The Intelligence of Moving Bodies: A Somatic View of Life and Its Consequences
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
by: Denis Leri

Section: Community News




The Intelligence of Moving Bodies: A Somatic View of Life and Its Consequences
By Carl Ginsburg with contributions by Lucia Schuette-Ginsburg
 
Carl Ginsburg and Lucia Schuette-Ginsburg have crafted a unique book. It braids together several traditions of thought and practice: Science, especially neuroscience and cognitive science; anecdote and first-person narrative; and, deep insights into the actual practice of the Feldenkrais Method®. Carl Ginsburg’s position is unique in the Feldenkrais Community. Not only is he one of its most competent practitioners, he is also a scientist, a former professor chemistry and a writer known for his beautiful literary constructions. With his many years of private practice and training others in the Feldenkrais Method, his insights have much to tell us about what we as Feldenkrais® practitioners do. So, what has he done in his book that hasn’t been done before?
 
I spent the winter and spring of 1979 in Israel working for and studying with Moshe Feldenkrais. In our many discussions, I had tried to make the case for the relevance of the research and neuro-epistemology of Francisco Varela, Humberto Maturana and Heinz von Foerster all of whom I had studied with. Their notion of autopoiesis (from Greek ατo- [auto-], meaning "self", and ποίησις [poiesis], meaning "creation, production") was at the time a radically new definition of what constitutes a living system. When I left Israel, I gave Moshe Feldenkrais my copy of Francisco Varela’s Principles of Biological Autonomy. In 1980, I had the opportunity to introduce Feldenkrais to Varela. Feldenkrais surprised and delighted Varela by telling him that the Principles of Biological Autonomy was one of the 2 or 3 most important books he had ever read. To understand the significance and importance of the worldview of Varela to the practice of Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement, The Intelligence of Moving Bodies is a must read. But, there are a thousand other reasons to read it also.

For any Feldenkrais practitioner or even a long-term lay student, the many short observational experiments and explorations will seem familiar. The case histories from their Feldenkrais practices are solid and well told. Yet, set against the background of the rest of the book, their explorations and anecdotes yield a new comprehension and appreciation of the Feldenkrais Method. As a way to bring forth the felt sense of the true import of the book, the exercises and case studies situate the Feldenkrais Method alongside an emerging approach to consciousness research known as First Person science. First Person science necessitates shifting the focus from observed systems to observing systems. Heinz von Foerster, in his keynote address at a Feldenkrais Guild annual conference a number of years ago, made the call for this new kind of science to be named “systemics.” It is to be understood that systemics will be no less rigorous than traditional science.  In fact, because it invests our researches with a thorough accounting of our own contributions to our observations and our subsequent formulations, it demands of the practitioner not only a fundamental ethics but also – and this is so important – an evolving and self-refining aesthetics. Feldenkrais practitioners can live with Heinz von Foerster’s definitions: Ethics -- act always to increase choices.  As Feldenkrais practitioners, we start out assuming that, given their perception, each person makes the best choice possible.  That’s the first half on an ethical stance. The other half is how we endeavor to expand their perception of options. Again, von Foerster: Aesthetics -- to know, learn how to act. Feldenkrais practitioners: We become adept at evaluating sensations based upon distinguishing differences. The feeling for difference fosters learning how to learn. 
 
I am partial to Ginsburg’s chapter on Kelso and Engstrom’s “Coordination Dynamics,” which is, “the science of coordination… a set of context-dependent laws or rules that describe, explain, and predict how patterns of coordination form, adapt, persist and change in natural systems.” Kelso and Engstrom trace their scientific pedigree to Aharon Katachalsky, known in Israel as Aharon Katsir. Feldenkrais and Katsir were very close friends. [see the Feldenkrais Journal #19: Moshe Feldenkrais Discusses Awareness & Consciousness with Aharo Katsir with an introduction by Carl Ginsburg]. Moshe and Katsir co-authored a book on the origins of thinking, the manuscript of which, sadly, was never found amongst Feldenkrais’s belongings. Ginsburg gives a good accounting of a kind of science that is compatible with a first person, “felt sense” awareness. With coordination dynamics, Ginsburg says, “one can potentially create a research agenda to account for the integrative and disintegrative processes of living systems.” What kinds of processes characterize living systems? They would need to be linear and nonlinear, able to shift from convergence to divergence and back, have both “attractors” and “repellers,” be capable of having stability, meta-stability, and instability plus they could be multifunctional.
 
