Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bodies In Motion

One of the more silly beliefs that most people cling to, one that is so ingrained as to be "true", is René Descartes distinction between mind and body or what is sometimes referred to as "mind-body dualism". Descartes argued that the natures of mind and body differ fundamentally, the mind being a thinking thing and the body being a non-thinking thing, and that they can exist independently of one another.

The pervasiveness of mind-body dualism is evident in everything from education to medicine to daily language. We talk about diseases that are physical (in the body) and psychosomatic (in his head), the former being real, the latter being fake. Our educational systems place higher priority on developing the mind than the body. We distinguish professions that are mind-oriented (white collar) from those that are body-oriented (blue collar).

The distinction is artificial. Thinking is simply another bodily function, one that depends upon the entire body, not just the brain. In fact, one could think about thinking as a whole-body function.

You might argue that it's all academic or semantics; it's just philosophical masturbation. However, our penchant for mind-body dualism limits us significantly and it does so on a daily basis.

Thinking is not the primary reason that our brains developed the way they did; it's just a side-effect. Our brains developed as they did in order to process the vast sensory data generated by walking and then running upright over long distances. Bipedal motion is an extremely complex function (just ask anyone who's tried to create a robot that can walk over varied terrain.) As we walk or run, our brains process vestibular, tactile, aural and visual information and then send signals to other systems in order to keep us upright and to avoid hazards.

It just so happens that a brain that can do all that can also think. Further, when a system is compromised in its ability to process and respond to sensory data, thinking is one of the first things to go. When this occurs, the solution is not to try harder to think, the solution is to get the whole system back on line by correcting the sensory process issues. (If your hearing has ever been compromised by clogged sinuses, you know what I'm talking about.)

However, when you buy into mind-body dualism, you miss this. When a kid struggles in school, it's rarely due to his mind or his general capacity to think. It's about his sensory systems being out of balance. This general incapacitation affects his specific capacity to think (i.e., his capacity to think when his sensory systems are compromised.) If you tell him to try harder or to focus or to behave, he may start fidgeting or act out. Why? Because he's trying to regulate his sensory systems in the best ways he knows.

He knows it's a sensory processing issue. He can't tell you that in so many words, but his actions tell you.

This phenomenon is not limited to children; we all think better when our sensory systems are regulated and quiesced. Want to focus better? Take a ten minute break and run a mile. Want to feel more calm and relaxed? Drop to the floor and do twenty push-ups. Want to see things more clearly? Go juice yourself some vegetables. You'll be amazed at how well you can think when you recognize thinking is a whole-body process.

Want to become a better thinker? Take on activities that require you to process multiple sensory stimuli or to employ both sides of the brain simultaneously. I swear, playing drums (a process that requires tactile, vestibular, and auditory systems as well as coordination of left and right brain) has made Iris smarter (not to mention that a chick playing drums is just plain sexy.)

Happy Thursday,

1 comment:

  1. on the topic of drums, the kids are doing steel drums and african drums. I just told them to teach me what they learn after each class. Then we can have drumming breaks and regulate our sensory systems together. Jay may even be encouraged t hit a drum, especially if it's attached to his body. We may have to get a djembe....


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