Last week, I posted about pronouncing one’s personal name while giving the directions. I’ve been continuing this practice since then and finding it to be quite rewarding. As they say in show biz, “It’s got legs!” So I thought I would relate some of what I’ve been learning and also make an appeal.
In my previous post, I called the personal name the master stimulus, and this makes more and more sense the more I explore it. (In fact, it seems to be both a stimulus and an action, since it involves jaws and oral cavity and so on but also triggers other use.) Usually, in AT, we consider an action at hand, inhibit it, then give the directions iteratively for every part of the action. But I’ve always had a funny feeling about the “parts” of an action, because they seem to be infinitely divisible. Like Zeno’s runner in the famous thought experiment, dividing an action can be pursued forever, making the goal impossible to reach. This is quite interesting in relation to the studies of Nikolai Bernstein. Some of you may know his work well, others not so much. For some reason, I had never even heard of him until a few days ago.
Working in Soviet-era Russia, Bernstein studied motion from a scientific point of view. Like many thinkers of his era, he was interested in empirical evidence about the human body when involved in a task. What he discovered was that the body has many, many more ways of accomplishing a task than it needs. So how, he asked, does the central nervous system choose a path? One proposed solution was that humans will fix some small part of the body when first learning a task and then gradually allow more freedom in that part. This looks a lot like Frank Pierce Jones’s idea of a “set.”
Of course, Bernstein probably had no access to AT, but this discovery of his, called the degrees of freedom problem, bears upon the very problem of parts that I bring up. When we follow our habitual use, it allows us to consider a small number of choices. But when we practice AT, those parts decompose into an infinite, or nearly infinite number of choices. As a matter of mathematics, when we use the “flank maneuver” (that is, consider whether to proceed with the original action intended or to undertake an entirely new one), we may be essentially “switching around” the parts of the motion in novel ways — because we can never possibly find every part, much less inhibit it.
My idea is this: by pronouncing your name as a stimulus/action, you’re able to address all of the habitual parts for any motion, because the parts were learned in the first place through the stimulus of hearing or thinking your name. This means that you do not have to consider any intended action first. You can consider your name first — and then an action. Or rather, saying your name is an intended action that can always come first (softly if need be!), and it will always be related to any imminent proposed specific action. If your pronounce your name while giving the directions, you do not have to decompose any intended action into parts, except for the action of pronouncing your name. This greatly reduces the number of possible incremental motions you might make.
There is also a surprise consequence (at least it was a surprise to me). Having a stimulus/action that it is always at your disposal opens up the means-whereby outside an intended action. I came at the realization like this: I can say my name without considering first what other action I might be about to perform. So… I don’t have to predetermine an end at all, not even one that I can subsequently inhibit. I find this prospect quite liberating, because at any given time, I’m never sure how to formulate what my next kinesthetic goal actually is. By the time I have an end in mind, something has usually already happened, and I have to start all over again.
My appeal, then, is to the collective wisdom of the AT community. The idea of saying one’s personal name while directing is so stunningly simple, I feel surely someone must have explored it in depth before me. A few of you responded that you have used the personal name to some limited degree. But the community is large and my survey sample comes from only one post. While I’m ready to give this procedure some sort of name of its own, the last thing I would want to do is be accused of cribbing from someone else. So again, have any of you employed this procedure in a concerted way, or do you know of anyone who has?