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The Body Has a Mind of Its Own

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How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better

Written by Sandra BlakesleeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew BlakesleeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Matthew Blakeslee

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On Sale: September 09, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-812-6
Published by : Random House Trade Paperbacks Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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

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.
Sandra Blakeslee|Matthew Blakeslee

About Sandra Blakeslee

Sandra Blakeslee - The Body Has a Mind of Its Own
Sandra Blakeslee is a regular contributor to The New York Times who specializes in the brain sciences. She has co-written many books, including The Body Has a Mind of Its Own with Matthew Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain with V. S. Ramachandran, On Intelligence with Jeff Hawkins, and Second Chances: Men, Women and Children a Decade After Divorce with Judith S. Wallerstein. She is the third generation in a family of science writers.

About Matthew Blakeslee

Matthew Blakeslee - The Body Has a Mind of Its Own
Matthew Blakeslee is a freelance science writer in Los Angeles. He represents the fourth generation of Blakeslee science writers. He is the co-author of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own.

  • The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee
  • September 09, 2008
  • Psychology & Psychiatry - Neuropsychology
  • Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • $16.00
  • 9780812975277

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