A woman born without a finger and thumb has grown them back – as a phantom limb.

The women, identified only as RN, was born with three fingers on her right hand, and subsequently lost her hand to a car accident when she was 18. Following the accident, she developed a phantom hand, but the hand had not only 3 fingers, but the full complement of 5.

While the two ‘missing’ phantom fingers were shorter than the other three, this phenomenon indicates that the brain has a hardwired idea of what a body should look like, independent of our own perception. Matthew Longo, of Birbeck University of London, argues that this study adds to the growing idea that our conscious experience of the body is dependent upon some intrinsic, hardwired understanding, and not just as a result of experience.

HSPS applicants should think about this woman’s experience in the larger frame of ‘habitus’, a sociological concept that argues against this idea and instead says we are formed by repeated, social stylizations from our experiences. Medicine applicants should think on the balance between a patient’s perception of their illness narrative, and what a doctor perceives to be the illness narrative, when treating a patient.

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