(Following on from notes made in an earlier blog, Your peripersonal space is part of you) …Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee explain the importance of free movement in infancy and childhood:
“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 everyday 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.” (p.11)
“The sum total of your numerous, flexible, morphable body maps gives rise to the solid-feeling subjective sense of “me-ness” and to your ability to comprehend and navigate the world around you. You can think of the maps as a mandala whose overall pattern creates your embodied, feeling self. All your other mental faculties – vision, hearing, language, memory – hang supported in the matrix of this body mandala like organs on a skeleton. Developmentally speaking, it would be impossible to become a thinking, self-aware person without them.
If some of this sounds a little overheated, consider this. If you were to carry around a young mammal such as a kitten during its critical early months of brain development, allowing it to see everything in its environment but never permitting it to move around on its own, the unlucky creature would turn out effectively blind for life. While it would still be able to perceive levels of light, color, and shadow – the most basic, hardwired abilities of the visual system – its depth perception and object recognition would abysmal. Its eyes and optic nerves would be perfectly normal and intact, yet its higher visual system would be next to useless.
How can this be? If an animal grows up seeing, shouldn’t its brain’s network of visual maps develop along normal lines? Shouldn’t full exposure to visual information about form, shading, motion, color, parallax, size, and distance be enough to compensate for a lack of self-mobility? The surprising answer is no. Another ingredient is needed: The ability to use one’s body freely to explore the world, even if it’s only a small corner of it. As a young mammal in its formative stages moves around, feedback from its own bodily movements provides meaning to what it sees. Each step forward, each pause in its tracks, each quickening of its pace sends critical sensory information streaming up through its network of body maps, which in turn feeds its developing visual system the information it needs to make sense of all the otherwise meaningless blobs, colors, and shadows streaming in through the eyes. If an animal is exposed to high-quality visual information but only as a passive observer, its brain will never learn what any of that visual information is supposed to mean.” (pp.12-14)
“Sensation doesn’t make sense except in reference to your embodied self.” (p.14)
Annoyingly, they don’t provide any references/citations, but this is interesting to me nonetheless…
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