In The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, veteran science reporter Sandra Blakeslee and son Matthew take on a cutting edge brain discovery: body maps. As they explain, body maps are areas of the brain that are connected with certain areas of the body. Thus, if the leg part of the brain is damaged, a person will experience problems walking. While this may sound straightforward, it is merely the starting point for a fascinating study of the power of the mind. For example, the 'body maps' our brains carry regularly extend further than our skin; when a person drives a car, his brain expands its awareness to cover the vehicle as well. This intimate connection between our brain, our body, and our immediate environment has many ramifications that the Blakeslees happily explore from the good (for a darts player, merely visualing herself practicing can have almost as strong an impact on her performance as actually practicing) to the not-so-good (when an overweight person loses weight, his body map may prevent him from feeling thinner).
This is the kind of book that non-scientific readers, like this reviewer, can easily enjoy. Mixed in with the text are helpful illustrations and text boxes providing examples or more specific information. These help break up the text itself, giving readers a brief break from the scientific writing. As to the concepts themselves, although obviously based on advanced research, the authors have reduced the text to the essentials of each theory. In addition to the simple diction used throughout the book, this prevents the non-technical reader from getting bogged down in terms or theories that are incidental to the main topic. This is not a theory-driven book; almost all of the chapters focus on some practical application of the discoveries. Many of these applications are on a small scale: in chapter three, the reader will learn that the best way for elderly people to keep their sense of balance strong is to walk on cobblestones. Why? The uneven surface keeps the touch receptors in the soles of your feet more receptive, making it easier for your brain to create a sense of place. The reader receives perhaps more helpful advice in chapter nine: want to be more persuasive?
"The trick is to subtly mimic someone's gestures and body language after a small delay. On average it will increase the social influence of the imitator on the imitatee. The imitatee is likely to pay better attention, considr the imitator's claims and positions more positively, and come away with a better likeing for the imitator. It's a far cry from mind control, perhaps, but unlike many techniques that supposedly exert subliminal influence on people, this one really works."
Other topics discussed include why some people have a better sense of direction than others, how to play video games using mind control, and why many great painters wish they were blind.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book is the sense of wonder about the human brain. In every chapter, it feels as if the authors are saying, "Look at this - isn't it amazing?" Their enthusiasm for the topic is contagious and makes the reader want to race through the book. When the authors discuss possibilities for the future, it rather feels as if the brain is some kind of superhero, able to undertake almost any task imaginable. In reading The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, readers will come away with both a new understanding of their brain and a new appreciation for it. Throughout the text, the Blakeslees navigate from neurology to psychology to virtual reality with an ease that seems to tell the reader, "Don't worry: it's all quite simple - and a ton of fun."