More on personal naming


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?

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8 thoughts on “More on personal naming

  1. Thank you Nancy, that’s very helpful. Interesting that in your experience saying only the name comes in like a third party. That’s actually what I found to be most useful! If I say only my name, it becomes the first word — a command — in whatever action I might be considering. As in, “Dave, pick up the cup.” Because I can say it (either silently or aloud) before any action, I don’t need to define the end of the action I’m considering — it’s a way of dissolving end-gaining into the means-whereby from outside the end rather than, or in addition to, the inside.

    I agree that such commands could be related to the original degradation of the primary control. The number of times I call my nine-year old son in a stern voice is legion, yet accountability seems to be an insuperable requirement of living! (Evidence that AT will have a market for many years to come.)

    My only question is what you mean by “neurologically” in reference to third parties. That’s not a use of the term I’m familiar with. Is it a technical use of the word from another discipline besides AT?

    • Good question on use of the term “neurologically”.. I could have said that when an individual speaks their name aloud, the name is processed, understood, or perceived as coming from outside the self. I was referring back to some of the early (1970’s) work with affirmations and NeuroLinguistic Processing that said spoken words are interpreted by the brain as coming from an external source. I don’t have a reference for this. I am also a Feldenkrais Practitioner and during my training Moshe Feldenkrais, a scientist himself, made many references to developments in neuroscience and how it supported his work with conscious movement learning.
      What you are describing in your original post sounds like something to add every time you want to change your use. What I am describing is more of an exercise in developing embodied presence and self-awareness while applying Alexanders principles. So it is two choices to experiment with.

      • That’s really quite amazing that one’s own speech would be processed as if coming from another party. What’s the best evidence you know of showing that? Is there any literature in neurolinguistics that specifically addresses this finding? (The references to neurolinguistics I see online so far are fairly general.)

        And yes, it does seem we’re conducting slightly different experiments. It’s true that I add the pronouncing of my name to the directions when I want to change my use. But I also add it before considering my use. What I’m finding is that this “steps up” the question of end-gaining, allowing me to suspend my choice of the imminent end I have in view, and so to inhibit the very idea of end-gaining! Very satisfying, so far.
        Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  2. I was at a workshop led by Bonnie Cohen, founder of Body Mind Centering and she had us each stand up and say “I Am….(your name)…” while being as present and aware as possible. It was profound for most. I have tried this with other professionals and found them to often be nearly unable to say their name in a conscious way. So, with creating a safe learning environment in mind, I now use it mainly in my private practice with individuals with results that multiply over time.

    • Thanks for this, Nancy, it’s quite interesting. I have a few questions if you have a moment:
      Do you ask individuals to say “I am [their name]” as Bonnie Cohen did, or do you ask them just to say their name?
      Is it something you incorporate generally or rather as an “occasional” procedure, as is often the case with the whispered ah and the Dart procedures?
      Do either you or Bonnie Cohen have a term for this procedure — a term for the pronouncing of one’s name (and inhibiting that pronunication) while giving the directions?

      • I have them say “I am[their name]” as Bonnie did. because it has more of an effect of claiming their existence and space. Saying only their name comes in neurologically more like a third party. Doing this while directing and being fully conscious and present with oneself AND another calls up many issues, which, by the way, may have to do with the original degradation of their primary control.
        This is an occasional procedure, along the lines of the whispered ah.
        I don’t know if Bonnie had a name for it. I call it the “I AM”

  3. Thanks Fran, I appreciate your efforts and look forward to hearing about anything you might find. In the meantime, I’ll google Goddard Binkley and see what I can learn on my own.

  4. No, I’ve never heard of anything like it so far. The closest most related possibility is Goddard Binkley. (Gone now, but based in Chicago, USA.) He used to have his students recite phrases while he worked on them. From what I understand, many of these recitations involved “loaded” psychological content, such as names and comments involving self-image. I never had the luck of being able to work with Binkley before he died, but perhaps someone else in the A.T. community has had direct experience could comment. I’ll ask about that elsewhere…

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