News and brain candy for the philosophy community
One might expect that in order for oneself to enjoy the pleasure and reward of smoking, one must be the person in question that is smoking a cigarette. Merely watching another person smoke keeps us as far away from the felt experience of nicotine as the distance between self and other. Necessarily, I cannot experience your experience (even if I choose to join you in a smoke).
Or up to a point. As The Journal of Neuroscience reports, researchers have discovered that (right-handed) smokers, when watching a (right-handed) smoker puff away in a film or television, undergo excitement in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, in addition to those motor areas that execute the pinching and lighting of a cigarette. Meaning that the smoker does not merely experience a strong urge or desire to smoke at viewing another smoker; but the smoker also partially occupies the neurological state of having a cigarette herself.
Perhaps as we might expect, non-smokers exhibited no such brain activations.
Mirroring is a compelling and interesting aspect of how our brains work to realize self-other sympathies, and one can feel tempted to consider the possibility that mirroring may weaken the notion that experiences are individuated by their owners. But then we also know that the smoker is keenly aware that she is not smoking during the film, so that the activation of neurons in the pleasure and reward areas of the brain are open to interpretation.
We might also wonder whether the demonstration that smokers have a richer first-person experience of smoking scenes in films and television provides us with an example of how different patterns of habituation can result in divergent qualitative experiences of the same picture or scene. Smokers do not merely interpret smoking scenes differently, but their first-person qualitative experience contains features that are absent in the experiences of non-smokers. Perhaps this explains why the film Coffee and Cigarettes either enthrals or bores its viewers.
John also writes on the phenomenology of eating at his blog: Consider The Bitter Gourd