How the Body Knows Its Mind by Sian Beilock

This is a book about how the human body affects emotions and thinking. It describes the experiments in detail, so it’s interesting to read. In some parts I recognized myself 🙃

I made a summary of this book with several quotes from it and want to share it with you.

A few quotes about the connection of different parts of the brain to each other, associative memory, and learning:

Fingers and numbers share the same “spaces” in the human brain, specifically the parietal cortex lobe. Body movements during music rehearsals help children develop their brains to solve math problems. [And] people who suddenly lost the ability to use their fingers also lost the ability to count in their mind

Brain cells that are repeatedly activated at the same time tend to make connections between themselves. In other words, activity in one neuron leads to activity in another neuron

As the cells excite each other over and over again, there is a certain growth or change in the metabolism of the connections between these cells, so that they begin to stimulate each other even more effectively. [That is,] if one word occurs frequently in the context of a certain action, its sound provokes activity in the motor area of the brain, which, in turn, contributes to a more rapid understanding of that word

About the dependence of thinking on external circumstances and body states and the recursiveness of thinking:

Our thinking is embedded in the body and involves repeated experience of similar bodily experiences. [Consequently] the brain does not always clearly distinguish between memories from the past and impressions from the present

People don’t pick up electric light bulbs the way they grab tennis balls, because they usually use these objects for different purposes. We take the same bottle from the table in different ways depending on what we’re going to do with it next…

The tendency to think of objects that are easier to reach as more attractive is an example of a predisposition toward physical comfort. We automatically imagine what and how we would do with that object, and by the ease of interacting with it we determine whether or not we like it

About the dependence of emotion on the body and reflection:

The neurotoxin [in botox] paralyzes the muscles into which it is injected. Along with the wrinkles, the ability to make sorrowful and “sour” grimaces also disappears… Medics believe that certain muscle movements, or lack thereof, help change the mood of the brain and how one experiences certain emotions

When we see, hear, read or think about something bad, we “embody” that experience in ourselves. The reaction extends to our facial expressions and posture. The way we hold our body, in turn, sends the brain a signal about how we feel.

Thinking is the result of the interaction of brain, body, and experience, especially emotional experience

The relationship between temperature and social comfort has been felt by humans since birth. Through physical contact we become accustomed to associating warmth with close proximity to other people.

We perceive emotionally negative situations as physically damaging, regardless of what exactly they threaten us with. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes a lot of sense to use the same areas of the brain to perceive both social and physical pain. There’s a considerable saving of resources.

Since the brain does not always make a clear distinction between physical and social pain, some of the methods used to relieve physical pain can also serve us when we are suffering from other kinds of pain. People taking acetaminophen for several weeks report feeling [less] socially isolated in their daily lives

A person translates physical, mental, and spiritual [efforts] into muscular tension. When he gets used to breathing properly and holding his body naturally, this at ease affects his thinking as well

About mirror neurons:

Their [children’s] mental abilities, such as the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others, also derive from the skills to act in this world independently. …Babies understand the intentions of others much better when they can do what others do in front of them

…The activation of the motor system happens only against the background of a person’s own motor experience, not just their familiarity with a particular style of dance. When ballerinas observe pas and figures from their own repertoire and those of their opposite sex dance partners, their brain reacts actively to the movements that they themselves perform

When a person’s own motor system comes into play, [the person] gains certain advantages. For example, he is able to predict the results of the other person’s actions before they are completed

Mirror neurons also play an important role in empathy. They are most often referred to when it comes to understanding other people’s actions, but they are also important for understanding other people’s emotions

About the importance of feedback in learning, and pain as feedback:

Their [children’s] motor system doesn’t yet send warnings that walking over a cliff is risky. Therein lies one of the reasons why walkers are so dangerous: they allow toddlers to perform movements beyond their bodily capacity. This puts kids in a position where they are unable to foresee the consequences of their actions. Babies in walkers are prone to go over the edge of a visual cliff - such as the stairs in the house - without thinking

Walkers aren’t just dangerous - they stunt motor development. Children who spend a lot of time in these devices don’t learn to stand on their own as quickly as they could. They just get used to the fact that when standing, their weight is held by the device

About learning through experience and the benefits of movement for the brain:

Maria Montessori: “One of the great errors of our time is that we think of movement as something separate from higher functions… Mental development must be related to and dependent on movement… When observing a child, it becomes obvious that the development of the mind occurs through movement… Mind and movement are parts of a whole”

Physical participation in experience really facilitates the assimilation of theoretical knowledge. [Because] we rely on our own concrete physical experience in constructing our conception of reality

About the usefulness of movement to solve problems right to the point:

Sometimes you just have to start moving to find the best option… When reading something confusing, or trying to find a solution to a complex problem, we often start instinctively looking for a place to sit down to concentrate. But in such moments, immobilizing ourselves is probably the worst thing one can do

When we literally step outside of some physical framework to think, like getting outdoors or just taking a walk, it becomes easier for us to make new connections between distant ideas

Intense exercise is important for the growth of new brain cells… Short bursts of aerobic exercise improve the circulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in nerve impulse transmission

If you are able to take a break, you increase your chances of finding a few more new solutions to the problem

About languages and speech:

Linguists believe it’s hard for us to get into someone else’s speech because we’ve never had the kind of tongue and mouth movements needed to pronounce those sounds correctly. When you practice speaking a foreign language with correct pronunciation, you’re not just listening to others speak it—motor practice makes it easier for you to understand unfamiliar words

The exchange of ideas is perceived by humans as an extension of the exchange of objects. In the perception of speech, the motor system is activated if the words contain the meaning of conveying something to someone regardless of whether or not there is an actual movement of objects

About gestures:

Gestures are simply a “side effect” of trying to mentally simulate the performance of certain actions. Gestures “animate” our mental notebooks, allowing us to replay an action with our hands before we carry it out in real life or think it through enough to express it in words

Gestures play an important role not only in communicating information to listeners. They help us to release mental energy

Gestures also serve as a mental notebook for taking notes as you ponder difficult questions

About meditation:

Conscious meditation is probably the best example of focusing on your body

Meditation helps change the brain. [It] not only reduces anxiety and eases chronic pain, but it can also reduce the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

At first you have to use a lot of working memory and consciousness resources to control body position. But over time, the movements become habitual and you begin to perform them automatically. Only then one can already transfer the released thinking “powers” to something else, for example, to studying music theory or interpreting musical pieces

In general, I recommend it. It’s fairly short, so it shouldn’t take a lot of time.