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The Brain’s Sense of Movement

The Brain’s Sense of Movement

Alain Berthoz

Translated by Giselle Weiss

ISBN 9780674009806

Publication date: 09/30/2002

The neuroscientist Alain Berthoz experimented on Russian astronauts in space to answer these questions: How does weightlessness affect motion? How are motion and three-dimensional space perceived? In this erudite and witty book, Berthoz describes how human beings on earth perceive and control bodily movement. Reviewing a wealth of research in neurophysiology and experimental psychology, he argues for a rethinking of the traditional separation between action and perception, and for the division of perception into five senses.

In Berthoz’s view, perception and cognition are inherently predictive, functioning to allow us to anticipate the consequences of current or potential actions. The brain acts like a simulator that is constantly inventing models to project onto the changing world, models that are corrected by steady, minute feedback from the world. We move in the direction we are looking, anticipate the trajectory of a falling ball, recover when we stumble, and continually update our own physical position, all thanks to this sense of movement.

This interpretation of perception and action allows Berthoz, in The Brain’s Sense of Movement, to focus on psychological phenomena largely ignored in standard texts: proprioception and kinaesthesis, the mechanisms that maintain balance and coordinate actions, and basic perceptual and memory processes involved in navigation.


  • This book is fascinating if one reads no more than the table of contents! With a jacket photo of semiweightless astronauts and chapter sections titled ‘Am I in My Bed Hanging from the Ceiling?,’ ‘The Art of Breaking,’ ‘What If Newton Had Wanted to Catch the Apple?,’ and ‘“Go Where I’m Looking,” Not “Look Where I’m Going,”’ among others, how could one not investigate further? …Anyone who has ever wondered, ‘How did I catch that?,’ ‘How did I hit that?,’ or ‘How in the world did I get out of the way of that?!’ will find this a good read.

    —L. A. Meserve, Choice


  • Alain Berthoz is Emeritus Professor at the Collège de France and Director of the Laboratory of Physiology of Perception and Action at the CNRS.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-7/8 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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