Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better

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Overview

Why do you still feel fat after losing weight? Why do you duck your head when you drive into an underground parking garage? Why are your kids so enthralled by video games?

The answers to these questions can be found in a new understanding of how your brain interacts with your body, the space around your body, and the social world. Every point on your body, each internal organ, and every point in space out to the end of your fingertips is mapped inside your brain. Your ability to...

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Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better

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Overview

Why do you still feel fat after losing weight? Why do you duck your head when you drive into an underground parking garage? Why are your kids so enthralled by video games?

The answers to these questions can be found in a new understanding of how your brain interacts with your body, the space around your body, and the social world. Every point on your body, each internal organ, and every point in space out to the end of your fingertips is mapped inside your brain. Your ability to sense, move, and act in the physical world arises from a rich network of flexible body maps distributed throughout your brain.

The science of body maps has far-reaching applications. It can help people lose weight, improve their ability to play a sport, or assist recovery from stroke. It points the way to new treatments for anorexia and phantom limbs. It helps explain out-of-body experiences, auras, placebos, and healing touch. It provides a new way to understand human emotions from love to hate, lust to disgust, pride to humiliation.

With scientific discoveries from every corner of the globe, Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee have written a compelling narrative that is positively mind-bending and that will appeal to readers of Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

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Editorial Reviews

Wray Herbert
…captivating exploration of the brain's uncanny ability to map the world. The discovery of mirror neurons, while fortuitous, was actually the culmination of decades of painstaking scientific inquiry in dozens of brain laboratories around the world, and the authors take us into those labs to watch this important scientific tale unfold. They also take us on a tour through the squishy gray matter that embodies our sense of self and otherness…The authors have essayed some difficult terrain here and, for the most part, with clarity. They know the inner workings of both the scientific laboratory and the brain and wisely keep their heady subject matter anchored in those worlds. Readers will emerge with a far keener sense of where they are.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

What do "golfer's yips," the ability to see auras and the hypnotic appeal of video games all have in common? Each arises from the brain's body map. New York Timesscience contributor Sandra Blakeslee and her son, science writer Matthew Blakeslee, begin with a quick overview of the sense of touch. According to the Blakeslees, body maps are created by the brain, using touch, to spell out the brain's experience of the body and the space around it. These maps expand and contract to include objects such as clothing, tools or even your car. Some of the more interesting subjects the Blakeslees cover include muscle tone disorders, phantom limb sensations in amputees and the inaccurate body images associated with anorexia. Sketches and sidebars explore topics in more detail, while a glossary explains technical terms. With its breezy "this is so cool" style, this entertaining book will appeal to readers who prefer their science lighthearted and low-key. (Sept. 11)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The authors, who bill themselves as "the world's first mother-son neuroscience writing team," here explore the "body mandala"-the sets of cells scattered throughout the brain that register touch perception and allow us to construct a sense of our body and its movement through space. This sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact malfunctions of this body-mapping system have been implicated in such esoteric conditions as "golfer's yips," out-of-body experiences, and autism. It also appears that body maps can expand, as when people act as if their hat is part of their head and duck in low doorways or when we flinch when a loved one is hurt. Engaging without being simplistic, this is the only title devoted to body mapping for a nonspecialist audience (other books touch on the topic in their discussions of broader subjects). An excellent choice for most public and undergraduate libraries.
—Mary Ann Hughes

Kirkus Reviews
Two seasoned science writers enthuse about some new wrinkles in neuroscience, and ways you can benefit from the findings. The wrinkles are literally those folds of neuron-rich cortex that cover the brain. Back in the 1930s, neurosurgeons charted the primary somatosensory and motor cortices, strips of brain tissue that map points on your body to points on the strip in an orderly way-brain cells receiving signals from your hand lie next to cells receiving signals from your wrist, and so on. The sensory cortex tells you where you have been touched; the motor cortex indicates which body parts you move. Each is part of larger integrated circuits that feed forward and back to create perceptions, actions and emotions, to build memories, etc. The key to these multiple anatomical layouts in the brain is plasticity: The brain maps can change, and you can help the process. One way is practice. Those maps in your finger areas can grow larger as you practice arpeggios or free throws. Evidence suggests that mental practice works too. The Blakeslees, a mother and son team, see potential reversals for stroke paralysis, but they also describe a host of weird body distortions that result from disease or brain injury. "Amputee wannabes," for example, seek to have body parts removed. Dieters who relapse may be stuck with a mismatch between their new, thin body map and their long-standing, fat body image. Curiously, the authors do not consider the role of hormones and neurochemicals. They are also cavalier in their discussion of pain, surely one of the most complex phenomena, and all too readily assume that belief explains why any and all forms of alternative medicine may work. Despite some flaws, a text withmuch to be savored-not least the upbeat message that you can take control. Agent: Jim Levin/Levine Greenberg Literary
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812975277
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 408,656
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Matthew Blakeslee is a freelance science writer based in Los Angeles.

