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insider perspective of the body

We have an insider’s view of the body, one shaped by our actions and sensations, unlike our outsider view of other things in our world that is shaped by appearance. All our actions take place in the space outside our skin, that activity begins before birth … “kicking”—perhaps to find a more comfortable position. Bodies do eventually perform an astounding assortment of activities with the harmonious coordination underlying those diverse behaviors depends on the continuous integration of a variable stream of information from many senses with the articulated actions of dozens of muscles. Although our skin encloses and separates our bodies from the surrounding world, accomplishing those activities entails countless interactions with the world … that underlie our conceptions of our bodies.

Viewed from the outside, bodies are like other objects … adept at rapidly recognizing those common objects, primarily from their outlines, their contours, in their prototypical orientations. The contours of objects are, in turn, shaped by the configuration of their parts, legs and bodies for dogs and tables, trunks and canopies for trees.

For objects (and faces), some views are better than others … a good view (contours of canonical orientations) is one that shows the distinctive features of the object … but, singularly, for bodies we also have an insider perspective. That intimate insider perspective comes with many extras. We know what bodies can do and what it feels like from the inside to stand tall or sit slumped, to climb stairs and trees, to jump and hop, to fasten buttons and tie shoes, to cry and laugh. We know not only what it feels like to act in those ways but also what it means to act in those ways, stretching or slumping, crying or laughing; we can map other bodies and their actions onto our own, suggesting that we understand other bodies not only by recognizing them but also by internalizing them.

Mind in Motion