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Your Brain, Behind the Scenes

Dr. Pierre-Michel Bernier discusses the incredible calculations your brain performs to plan even the simplest movements.

We are always moving objects around us. But the seemingly trivial movements that we do all day (reaching for a coffee cup, grabbing a jacket, etc.) turn out to be not so simple after all. Behind the scenes and totally unconsciously, our brains are doing a tremendous number of calculations to establish where we are in relation to objects around us. As our vision is such a primary sense, it had been thought that the first step for the brain in planning movement was to create a visually based map of objects around us — even for objects that we couldn't see. But in a recent paper in the journal Neuron, Dr. Pierre-Michel Bernier demonstrates that the method the brain uses for planning movement completely changes depending on the sensory inputs that the brain has to work with. Dr. Bernier, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses how the brain plans even very simple movements — like pointing — totally differently depending on whether the lights are on or off.