Sensory Illusion

You’ve heard of optical illusions? This is a proprioceptive illusion!

I love neuroscience research facts.  Check out this little article about how the brain interprets where fingers are located in spacial orientation:

This tidbit seems at first like mere random curiosity, but it’s actually a very important little piece of the puzzle for our human operating manual. It shows us how our senses give us us relative sensory feedback that is not truthfully factual. What that means for all of us is because of our human ability to adapt, what is far from normal can become commonplace without our realizing what is happening. You can be doing something to yourself that is potentially painful now or intermittently; it may culminate toward chronic pain as it becomes exaggerated over time. Because your brain can be fooled by the relative nature involved in judging spacial awareness like what is happening in this Fake Finger Illusion, it’s very likely that you will not know that a potentially bad thing is happening to you.

When the article says “the human brain uses sensory signals from what we see and feel to maintain and update an internal representation of the body…” Alexander Technique teachers call this “body-mapping.” If you move with a body map that doesn’t match the way things really are, there’s a cost if it goes on or if you’re asking yourself to do things that directly go against and physically conflict with your misconception. We’ve learned that adults tend to forget they can move in every possible way; they get stuck in harmful repetitive patterns without realizing what’s happening.

Alexander Technique teachers are like human gait labs. They can see in the habitual ways a person moves the potential for long-term, cumulative damage. It’s a good idea to get checked out to see if you’re one of these people who would benefit from some preventative education to deter future problems.

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, there is a fun and memorable way to demonstrate this A.T. principle of sensory illusions in your classes and to your private students. I collect these little ways to entertain and teach my students about motor sensory distortion. F. M. Alexander used to call it “debauched kinesthesia.”

It’s a pretty common feature of lessons in Alexander Technique. If someone moves in a way that leaves out their habitual routines at the level of innate posture reflex, they will commonly feel disoriented, strange and their spacial awareness will be reporting back signals of alarm or gross distortion. A look in a mirror will prove otherwise. This alarm motivates most people to return to doing their habits to “feel right” again. It doesn’t matter to the person’s distorted sensory feedback that this sort of “right” could be terribly wrong. It matches the brain’s expectations, so supposedly “all is well.”

You can have an experience right now of this illusion without the special equipment used in the research lab. It takes two people. Just have them put their hands together, their palm of the same sided hands (two rights or two lefts) to the back of the other person’s hand. Then one person takes their other two fingers of their free hand and runs their fingers along either side of the fingers that are joined together, from palm to fingertip. The sensation of expecting to feel the other side of your own finger will be so strong that it’s offset location that the other person’s finger creates will create a strange sensation.

Try this with a friend and be amazed at the first-hand experience of “debauched kinesthesia” – or motor sensory distortion.