IW - “The Man Who Lost His Body”

  • David McNeill
  • Liesbet Quaeghebeur
  • Susan Duncan


Mr. Ian Waterman, sometimes referred to as ‘IW’, suffered at age 19 a sudden, total deafferentation of his body from the neck down - the near total loss of all the touch, proprioception, and limb spatial position senses that tell you, without looking, where your body is and what it is doing. The loss followed a never-diagnosed fever that is believed to have set off an auto-immune reaction. The immediate behavioral effect was immobility, even though IW’s motor system was unaffected and there was no paralysis. The problem was not lack of movement per se but lack of control. Upon awakening after 3 days, IW nightmarishly found that he had no control over what his body did - he was unable to sit up, walk, feed himself or manipulate objects; none of the ordinary actions of everyday life, let alone the complex actions required for his vocation. To imagine what deafferentation is like, try this experiment suggested by Shaun Gallagher: sit down at a table (something IW could not have done at first) and place your hands below the surface; open and close one hand, close the other and extend a finger; put the open hand over the closed hand, and so forth. You know at all times what your hands are doing and where they are but IW would not know any of this - he would know that he had willed his hands to move but, without vision, would have no idea of what they are doing or where they are located.


Instrumental Action Idea Unit Growth Point Linguistic Meaning Bodily Expression 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the Mind Bridge project, founded by the European Commission under the sixth Framework programme, contract no. 043457


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • David McNeill
    • 1
  • Liesbet Quaeghebeur
    • 2
  • Susan Duncan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Center for Philosophical PsychologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

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