We’re Haywired

If you haven’t heard the news, I have some. No matter how much “better” your sensory judgment may get with training, you are always going to be using your senses in a ‘relative’ way.

‘Absolute fact’ does not exist – it’s just not how people are wired. If you’re going to make a mistake with thinking, you won’t make it with logic – you’ll make a perceptual mistake, missing what’s actually there because of your attitude, your point of view, a cultural bias or just being hungry and a bit grumpy about that. Even more important, you’ll miss things because your sensory ability is designed to be responsive to our particular situation. Human sensory ability is made so that we get used to being OK with whatever we have been repeating. We get used to things being the way they are. Something new happening usually gets our attention. But we have to recognize that it is happening in comparison to what is “normal” for us for it to make an impression on us that it is worth noting and paying attention to. So how do you know when something different is happening? It feels, looks or smells strange and unfamiliar. Whenever a significant change is made, it will always feel “strange” and “abnormal.” What’s new feels strange.

After recovering from over-doing and needing to adapt to terrible or extraordinary circumstances of life that nearly everyone encounters, it is pretty amazing how it’s still possible to uncover our original subtle sensitivity that registers change. Like a sensitive rector scale needle registering an earthquake, if the equipment gets damaged it needs to be re-sensitized. Eventually with the right sort of calibration, you can get your sense of motion bearings again and learn to do things easier as you used to be able to do it when you were younger.

Alexander implied that it’s possible, with training, to regain trust in ones’ own sensory ability. But this is a matter of degree. As this is happening, the changes that register as “significant” get more subtle, but they are still changes with those same “weird” sensations of newness.

Speaking while wearing my Alexander teacher hat, I believe that sensory appreciation is far and away more important priority as a principle than most Alexander teachers give it. Most give it lesser billing as a sort of “special effects” in relation to the other “more important” principles – but I think sensory amnesia has center stage as the one of the three most important concepts of Alexander Technique. (The other two are Inhibition and Direction.)

Further, it’s really handy when teaching Alexander Technique to have sensory appreciation be the principle that gets introduced first. It’s important because students need to know from the beginning how to recognize that something new has happened. If students don’t understand what a discovery looks like, how are they going to know they are making one when it happens?

One signal something is happening is that people will laugh. As far as humor goes – more Alexander Technique teachers should use it!


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