Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

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

Posted by nliakos on August 15, 2009

by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee (Random House 2007)

This is a fascinating book.  The authors, a mother and son science-writing team, endeavor (mostly successfully) to make some of the latest developments in neuroscience accessible to the lay reader.  It is now well established that everything our bodies do, both inside (circulatory systems, &c) and outside (movement, language, &c) corresponds to “maps” in the various parts of our brains.  Poke the map in the right place, and something happens; apply the proper stimulus (movement, touch, graphic image…) and neurons in the corresponding map can be observed to fire.

In the first chapter, the concepts of maps, body schema (your perception of your body), body image (your belief of how your body looks) and body mandala (the network of body maps in the brain) are introduced.  The subsequent chapters each take up different aspects and research areas of these, such as how your body image may not correspond to reality (why you still feel fat when you’ve lost excess weight, for example), how mentally rehearsing movements and skills can be almost as effective as actually practicing them (think of athletes’ or musicians’ visualizations), and how what you wear or carry or wield literally becomes an extension of your body, as far as your brain is concerned.

Chapter 9, “Mirror, Mirror: or, Why Yawning is Contagious” was especially interesting to me.  It deals with mirror neurons, special brain cells that represent not only one’s own actions but also those of others.  These mirror neurons allow us to understand the body language of other people and thus to anticipate what they might do, because their actions are mirrored in templates in our own brains. A dysfunction in these cells is suspected in autism and may also be involved in the inability of people with nonverbal learning disorders to read body language.

Favorite quote:  “When you watch dance, your brain dances.” (p. 170)

The webpage for this book is here. It includes excerpts, links to interviews, reviews, and more.

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