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The Sensory Hand

The Sensory Hand

Neural Mechanisms of Somatic Sensation

Vernon B. Mountcastle

ISBN 9780674019744

Publication date: 12/30/2005

The hand is an organ of considerable capability. With it we feel, point, and reach, we determine the texture and shape of objects we palpate, we emit and receive signs of approval, compassion, condolence, and encouragement, and, on a different register, rejection, threat, dislike, antagonism, and attack.

Vernon Mountcastle has devoted his career to studying the neurophysiology of sensation--the extended sensory surface, consisting of skin and subcutaneous tissue--in the hand. In The Sensory Hand Mountcastle provides an astonishingly comprehensive account of the neural underpinnings of the rich and complex tactile experiences evoked by stimulation of the hand. Mountcastle focuses attention on the nerve pathways linking the hand to central neural structures, structures that play a role in several other aspects of somatic sensation. His new book thus becomes a sequel to his earlier volume, Perceptual Neuroscience, in which he offered a detailed analysis of the role of the distributed systems of the neocortex in perception generally.

Written by one of the giants of modern neuroscience and the first single-authored book-length treatment of the subject, The Sensory Hand is a major work of scholarship that will be essential reading for anyone interested in how the brain registers sensation and perception.


  • What is so special about primate hands? Few, if any, are more qualified to answer this question than Vernon Mountcastle. He and his colleagues have been the leading students of somatic sensibility (‘somesthesis’) in primates for over half a century. In The Sensory Hand, he offers an overview of a lifetime of influential, and sometimes controversial, research. The massive treatise begins with a review of the evolution and structure of the human hand. Mountcastle then ventures forth on a journey from manual behavior to tactile receptors all the way to the cerebral cortex. Through sixteen lengthy chapters, he reviews each level of the somatosensory pathway in rich detail… Mountcastle does a masterful job integrating the basics of what we know about how sensory information travels from the hand to the highest regions of the brain. Although there are a few excellent books on the evolution of the hands and how we use them, this is the only sophisticated book on the neural basis of how the hand works.

    —Charles G. Gross and Asif A. Ghazanfar, Science


  • Vernon B. Mountcastle, M.D., was University Professor of Neuroscience, Emeritus, at the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute of Johns Hopkins University and winner of the 1998 National Academy of Sciences Award in Neurosciences.

Book Details

  • 640 pages
  • Harvard University Press

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