Embodied Medicine: Mens Sana in Corpore Virtuale Sano

Front Hum Neurosci. 2017 Mar 16:11:120. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00120. eCollection 2017.


Progress in medical science and technology drastically improved physicians' ability to interact with patient's physical body. Nevertheless, medicine still addresses the human body from a Hippocratic point of view, considering the organism and its processes just as a matter of mechanics and fluids. However, the interaction between the cognitive neuroscience of bodily self-consciousness (BSC), fundamentally rooted in the integration of multisensory bodily inputs, with virtual reality (VR), haptic technologies and robotics is giving a new meaning to the classic Juvenal's latin dictum "Mens sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body). This vision provides the basis for a new research field, "Embodied Medicine": the use of advanced technologies for altering the experience of being in a body with the goal of improving health and well-being. Up to now, most of the research efforts in the field have been focused upon how external bodily information is processed and integrated. Despite the important results, we believe that existing bodily illusions still need to be improved to enhance their capability to effectively correct pathological dysfunctions. First, they do not follow the suggestions provided by the free-energy and predictive coding approaches. More, they lacked to consider a peculiar feature of the human body, the multisensory integration of internal inputs (interoceptive, proprioceptive and vestibular) that constitute our inner body dimension. So, a future challenge is the integration of simulation/stimulation technologies also able to measure and modulate this internal/inner experience of the body. Finally, we also proposed the concept of "Sonoception" as an extension of this approach. The core idea is to exploit recent technological advances in the acoustic field to use sound and vibrations to modify the internal/inner body experience.

Keywords: bodily self-consciousness; body matrix; embodied medicine; interoception; predictive coding; proprioception; sonoception; virtual reality.