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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own

Blakeslee, Sandra, and Matthew Blakeslee.  The Body Has a Mind of Its Own How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better.

 A fascinating look at the body and the brain! 

Peripersonal Space:  "Through a special mapping procedure, your brain annexes this space to your limbs and body, clothing you in it like an extended, ghostly skin."

This annexed space is not static, but rather expands and contracts.  "When you eat with a knife and fork, your peripersonal space grows to encompass them.  Brain cells that normally represent space no farther out than your fingertips expand their fields of awareness outward, along the length of each utensil, making them a part of you.  This is why you can directly experience the texture and shape of the food you are manipulating."

"Research now shows that your brain is teeming with body maps--maps of your body's surface, its musculature, its intentions, its potential for action, even a map that automatically tracks and emulates the actions and intentions of other people around you."

These maps are plastic and capable of change related to damage, experience, or practice.

One of my favorite chapters is "The Homunculus in the Game:  or, When Thinking is as Good as Doing."  Researchers discovered that "motor imagery practice led to nearly the same level of body map reorganization as physical practice.  As far as your motor cortex is concerned, executed and imagined movements are almost identical."

The chapter on "Plasticity Gone Awry" is equally intriguing and reveals the strange ways the body maps can be disordered producing physical behaviors like "yips," the dread of golfers.  These conditions are known as dystonias.

"Broken Body Maps" examines conditions such as alien hand, supernumerary limbs, fading limbs, and other strange disorders of perception.

In the chapter "The Bubble Around the Body," the authors mention that Wassily Kandinsky was a synesthete, and when he saw colors, he heard music.  "Kandinsky was capturing music on canvas.  Some synesthetes can 'hear' his music by looking at his paintings."  Wouldn't that be marvelous?  To see his paintings and hear his music?

I have so many passages highlighted in this book...conditions, names of scientists and researchers, various studies and their outcomes.  I found the book mostly accessible as it is written for the lay person and highly entertaining because the subject interests me profoundly.  Many of the studies and scientists have been mentioned in other "brain books" I've read, but each author approaches each study slightly differently, adding a little to my understanding.  The Blakeslees (mother and son) approach the studies in a unique manner that intertwines brain and body.


Nonfiction.  Neuroscience.  2007.  215 pages.


  1. You always read such interesting neuroscience books! I want to read some books about the mind this year; I feel like I hardly know anything about how the mind works. Even as little as scientists know about the brain, I know the tiniest possible fraction of that. :P

  2. Jenny - I loved the way this one explains the body maps. Things like the way culture shapes perception, the way East Asians and Westerners process visual scenes differently, the way damaged motor maps can be altered by motor imagery, that when blind people read Braille, their visual cortex lights up...just fascinating!

  3. This sounds really fascinating! There's so much about the brain that we don't understand or that we are only getting a glimpse of -- what a marvelous organ!

  4. Dorothy - It is almost like reading fantasy! How in the world can a 3 pound mass of grey matter do such amazing things? The brain IS marvelous organ!

  5. their visual cortex lights up...just fascinating!

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