The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Matthew and Sandra Blakeslee

12 Jun

When I first saw the title of this book I thought it might be fluffy new age nonsense, but this is an insightful book, backed up with empirical evidence about how the brain and body work together.

It describes how the body and mind communicate, and how the different kinds of nerves work. For example, I didn’t know about proprioception so it was fascinating to learn that we have nerves in our joints and muscles that let us know the positions of our body parts in relation to others.

The book describes how the brain has different bits that are mapped to different parts of the body. You can see bits of the brain light up under fMRI scanners and the like, when people think about moving, or actually move, certain body parts.

It moves on to describe how tools, vehicles, bikes, etc. are incorporated into your body map, and as far as your brain is concerned, become a part of you. Ever notice how you duck when you drive under a bridge? And working the other way around, you can morph your body map to represent something in a virtual world, such as when playing a computer game. I’m sure you’ll have noticed when you’re moving a computer character with a controller you still try to help it along by moving your body.

It covers brain injuries, and missing limbs; of course the wonderful work of Vilayanur Ramachandran comes into play here. We see body maps getting muddled up and causing pro-sportsmen or musicians to forget how to do what they do, and ways around these problems using the theories in this area.

It shows how training doesn’t need to be physical; once you have a baseline of physical training, simply visualising your physical endeavour will make you better: from darts, to playing a musical instrument.

It also very interestingly describes why people have out-of-body experiences or see auras due to funny body maps that people have. Although people don’t really have such experiences, they perceive them due to body map issues.

Finally it looks at mirror neurons – the bits of your brain involved in empathy (though it’s worth noting that the existence of these is not universally accepted). It shows that when you watch others move, the same bits of the brain light up when you move, right up to the pre-motor cortex. It also dips its toe into the interesting waters of the boundary between you and others when you start to experience their emotions and feelings.

A well written and interesting read that gives a new perspective on how your mind and body work together.

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