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This has implications for chronic pain. The body itself may not be physically unwell per se, but the nervous system could reply the same script over and over again.

Pain and body image are closely related. We always experience pain as projected into the body. When you throw your back out, you say, “My back is killing me!” and not, “My pain system is killing me.” But as phantoms show, we don’t need a body part or even pain receptors to feel pain. We need only a body image, produced by our brain maps. People with actual limbs don’t usually realize this, because the body images of our limbs are perfectly projected onto our actual limbs, making it impossible to distinguish our body image from our body. “Your own body is a phantom,” says Ramachandran, “one that your brain has constructed purely for convenience.”

The brain changes itself

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