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The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better Hardcover – September 11, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 Times science 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This popular synthesis of a technical field in neuroscience explores how the brain constructs its models of the body. Entangled with the perception of self, these maps are multitudinous and dynamic, as experimenters have discovered. The Blakeslees ground the idea of mental maps in the work of Wilder Penfield, a 1940s researcher whose probes on the brains of living people localized which areas of the brain represent which parts of the body. Subsequently, scientists have refined the concept of body maps, a history that binds the Blakeslees' informative explanations of specific maps, case studies, and psychic disorders. Expressed in an amiable, we're-all-in-this-together manner, their tour describes one's personal space and its extension to one's clothes, tools, instruments, and sports gear. The body in motion generates its own set of changing mental maps, distinguishing the graceful from the clumsy. Maps are plastic, report the Blakeslees, yet they also have permanence: successful dieters may still feel overweight, and amputees retain a map of the missing limb. Varied and revealing, this will intrigue readers interested in the clinical perspective on self-perception. Taylor, Gilbert

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (September 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064694
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064694
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sandra (aka Sandy) Blakeslee. I am a science writer with endless curiosity and interests but have spent the past 25 years or so writing about the brain, mostly for the New York Times where I started my career back in the dark ages (late 60s.) I've been writing books for the past few years (The Body Has a Mind of It's Own and Sleights of Mind are highly recommended, at least by me) but am also getting back to daily journalism (in 2011) despite the demise of MSM. So much is happening! It's a great time to be a science writer. As for back story -- I graduated from Berkeley in 1965 (Free Speech Movement major), went to Peace Corps in Borneo, joined the NYT in 1968 as a staff writer, then took off on my own, raised a family, lived in many parts of the world, now live in Santa Fe NM and even have grandchildren. To quote Churchill, so much to do....

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

111 of 114 people found the following review helpful By M. L Lamendola VINE VOICE on October 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book. The authors have a gift for making a complex subject understandable. Another plus is that, like the best of nonfiction authors, they stick to the subject and rely on facts rather than opinion. This book provides a wonderful introduction into an area of science formerly limited to neurologists and other highly-trained specialists.

Central theme
The central theme of this book is that the brain maps the body. In fact, different areas of the brain contain different kinds of body maps with different functions. These body maps in the brain determine such things as how you perceive reality and how you respond to that perception. One of the most fascinating aspects is the plasticity of these maps.

For example, have you ever noticed that you can "feel" with the end of a tool? You put a wrench on a nut, and you suddenly have several important bits of information about that nut. This is because your body map extends to include the tool. And it's why mechanics can accurately work without actually seeing what their hands or tools are touching. Body maps extend from the rider to include the horse and from the horse to include the rider. Lovers share body maps, and the book explores what goes on there also.

This book explores the effects of dysfunctional body maps, too, shedding light on such things as eating disorders and out of body experiences. And it looks at the interplay between body maps and culture, language, music, emotions, pain, and even parenting.

The brain and the body are not separate entities, but are intertwined, interdependent, and interfunctional. Understanding this fact is essential to understanding how and why body maps work. This book explains that lucidly.
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110 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Timothy D. Lundeen on September 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Body Has a Mind of Its Own is a new book by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee, a mother-son partnership with a history of writing good science books and articles. I found this book from an article they wrote for Scientific American's Mind magazine.

The book is a fascinating summary of current research on how the brain and body interact, well-written and enjoyable.

It starts with the brain map that processes incoming touch signals and the motor map that sends out signals to your muscles. We all have much larger areas for our fingers, lips and tongue relative to the rest of our bodies, because accurate input from these areas is so important.

These maps change dynamically with use, so that pianists have much larger area for all their fingers, violinists have a much larger area for just their left hand. When two fingers are taped together, their maps merge; when they are untaped the maps revert to normal. Improper overlapping of these sensory/motor maps can cause performance problems, such as the "yips" that some golfers develop that make them jerk erratically on some strokes.

Mental practice can be as good as physical practice in some circumstances. When you have something down, and know how to do it, mental practice has the same effect on your mental body maps as physical practice. So at a certain level, you can cut down on wear-and-tear on your body and continue to improve by phasing in some mental rehersal.

Your brain has a tremendous degree of flexibility in how it integrates what it sees into your sense of reality. In a virtual-reality world, you can be given longer arms, or lobster arms, or a tentacle in the middle of your stomach, and your brain will accept what it sees and you will feel as if these changes are "natural".
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on May 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Research on the brain has come far since the 1930s when Wilder Penfield of the University of Montreal was compelled to cut open the skulls of epileptic patients. The process meant the epileptic victim remained awake. It was the only way Penfield could learn from the subject who would describe their reactions to his gentle probing. The information, however, often led to relief resulting from Penfield's later precise surgery based on his mappings. In this comprehensive account, the authors - a mother-son science journalist team - trace the research resulting from Penfield's early efforts. In clear, concise prose, they show the revolutionary advances that have come about since then and how Penfield's early "brain maps" provided the foundation for even more effective therapies.

Penfield's technique seems harshly cruel today, but the patients suffered far more from the disability than from the probing, as the brain has no nerves that transmit pain. The mapping became a guide for better understanding of how the brain and body interact. Some of this work was covered in Sandra Blakeslee's earlier collaboration with V. S. Ramachandran: "Phantoms In the Brain". That study pointed out how amputees can still sense the presence of a missing limb, even feeling "pain" that can have no discernible cause. This work carries the implications of Ramachandran's findings forward, expanding it to address other, less extreme examples. The body-brain links are many, varied and subject to constant change. The authors refer to this as "The Body Mandala", a graphic representation of a detailed, intensely interwoven network. In this mandala, however, change is constant and varying.

The hands and fingers play a large role in this book.
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