Making Space

Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are

JENNIFER M. GROH
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 218
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qdt4n
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  • Book Info
    Making Space
    Book Description:

    Knowing where things are seems effortless. Yet our brains devote tremendous power to figuring out simple details about spatial relationships. Jennifer Groh traces this mental detective work to show how the brain creates our sense of location, and makes the case that the brain’s systems for thinking about space may be the systems of thought itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73577-4
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. 1 THINKING ABOUT SPACE
    (pp. 1-6)

    NINE-TENTHS OF YOUR brain power is spent figuring out where things are. (Actually, I just made that number up. But it may be true. Bear with me.)

    Think about what you know right now about where things are. You can see where your coffee mug is on the table in front of you, where the cat is curled up on the rug, and where the sun is streaming in through the window. Listen and you might hear a dog barking or a car driving by. You probably can tell which direction the car is going and which neighbor’s house has...

  4. 2 THE WAYS OF LIGHT
    (pp. 7-50)

    RECENTLY, I ASKED a group of friends which sense they would miss the least if they had to lose one. Most people chose smell. No one chose vision.

    If you lose vision, you lose your most important sense for knowing where things are. Vision allows us to perceive the shape of objects and their arrangement in the world around us, an ability that impacts nearly everything we do. Recognizing your mother requires seeing that she has a face, with eyes, nose, and mouth in the appropriate configuration. Reading the words on this page requires mapping out the light and dark...

  5. 3 SENSING OUR OWN SHAPE
    (pp. 51-68)

    THIS MORNING I made myself a glass of iced tea to have with my lunch. I was in a rush and didn’t dry off the outside of the glass, so I suppose shouldn’t have been surprised when it slipped from my fingers and tea spilled all over the counter. I had failed to apply enough pressure with my fingertips to hold onto it. I have also failed to hit numerous baseballs pitched in my direction, and I’m not sure I’ve ever caught a pop fly in a game situation. I am fairly competent at walking running, though, and through considerable...

  6. 4 BRAIN MAPS AND POLKA DOTS
    (pp. 69-106)

    UP TO THIS point, I’ve talked about how sensory receptor neurons in your eyes, skin, muscles, and joints convert some happening or circumstance—light, your body’s position, something touching your skin—into an electrical signal. Your brain’s sensors measure light at millions of positions along the retinal surface or detect the tension at myriad locations in your arms, legs, fingers, and toes. But these are only the first steps toward building a sense of space. Like any good analyst, the brain carefully evaluates these neural spreadsheets of unprocessed information to reach conclusions about the state of the visual and tactile...

  7. Color illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. 5 SHERLOCK EARS
    (pp. 107-142)

    IF YOU HAVE ever searched for a chirping cricket in your house, you know how hard it can be to find things by sound alone. My personal peeve is the battery-operated smoke detector. When the battery decays, the detector emits piercing and maddeningly sporadic beeps. With detector in each room, it is surprisingly difficult to tell which one generating the alarm. I can easily identify the sound, and I therefore know that it must be coming from a white plastic case in the ceiling. But if I close my eyes and try to point to the sound, I am very...

  9. 6 MOVING WITH MAPS AND METERS
    (pp. 143-160)

    WE’VE BEEN SIDLING up to an important concept in neuroscience: the notion ofrepresentation. Whenever we discuss how neurons respond to a particular type of stimulus or how they are organized in the brain, we are talking about how they represent information.

    Representations of different types are all around us. The letters of the alphabet form a representation of sounds and, when combined with other letters, words. Traffic lights signal whether it is safe to enter an intersection. Often, the same information can be represented in more than one way. For example, the linguistic concept “mother” can be represented by...

  10. 7 YOUR SUNGLASSES ARE IN THE MILKY WAY
    (pp. 161-176)

    EVERY IOTA OF spatial information detected by your brain, whether visual, auditory, or body related, must be defined with respect to some reference point. Suchreference frames, or coordinate systems for describing locations (Figure 7.1), are even apparent in how we speak about space. You might say your sunglasses are on your head, that your car is in the garage, or that Canada is north of the United States.

    As we’ll see in this chapter, the brain uses different reference frames for different types of information (visual, auditory, or body related), and the same location in space can have different...

  11. 8 GOING PLACES
    (pp. 177-188)

    YOU CAN WALK across your kitchen, out the door, down the street to the nearest cafe, and back again without difficulty. This seems easy, but it actually involves sophisticated algorithms for keeping track of where you are and where you want to go.

    The evolutionary roots of navigation are deep. Any organism that can move needs to navigate. Even simple organisms move toward nutrients and potential mates and away from predators, toxins, and other hazards. Consider the lowly bacteriumE. coli, swimming around in your gut right now, using its many tails, or flagella, to move itself toward tasty stuff...

  12. 9 SPACE AND MEMORY
    (pp. 189-202)

    UP TO THIS point, we have concentrated on aspects of spatial processing tied to specific kinds of sensory input or movement. We’ve seen the different sensory systems extract information about the spatial of stimuli in the environment, and we’ve talked about how brain controls our muscles to ensure that our actions move us where want to go. Finally, we’ve noted that none of these systems work but instead interact across a variety of scales of time—a synthesis involvesmemory. In this chapter, we’ll see that memory and our spatial abilities provide mutual support to one another. Not only is...

  13. 10 THINKING ABOUT THINKING
    (pp. 203-218)

    I STARTED THIS book with a made-up claim that nine-tenths of your brain power is spent figuring out where things are. In this chapter, I’ll tell you what I meant, and what I think it has to tell us about how wethink. Warning: some of parts of this chapter will be highly speculative.

    First, let’s take a step back and appreciate the magnitude of the problem we are dealing with. The chief obstacle to investigating the mindbrain connection is that we can directly measure only one side of equation—the brain, not the mind. Our ability to measure the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 219-224)
  15. CREDITS
    (pp. 225-230)
  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 231-236)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 237-246)