David Freedberg, Antonio Pennisi

The Body in the Picture. The Lesson of Phantom Limbs and the origins of the BIID

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Keywords: Body Image, Corporeal Self-Awareness, Gender Dysphoria, Xenomelia, Neuroaesthetics

What do ghost limbs have to do with art and body images? What unifies two such distant fields as neuroaesthetics and neuropathology? These questions can be answered by the important results of some of Ramachandran’s neurobiological research in which both fields of research in relation to phantom limb experiments have been explored. These researches have been used by the authors to hypothesize an embodied theory of body images that is reflected both in the production and fruition of visual arts and in the analysis and therapy of body self disorders. The general principle is that the visual sensations are experienced as somatic sensations and the somatic sensations are transformed into mental images thanks to the autonarrations of the subjects endowed with descriptive or therapeutic power. In art this is manifested in an empathic involvement of the user who perceives the same physical sensations as the images he sees, immersing himself in these visions. One of the lessons of the phantom limb experiment is that it is possible to project into an image we see the feeling of our own limbs - even if they are tragically lost. This shows that visual sensations are experienced as somatic sensations. More precisely, it is about keeping in mind that sight activates other sensory modes in the brain and gives the sensation of physically feeling what you see. In neuropathologies called BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder), in particular the Xenomelia, which causes a permanent sense of splitting between the real parts of the body and their mental images, it comes, instead, to the point of amputating (or getting amputated) these parts. Also in this case, the dyscrasia between a corporeity impossible to be overcome and the creation of mental images dissonant with the neural mappings can be explained through the parallel flow of perceptual experience and intellectualization of body images. According to the authors, these analyzes could open new perspectives not only on neuroesthetics and neuropathologies but also on the more general functioning of mental images and the formation of the body self in human animals.

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