Question 62: What is the somatosensory homunculus?
The somatosensory homunculus is similar to the retinotopic map and the
motor homunculus. It is distinct from the mentalistic homunculus which
causes problems when used as an explanation for cognitive processes.
Homunculus means 'little man' and the somatosensory homunculus is a
representation of the body's sensory surface (skin), shaped
approximately like a little man ie. body shape. Retinotopic mapping and
the somatosensory homunculus have been used to demonstrate that analog
processing occurs in the brain. The mental map of the sensory surfaces
of the body is an analog shadow which has been translated and
transformed and exists in the brain. The projection occurs onto
specific brain areas and a map is formed. It has been shown that analog
images can be manipulated without the need for the mentalistic
homunculus or 'little man in the head'. It follows that mental imagery
can be regarded as a valid explanation of some cogntive processes
(Kosslyn). By symbol manipulation it is possible to imitate images and
manipulate analog images. Symbol manipulation and analog processing are
essentially mindless. The somatosensory homunculus is an example of
such mindless processing.
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