Sandra Blakeslee is a science correspondent at the New York Times who specializes in the brain sciences.

Stage actress Kate Reading has been a freelance narrator for over twenty years. She has received multiple Audie Awards and nominations, as well as numerous Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named her Narrator of the Year and, for two years running, Best Voice in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

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Read an Excerpt

From the Introduction:
Stand up and reach out your arms, fingers extended. Wave them up, down, and sideways. Make great big circles from over your head down past your thighs. Swing each leg out as far as you can, and with the tips of your toes trace arcs on the ground around you. Swivel and tilt your head as if you were craning out your neck to butt something with your forehead or touch it with your lips and tongue. This invisible volume of space around your body out to arm’s length—what neuroscientists call peripersonal space- is part of you.

This is not a metaphor, but a recently discovered physiological fact. Through a special mapping procedure, your brain annexes this space to your limbs and body, clothing you in it like an extended, ghostly skin. The maps that encode your physical body are connected directly, immediately, personally to a map of every point in that space and also map out your potential to perform actions in that space. Your self does not end where your flesh ends, but suffuses and blends with the world, including other beings. Thus when you ride a horse with confidence and skill, your body maps and the horse’s body maps are blended in shared space. When you make love, your body maps and your lover’s body maps commingle in mutual passion.

Your brain also faithfully maps the space beyond your body when you enter it using tools. Take hold of a long stick and tap it on the ground. As far as your brain is concerned, your hand now extends to the tip of that stick. Its length has been annexed to your personal space. If you were blind, you could feel your way down the street using that stick.

From Chapter 1:
The idea that your brain maps chart not only your body but the space around your body, that these maps expand and contract to include every-day objects, and even that these maps can be shaped by the culture you grow up in, is very new to science. 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 body-centered maps are profoundly plastic—capable of significant reorganization in response to damage, experience, or practice. Formed early in life, they mature with experience and then continue to change, albeit less rapidly, for the rest of your life. Yet despite how central these body maps are to your being, you are only glancingly aware of your own embodiment most of the time, let alone the fact that its parameters are constantly changing and adapting, minute by minute and year after year. You may not truly appreciate the immense amount of work that goes on behind the scenes of your conscious mind that makes the experience of embodiment seem so natural. The constant activity of your body maps is so seamless, so automatic, so fluid and ingrained, that you don’t even recognize it is happening, much less that it poses an absorbing scientific puzzle that is spawning fascinating insights into human nature, health, learning, our evolutionary past and our cybernetically enhanced future.

From Chapter 6:
“Carter” was a master chef at a well-known New York restaurant when, in late 1994, a blood clot in his brain almost cost him his livelihood. Rushed to the hospital in time to receive state-of-the-art clot dissolving care, Carter was left with a potentially devastating problem: He could no longer recognize fruits and vegetables. He couldn’t tell a banana from a leek, though he could still tell a bread knife from a butcher knife and a hawk from a handsaw. He could use English fluently, and his senses were all intact. He had no discernible problems naming or thinking about any other categories of object-just fruits and veggies.
It sounds like a career killer for a chef, but Carter managed to get by. You see, his brain's network body maps still knew what to do with each item. There was nothing wrong with the body maps containing his visual-motor templates for how to manipulate objects. And there was nothing wrong with the body maps that storehoused his library of well-practiced motor sequences involved in food prep. He could still peel a carrot, slice a tomato, or dice an onion—but first he had to be told what each thing was. He would simply query the kitchen staff: “Hey, Jane, is this a cucumber? “Yeah? Thanks.” Chop chop chop.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The Embodied Brain     3
The Body Mandala: or, Maps, Maps, Everywhere     7
The Little Man in the Brain: or, Why Your Genitals Are Even Smaller Than You Think     15
Dueling Body Maps: or, Why You Still Feel Fat After Losing Weight     28
The Homunculus in the Game: or, When Thinking Is as Good as Doing     54
Plasticity Gone Awry: or, When Body Maps Go Blurry     71
Broken Body Maps: or, Why Dr. Strangelove Couldn't Keep His Hand Down     98
The Bubble Around the Body: or, Why You Seek Elbow Room     109
Sticks and Stones and Cyberbones: or, The End of the Body as We Know It?     138
Mirror, Mirror: or, Why Yawning Is Contagious     163
Heart of the Mandala: or, My Insula Made Me Do It     180
Afterword: The You-ness of You     203
Acknowledgments     209
Glossary     211
Index     217
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