws of physics. Provide the evidence discrediting the theory or statement. In the case of Homeopathy we can make such statements with proper scientific rigor.

The jury's still out on Mirror Neurons (to the best of my knowledge) so we should answer those questions as we would any other, including correcting flawed assumptions of the asker.

  • 1
    +1 (though I would encourage questions on mirror neurons as an acceptable topic of scientific inquiry, and discourage NLP questions-- perhaps more suitable for skeptics.SE)
    – Jeff
    Feb 12, 2012 at 0:56
  • 1
    @Jeff Neuro Linguistic Programming has been more thoroughly discredited (and seems to reek much more strongly of pseudo-science). With pseudoscience and established claims, Skeptics is a better option. BTW remember NLP generally means Natural Language Processing, and the NLP tag on the site is used as such.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 12, 2012 at 1:01
  • yes, exactly my point. though I was using NLP simply as an abbreviation for the aforementioned "neuro-linguistic programming"-- not trying to cause confusion
    – Jeff
    Feb 12, 2012 at 1:07

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