More than Flesh

Stand up and reach out your arms, fingers extended.  Wave them up, down, and sideways.  Make great big circles from over 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 you 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.

From The Body Has a Mind of its Own, by Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee

Intriguing read so far even just as a neurosciency book, but offers a really interesting perspective through a dancer’s eyes.



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