The language of coordination dynamics could easily describe the learning dynamics found in Feldenkrais lessons. I would say that the logic and aesthetic style of Ginsburg’s writing could also be so described.  I say that as a compliment. We find the book has structure and a general direction and yet the book can be arresting in the way we are engaged by this or that thought, quote, story or description. It can also launch us on a novel train of thought that comes more from reading between the lines than reading the actual lines.
           
Perhaps the most central bit of the book’s grounding rests upon the work of G. Spencer-Brown, who created the cult classic, the Laws of Form, by building on the work of C. S. Peirce, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alonzo Church, and others. That book underpins much of Ginsburg’s efforts to unite many different levels of first-person experience and third person information. Initially, the idea behind Spencer-Brown’s book came from an intractable real-world engineering problem. Since it was intractable it meant that a new means was needed to approach it. Rather than solving a problem, the task became how to pose it. In learning how to pose the problem, Spencer-Brown essentially accomplished a profound unlearning of some of the most entrenched elements in mathematics. He was able to deconstruct any number system down to a more fundamental or primitive level by shifting from the use of numbers to using tokens of indication. He noted that before we can number or enumerate, we must first distinguish. That is, to form any collection (cardinality) or delineate a series (ordinality) of objects (virtual or actual), we must first draw a distinction, that is, indicate a thisthisthis from a background that, and then map the distinctions or indications into a numerical system. By circumventing the mapping into a number system, he was able to create a tool fit to underpin a new framing of problems in engineering, biology, physics, and pure mathematics.
 
Ginsburg explains quite well how and why the so-called “calculus of indications” is so helpful when one needs to understand living systems as temporal processes. While the Laws of Form is ostensibly about mathematics, the import for any kind of fundamental thinking is not lost on Spencer-Brown, whose preface and notes to the Laws of Form have become famous in their own right. Within the Feldenkrais tradition, essential to any really new or novel thought, act, feeling or sensation, is the need to unlearn the hold of its past meanings on us and to move the new meanings into a new meaningfulness, a new “form of life.” We must, as the poet Valery says, understand that “Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.” Unlearning the hold of verbal meaning resonates with Feldenkrais’s mistrust of verbal understanding, that is, thinking that if you can name it you then understand it. Feldenkrais encouraged us to think in images, that is to say, to think for ourselves out of how life presents itself to us. Fundamental images prior to a naming of them, are for Spencer-Brown, tokens for the how our primary processes cleave us to the world we make. To cleave, meaning to cut and also to join, is Spencer-Brown’s way of characterizing and packing differentiation and integration into a simple, fundamental image. Novel and fresh images are essential to stimulate a reaching for Feldenkrais’s notion of mature behavior, that form of life which exhibits harmonious thinking, sensing, feeling and acting. 
 
Ginsburg and Schuette-Ginsburg rekindle our connections to ways that the Feldenkrais Method can create a new relation to the world, to others, to ourselves. Developmental learning theory, biology, neurobiology, thoughts on affect, an exegesis of perception, Feldenkrais anecdotes from their practices, observational explorations, a nifty glossary and a fantastic bibliography: It’s all in the book! The book is a reminder that, in being a Feldenkrais practitioner, one has experienced a fundamental shift away from received second-hand knowledge, knowing what, to an embracing of a practice, a way to know how.
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