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Aplasic phantoms and the mirror neuron system: an enactive, developmental perspective

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  • B Philosophy (General)
  • Rc0321 Neuroscience. Biological Psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
  • Bf Psychology
  • Bd Speculative Philosophy
  • Biology


Phantom limb experiences demonstrate an unexpected degree of fragility inherent in our self-perceptions. This is perhaps most extreme when congenitally absent limbs are experienced as phantoms. Aplasic phantoms highlight fundamental questions about the physiological bases of self-experience and the ontogeny of a physical, embodied sense of the self. Some of the most intriguing of these questions concern the role of mirror neurons in supporting the development of self–other mappings and hence the emergence of phantom experiences of congenitally absent limbs. In this paper, we will examine the hypothesis that aplasic phantom limb experience is the result of an ontogenetic interplay between body schemas and mirror neuron activity and that this interplay is founded on embedding in a social context. Phantom limb experience has been associated with the persistence of subjective experience of a part of the body after deafferentation through surgical or traumatic removal. We maintain that limited association is inconsistent with the extent to which phantom limb experience is reported by aplasic individuals.

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