The Centre for the Alexander Technique

Pete’s Blog -15th January 2019 – Faulty or Unreliable Sensory Appreciation?

It was at the International Congress of the Alexander Technique in Freiburg, Germany that I rather abruptly stopped using the term “faulty sensory appreciation”.  I had walked out of a rather tedious workshop and found myself sitting on a bench outside with Kevan Martin who describes himself as an Alexander Groupy.  I was soon to discover that he was much more than that.  A quick check on the internet reveals him to be a Professor of Systems Neurophysiology at the Institute of Neuroinformatics in the University of Zurich.  More than just an Alexander Groupy.  I don’t recall what made me use the expression  “faulty sensory appreciation”.  But he rapidly brought me to order, saying it was not faulty.  In fact it  was designed to work that way.  Intrigued, I listened further.  The point is that we have a limited capacity for processing information.  A child learning to stand upright (or to walk or to acquire any other sort of skill for that matter) is subject to a whole mass of stimuli which will occupy all of his attention until he or she is able to stay upright, ambulate etc.  At that point attention to all these stimuli is not needed and once the skill had been mastered the responses to these can become unconscious and the child can go on to kick a football, etc without worrying about staying upright.  That’s how that particular sort of sensory appreciation is supposed to work.

Unfortunately the same applies to bad habits as well as good.  They become engrained in the organism and inaccessible to consciousness.  Thus I can learn to read while throwing my neck forward and my head back and for as long as this works ok my use can remain unconscious and I am free to acquire another habit or skill.  The point is that the throwing of the neck forward and the head back become the default starting point for the next activity.  They become habitual, even comfortable, and any deviation from this may well feel uncomfortable and strange.  Just like the little girl who says of Alexander’s work, “Mummie, he’s pulled me out of shape!”

The system is designed to recalibrate back to zero once the learning, good or bad, has become established.  Nothing faulty about it, just capable of generating illusions.  Kevan also provided me with a list of references taken from the field of visual perception which I will append later.

Meanwhile I’ve stopped using the expression “faulty sensory appreciation”.  I’ve also searched Alexander’s writings for it and failed to find it! However, the expression remains in current usage and is to be found in the writings of eminent first generation teachers such as Patrick Macdonald.