Feeding your homunculus: food for thought (part 1)

Published on: Oct 14 2013 by Pieter Derycke

Whether you are interested in sports performance, injury prevention, musculoskeletal rehabilitation or just healthy movement, it is important to feed your homunculus. Because it needs lots of high quality food. It loves a natural and wild diet, and needs big portions and high variety to get all the nutrition it requires to be healthy and happy.

 

Now what is a homunculus? Why does it matter? And how do you feed it?

 

I10-13-homunculus

The homunculus is not a dog. It is not a fictitious monster under your bed, or in your mind. It is situated inside your head though: it is the representation of your body in your central nervous system. Homunculus means ‘little man’ in Latin, related to ‘homo’ (man). We’ve got 2 of them in our brain: a motor and a sensory (actually there are more virtual representations in the CNS*). Here we’re talking about the latter. The somato-sensory homunculus is a kind of map of the body. It is a strange image of a distorted man/woman. The more sensory information a body part sends to the central nervous system (CNS), the bigger that body parts representation in the homunculus.

 

 

Take a look at the image. A big tongue and thick lips indicate the sensitivity of these parts. Look at the hands: huge! That would make sense, because we use our hands a lot for fine motor activities, which need a lot of sensory information. Also look at the feet: rather big, that means they are also important for feeling. Again, that makes sense, because most of the time, the feet are the only points of contact between our organism and the environment. Look at the back, or the legs: relatively small, which means they do not deliver that much sensory information (relatively).

 

Now that you know your homunculus, why is it important for movement? Well, you are a complex biological organism that needs feedback and information to be able to move and thus live (remember: movement is life!). The motor parts of the brain rely on the information of the sensory systems. The homunculus needs to be updated, constantly and unceasing.

 

Simply put: the better the central representation, the better the motor output will be. Your motor systems need to know the state of your body. If the situation is not known or not very clear, the movements will not be good, because the motor systems will be ‘afraid’ to go all out. Very similar to driving your car on an unknown road in misty conditions with only an old, worn and worm-eaten map. You will drive slow and tense, to avoid hitting something or getting of road. This is safety behaviour: safe, but taxing on the system.

 

So because of safety, the organism chooses to refrain itself in misty conditions. You want to move with a good and updated map of your body. You want your homunculus to be clear, detailed, well defined and with good resolution. This will allow safe and efficient movement, and good performance.

 

Now how do you get a good homunculus? It is actually quite simple: by giving your CNS lots of information about your body, and a big variety of feedback.

 

How do you get lots of information from your body? Again, very simple: by moving, a lot!**

 

And how do you get a lot of varied information? By moving in a varied way.

 

So big quantities of movement, in a varied way, make sure the homunculus is very clear and detailed, and keep it updated.

 

If you don’t move very much, you simply need to move more to give more input.

 

If you already move a lot, you need to give the CNS as much variety as you can. So, if you are a runner, what do you think you will have to do to satisfy your homunculus? More of the same running? I don’t think so, doing something different will be better…

 

Homo sapiens is made to walk, run, sprint, jump, crawl, move low on the ground, balance, climb, swim, lift and carry, throw and catch, dig, dance, fight, … So whatever you are not doing, will provide new and good information for your homunculus. Your homunculus craves variety!

 

Movement is food for your homunculus. You could say that the pieces of information are the nutrients. It is better not to supplement with synthetic, isolated nutrients, but to eat real, whole and natural foods. Not all movement is real, whole and natural. Some movements are junk-food. Some movements are too bland, and needs some spices. Some movements are just empty calories. And even your favourite perfect natural, whole and healthy dish, will get dull and tasteless if you eat it every meal. Variety is the spice of life.

 

So clear up the fog in your brain and start feeding your homunculus! It is ravenous, all the time. Take another look at its mouth, and you’ll understand. And remember, it needs high quality, high quantity and high variety.

 

In a next post I will be a bit more practical with my advice on homunculus feeding, but also possibly a bit more speculative on some things.

 

Don’t forget that today’s stories about food and mist are just metaphors. I hope they make some things clear, but obviously they are big simplifications of the actual neurology.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Pieter

 

* For the more neurological minded reader, I know this is a simplification, that there is more to the virtual body … By the way, this is only a hypothesis. Maybe someday I will try to blog on the neurological details.

** There are actually more ways to give sensory information, especially via the skin. We’ll get back to this in a subsequent blog post.

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12 Comments to “Feeding your homunculus: food for thought (part 1)”

  1. […] the motor cortex (the part the executes movements) are each mapped out as a little man, called a  homunculus (see picture above). We all rely on our hands to gather information, so on average everyone’s […]

  2. jade white says:

    That was amazing. thank you.

  3. Dr. Dinesh Upadhyay says:

    If you may please allow me, I want to use the homunculus in my research paper(of course with citation).

    regards
    Dr. dinesh upadhyay

    • Sir,

      You are allowed to use to context of the blog, with correct citation (under the creative commons), but the homunculus figure is not my own. So if you want to use the picture of the homunculus, I cannot give you this permission…

      Good luck with your research paper!

  4. Jeremy says:

    This is wonderful! Where is part 2?!

  5. Angela says:

    Thanx for good analogies ! Im dealing w/ and learning much about pain/ chronic .and rehab from same ,
    My Physiotherapist turned me on to This “little Man”
    we need to get this info in kindergarten !!
    Knowledge is Power ! Angela

  6. RicardoD says:

    Prudery and science shouldn’t mix, but sometimes they do. Look at brain space dedicated to the genitals, and you will see clearly that the penis on this homunculus man should be huge (rather than proportional to the rest of his body), especially his foreskin (which is where most of nerve endings are on a penis). Brain space proportional to the nerve concentrations are reason for huge lips, tongue, and hand.

    • RicardoD, I remember reading somewhere that, while the penis is sensitive, it is of a different kind of sensitivity than the hand, the lips or even the feet. There is no tactile discrimination. Thanks for dropping by and commenting…

  7. Lou Bashall says:

    Hi, great article which I whole heartedly agree with! I’m currently putting together a presentation on feet and a need a good image that shows cortical representation of feet. I’ve looked around and this is one of the best that I’ve found. Please can you let me know where it’s from so that I can use it, and if need be, get permission to use it. Many thanks
    Lou

    • Hello Lou, thanks for the kind words. The image of the homunculus is not mine, and I don’t know the source of the image, otherwise I would have linked to it… All the best,
      Pieter

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