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Redefining self, phantom self

People with phantom limbs learn physically impossible body tricks

Phantoms take many forms — headless horseman, ghost ships, murdered fathers — and they can even reach out and grab the living: many people who have had an arm or leg amputated feel the limb is still present. The phantom pain that often accompanies these limbs has been successfully treated by using visual feedback from mirrors to trick the brain. Now similar instances of mind over non-matter have been achieved without external help — amputees have learned to mentally manipulate their phantom limbs into anatomically impossible configurations through thinking alone, scientists report October 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It is very surprising that anybody — amputees or not — can learn impossible movements just by thinking about it,” comments neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

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