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MENTAL FURNITURE #11

The Last Scientist and...

©1997 Dennis Leri

"All the King's horses and all the King's men could not put Humpty-Dumpty back together again."

In the Mental Furniture articles I've endeavored to portray Moshe as a thinker as well as a doer. Our own studies of the Feldenkrais Method can be furthered by some familiarity with those domains and disciplines Moshe studied and mastered. In Moshe's writings and talks we find him mixing together practical, concrete lessons with broad claims for their benefits to humanity. Not mentioned are the strata sandwiched between the practical lessons and the universal claims. In our investigations into Moshe's professional and avocational pursuits, his "mental furniture," we encounter the kinds of generalizations, abstractions, logics of reasoning that are the "scaffolding" used to create "learning how to learn" situations. We can only marvel at the leap of imagination it took to go from what was known and believed about learning and human functioning to the artifacts we now call ATM and FI lessons. In no way will a thorough critical look at the underpinnings of the Feldenkrais Method, at Moshe's influences, and at the work itself not reward the person undertaking it. The path of inquiry is laid down by following one's own interest.

We are poised to enter the next millennium. We can predict, with no fear of being proved wrong, that whatever this century has seen in terms of change will pale in comparison to what's in store for the next hundred years. For our own tumultuous era, the image of an Einstein can be taken to represent the personification of genius. In the future maybe Moshe Feldenkrais will come to have a similar stature, not as a scientist, but as the last of that breed and the first of another. Before I make that case, I want to begin with the first scientist: Galileo.

While many great thinkers preceded Galileo, he was the first modern scientist. To Galileo, the book of Nature was written in the language of mathematics. Many before him had used mathematics, especially geometry, to investigate the natural world. Galileo made the unseen world of mathematics the means of investigating, measuring and interpreting the sensible world. He also brought something new and different to the table: thought experiments. The elegance of his thought experiments plus an ability to charm and persuade made him compelling. Galileo convinced others of a way to organize thought and perform experiments that yielded truths at once both universal and amenable to change and further generalization. His persuasiveness got him convicted of heresy while his charm kept him from getting executed.

The popular image of Galileo is of his dropping objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to prove objects fall at the same rate of acceleration. It probably never happened. His actual experimentation was brilliantly conceived and executed. More important was his utilization of thought experiment. Galileo, in a thought experiment, imagined two objects falling through a vacuum at the same rate. No such vacuum existed until some sixty to eighty years after Galileo thought it into existence. And, of course, when put to the actual test objects fell as Galileo imagined. By his own admission, the thought experiments Einstein constructed to develop his notion of Relativity owe much to Galileo.

In imagining objects falling through empty space Galileo had to disregard the world as he and others knew and intuited it. Neither he, nor anyone else, has ever experienced on this Earth a feather and a cannonball falling at the same rate except in a carefully constructed environment. Galileo had to factor out the persuasive evidence of his senses which were part and parcel with the sensibilities of the then prevalent world view. The doubting of appearances is the basis for the notion that science is counter-intuitive. Color, temperature, smell, taste and texture have no relationship to considerations of mass and motion as mathematical and theoretical constructs. They are irrelevant. After factoring out the evidence before us and by considering the laws of motion, the motion of objects can be reconsidered. Knowing that objects are drawn to the Earth (as an example of gravitational attraction) at the same rate allows one to account for why in our observations they do not: wind resistance, friction, etc. Newton formalized Galileo ideas and actually to some degree limited them. Einstein gives credit to Galileo for the idea of Relativity, a possibility Newton missed. Galileo reduced the explanation of so much of the phenomenal world to principles that the notion of reductionism began with him and flourished with Newton.

Jump ahead a few hundred years and look in on a young Russian born Jew -- Palestine emigrant, French university educated, Judo trained, lab assistant to Joilet-Curie -- living in London working for the British Admiralty during WWII. Picture Galileo as the bookend at the beginning of science and Moshe the bookend at science's end. At the end, that is, of a certain, pervasive, dominant reductionistic practice of science. Moshe realized that for human life to come to life it must regain it's senses. Moshe was fond of saying that any abstract thought deserving of the name thought could be shown to have it's basis in the phenomenal world. There should be 'instances,' that is, specific embodiments of thoughts for every general notion. When he personally really needed it, all his scientific understanding and all his practical experience in Judo and other domains did not enable him to place himself fully in the human world. Something else was needed.

Rene Thom, the mathematician, biologist and inventor of Catastrophe Theory, has proposed that a Galilean world view is not appropriate to biological organisms. In fact, he says, responsiveness to differentials of heat and cold, light and dark, wet and dry, smooth and rough, quickness and slowness, to name a few, are essential to understanding how organisms work. Qualities are as essential to biology as quantities are to physics. Qualities are potential and generic. That is, the general possibility of experiencing hotness or coolness is actualized in a particular incident of this coolness. What this coolness may mean for me is how I use it to navigate my world. By again bringing in qualities we situate the living being. Living beings, as they are sentient and seem to want to remain so, require the ability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant qualities. Moshe used thought experiment to reverse the hundreds of years of devaluation of the senses. His thought experiments reveal the limitations of thought. Those limitations can be lifted by using the senses to flesh out the thought. To steer one's actions by using the senses paradoxically one must first inhibit an action. To hold back from action, to rehearse, to imagine, to do an experiment mentally and then to observe the consequence in action: this is the Feldenkrais Method on many levels at once.

How does one form an image of action to be performed? How does one "remember" an action just done? How can one modify or alter the course of an action while in it? How does an alterable action relate to or impact our behavior? How can we question are own ignorance and not simply add to it? Why bother? Knowing 'that' I do something is entirely different than knowing 'how' I do something. Or is it? To know 'how' implies that I know the 'what' that I am doing. How the 'what' is implicated in the 'how' is at the heart of the clarifying the notion of awareness. Feldenkrais deconstructs the order of scientific reasoning. He uses the thought experiment to end thought. That is, he uses thought experiments to link thought with action and action with thought. Thought and action, both alterable, both linked, are put at the service of constructing a life. Historically, much of the linking of scientific thought to action has been in the service of warfare. Galileo helped develop cannons. In Moshe's linking of thought with action we have the means whereby we can stop waging war against ourselves.

In what Heinz von Foerster has called the shift from "observed systems" to "observing systems" questions about the observer as well as the thing observed get bumped into a whole new world of inquiry. 'Observing' is not a thing but a way of acting. And now, at the end of the millennia, it is respectable to hypothesize enactment as knowing, cognition as action. Moshe anticipated this development and left hundreds of constructs, i.e., ATM lessons, to deconstruct 'observing.' But, in the end Moshe Feldenkrais was undone and redone by his realization that human behavior is not only action, only thought, only feelings, or only sensations. The very idea and image of a self is, when thoroughly reconnected to thought, action, sensation and feeling, not a solid thing or an ephemeral nothing. It is but the realization that, "In those moments when awareness succeeds... He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in that unity he is no longer alone." (pg. 54 Awareness Through Movement)

If there is to be any Grand Unified Theory of Everything then there must be some way to test those theories. I suggest that the tests already exist and that we are waiting for the theory. Top thinkers from within science have asserted that the current paradigm of science is at an end. When science turns the corner, transforms itself, gives itself another name then perhaps the new Book of Nature will be written in the language of sentient movement and enacted ways of knowing. The science of "brute facts" discovered by a detached observer is giving way to artifacts of knowing invented by the participation of engaged observers.

Republished on this webpage with the friendly permission of Dennis Leri.
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