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

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

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by Sandra Blakeslee, Matthew Blakeslee
     
 

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Your body has a mind of its own. You know it’s true. You can sense it, even though it may be hard to articulate. You know that your body is more than a vehicle for your brain to cruise around in, but how deeply are mind and body truly interwoven?

Answers can be found in the emerging science of body maps. Just as road maps represent interconnections across

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Overview

Your body has a mind of its own. You know it’s true. You can sense it, even though it may be hard to articulate. You know that your body is more than a vehicle for your brain to cruise around in, but how deeply are mind and body truly interwoven?

Answers can be found in the emerging science of body maps. Just as road maps represent interconnections across the landscape, your many body maps represent all aspects of your bodily self. Your self doesn’t begin and end with your physical body but extends into the space around you. When you drive a car, your personal body space grows to envelop it. When you play a video game, your body maps automatically track and emulate the actions of your character onscreen. If your body maps fall out of sync, you may have an out-of-body experience or see auras around other people.

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own explains how you can tap into the power of body maps to do almost anything better: play tennis, strum a guitar, ride a horse, dance a waltz, empathize with a friend, raise children, cope with stress. Filled with illustrations, wonderful anecdotes, and even parlor tricks that you can use to reconfigure your body sense, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own will change the way you think about what it takes to have a conscious mind inside a feeling body.

Praise for The Body Has a Mind of Its Own

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

“You’ll never think about your body–or your mind–in the same way again.”
–Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence

“A fascinating exploration of senses we didn’t even know we had.”
–Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses

“A delightfully original, understandable, and mind-stretching work.”
–William Safire, columnist, The New York Times Magazine

“A marvelous book.”
–V. S. Ramachandran, M.D., director, Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego

“[An] accessible, practical overview of an important scientific story.”
–Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error

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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:
09/09/2008
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
708,696
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

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.

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