An earnest effort to describe how our physical movements and the movements of those around us shape our consciousness.
Scientists seeking to explain how we think—no one has fully succeeded yet—prefer to focus on language and perception. According to Tversky (Emerita, Psychology/Stanford Univ.; Induced Pictorial Representations, 1993), however, this is simply rephrasing the question. The author has enjoyed a distinguished career as a cognitive psychologist specializing in visual-spatial reasoning, and this is her first book for a general audience. She summarizes her life’s work with an admirable absence of turgid academic prose and technical jargon, although it remains a somewhat arcane field. “From the beginning of life,” she writes, “we move and act in space, interacting with our surroundings, with space itself, and with the things we encounter in space. These actions yield sensations both from within our body and outside our body. The actions and sensations of our bodies form our conceptions of our bodies. The world is never static. We are constantly acting in that world and adapting to it.” Put bluntly, this means that our thoughts are intimately connected with movements—our own and those in our environment. This is reflected in the architecture of the brain, where a single nerve cell, called a mirror neuron, fires both when we observe another person do something such as pick up an object and when we perform the same action. Moving our hands—gesturing—is a form of communication older than language. When experimental subjects sit on their hands, their ability to communicate efficiently drops, and people blind from birth gesture as they talk. While mass audiences exist for popular science writing on cosmology, evolution, medicine, and technology, this often ingenious exploration of spatial thinking will command a more limited readership.
A well-informed book that will appeal to psychology buffs willing to pay close attention.