Your peripersonal space is part of you

I am still thinking in terms of children’s play and their use of found objects to create play narratives etc. Anyway, within that context… this is very interesting: Introducing their book, The Body has a Mind of Its Own, Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee write

“Stand up and reach out your arms, fingers extended. Wave them up, down, and sideways. Make great big circles from ovre 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 your 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 incorporated into your personal space. If you were blind, you could feel your way down the street using that stick.
Moreover, this annexed peripersonal space is not static, like an aura. It is elastic. Like an amoeba, it expands and contracts to suit your goals and makes you master of your world. It morphs every time you put on or take off clothes, wear skis or scuba gear, or wield any tool. When Babe Ruth held a baseball bat, as far as his brain was concerned his peripersonal space extended out to the end of the bat, as if it were a natural part of his arms. When you drive a car your peripersonal space expands to include it, from fender to fender, from door to door, and from tire to roof. As you drive you can feel the road’s texture as intimately as you would through sandals. As you enter a parking garage with a low ceiling you can “feel” the nearness of your car’s roof to the height barrier as if it were your own scalp. This is why you instinctively duck when you pass under the barrier. When someone hits your car you get upset – not just because of the bills and the hassle ahead, but because that person has violated your peripersonal space, no less than a careless elbow in your rib.
When you eat with a knife and fork, your peripersonal space grows to envelop them. Brain cells that normally represent space no farther out than your fingertips expand their fields of awareness outward, along the length of each utensil, making them part of you. This is why you can directly experience the texture and shape of the food you are manipulating, even though in reality you are touching nothing but several inches of lifeless metal. The same thing happens for surgeons controlling microbiotic tools using a joystick. It happens for NASA technicians controlling robotic arms in orbit. If you learned to operate a crane, your peripersonal space map would extend out to the tip of the crane’s hook.” (pp.3-4)

“Every point on your body, each internal organ and every point in space out to the end of your fingertips, is mapped inside your brain. Your ability to sense, move, and act in the physical world arises from a rich network of flexible body maps distributed throughout your brain – maps that grow, shrink, and morph to suit your needs.” (p.5)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee (c2007) The Body has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. Random House: New York

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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