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Does the brain model Newton's laws?

Nature Neurosciencevolume 4pages693694 (2001) | Download Citation



How does the nervous system synchronize movements to catch a falling ball? According to one theory, only sensory information is used to estimate time-to-contact (TTC) with an approaching object1,2; alternatively, implicit knowledge about physics may come into play3,4. Here we show that astronauts initiated catching movements earlier in 0 g than in 1 g, which demonstrates that the brain uses an internal model of gravity to supplement sensory information when estimating TTC.

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Support was provided by the French space agency CNES, the Italian space agency ASI and the Italian Ministry of Health. We thank the NASA Flight Research Management Branch, the Lockheed Martin Space Operations Company, the Kinélite development team, the STS-90 astronauts (S. Altman, J. Buckey, A. Dunlap, K. Hire, R. Linnehan, C. Mukai, J. Pawelczyk, R. Searfoss, D. Williams) and M. Venet, A. Lee, D. McMahon, B. Marchiel, M. Pias, and F. Silvagnoli for development of the flight experiment; D. Angelini, M. Ehrette, P. Leboucher, P. Prévost and M. Zaoui for technical assistance; L. Amadio, M. Buderer, A. Guëll, O. Marsal and S. McCollum for program support; and D. Alais, M. Amorim, M. Carrozzo, J. Droulez, R. Grasso, Y. Ivanenko, J. Sanes, P. Senot and I. Viaud-Delmon for comments on the manuscript.

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  1. The European Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Action, Laboratoire de Physiologie de la Perception et de l'Action, CNRS and Collège de France, 11 place Marcelin Berthelot, Paris, 75005, France

    • J. McIntyre
    •  & A. Berthoz
  2. The European Laboratory for the Neuroscience of Action, Sezione di Fisiologia Umana, IRCCS Fondazione, Santa Lucia via Ardeatina 306, Rome, 00179, Italy

    • J. McIntyre
    • , M. Zago
    •  & F. Lacquaniti
  3. Centro di Bio-Medicina Spaziale, Università di Roma Tor Vergata, via O. Raimondo 1, Rome, 00173, Italy

    • F. Lacquaniti


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Correspondence to J. McIntyre or M. Zago.

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