So phantom limbs are really neat. But are they just some form of obsession neurosis stemming from the trauma of losing one's body part? Or is there a biological explanation for all this?
Hubel and Wiesel's Theory of The Hardwired Brain
- In order to understand the array of different theories on the answer to these burning questions, one must understand the idea of the brain being hardwired. To find out more about this concept, click on the pretty brain picture.
- All you neuroenthusiasts and biology students should know what this little guy on the right represents. For those who think it is one of those new style action figures, or just want to review the definition of the homunculus, look no further. This concept was central in the search for the explanation of phantom limbs.
Enough Small Talk: Here Are Some Theories
Some scientists have a neurological theory for phantom limbs that agrees with the idea of the hardwired brain.
- Back when MTV was a mere babe, research on monkeys done by Merzenich and others at the University of California at San Francisco came up with some interesting conclusions.
The Hardwired Brain??? Ha! Think Again
All of the previous experiments done on cats and monkeys came up with fascinating information. But what about humans? That is the question that Ramachandran tried to answer using Q-tips.
- Pons, (the guy not the neuroanatomical part we all know and love) of the National Institute of Mental Health of Mrs. Frisby fame did some other monkey studies which both confirmed and confounded Merzenich's conclusions. His results seem to point to the idea that phantom limb circuitry can't be achieved if the brain is hardwired.
Some scientists believe that an understanding of the neuromatrix is more important than just focusing on the somatosensory cortex.
Keep in mind that although phantom limbs are neato, people afflicted with them also experience a wee bit of pain.
Lucky for them that neuroscientists are looking for ways to spell R-E-L-I-E-F.
With all this to ponder over, why not mull it over in your mind as you relax to some entertaining case studies.
The Phantom Limbs Main Page