The Brain Senses Touch beyond the Body

Richard Sima, ‘The Brain Senses Touch beyond the Body’,, Scientific American, Springer Nature (December 23, 2019)

Sensing touch through tools is not a new concept, though it has not been extensively investigated. In the 17th century, philosopher René Descartes discussed the ability of blind people to sense their surroundings through their walking cane. While scientists have researched tool use extensively, they typically focused on how people move the tools. (…) They, for the most part, neglected the sensory aspect of tool use. (…) Results indicate that people could locate touches on a tool quickly and efficiently using the same neural processes for detecting touch on the body. (…) The work indicates the subjects experienced sensory embodiment (…) in which the brain repurposes strategies for dealing with objects by reusing what it knows about the body. (…) The results could help inform the design of better prostheses because it suggests that (…) insensate objects can become, potentially, ways of detecting information from the world and relaying it toward the somatosensory systems.