Model based reasoning in the Alexander technique

This article arose as an answer to a question (below) of one of my young students. You will quickly see that there is more than just the requested answer as I continue to explain a) the form of reasoning Alexander was endorsing in his books and b) how this form of reasoning represents not only the springboard of his discovery but also the tool by which we can bring our pupils to radically change their conceptions about the use of the self, provided we train them to reason in this manner.

I personally think that training our pupils to reason and to reduce the gap between their speech and their actions is more important to their lives than improving their use of the self. Nonetheless, as improving general use and reasoning-in-a-new-way go together, it is clear that the fact that most people suffer from poor coordination and have no idea other than deceptive somatic methods of cure to alleviate their defects makes the subject of conscious concerted movements the perfect training ground for and introduction to model-based reasoning.

I will finish this introduction with a word of caution and encouragement. This article may be difficult to read; depending on your training, it may even feel hostile to many of your cherished ideas. In the following sentence, “The pupil who has been brought up on the subconscious methods is not attracted, as a rule, by this form of reasoning when faced with a “difficulty” (Alexander, F.M.; CCCI, p. 86), what Alexander meant by “subconscious methods” is what is known today as somatic culture, a culture which encourages sensing, a sensory perception that is proprioceptive self-sensing of the “body” by the ‘mind’ (Mullan, K.; The Art and Science of Somatics: theory, History and Scientic Foundations, (2012). Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS). Paper 89. p. 11). If you have been trained by and if you support the subconscious methods, you should not be attracted to this reflexion (according to F.M.), because its subject is reasoning, the core of the principle of conscious guidance and control and because reasoning to solve coordination problems is directly opposed to somatic culture. Yet, I would like to encourage you to read on, as there is nothing better than discussing theories on which different practices are based to know your own.

“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories”. Sun tzu; the art of war. 

Here is the question:

Q: Hello Jeando, one more question came up from the “to see or not to see, reflexion on pedagogical tools” article from the part “The battle of reasoning from visual clues against the ‘example and authority of touch'”: “When Alexander changed his general use (general coordination) he was working with his reflection (reasoning) while he was working with his reflexion (visuospatial cognition) in the mirror. These activities were not separated. He was not interested and even less guided by what he felt: he combated his self-hypnotic tendency with controlled experiments in which he ordered the movements of his reflection to see what he was really doing with the different parts of his torso. I cannot see why we should not do what he did in our lessons.”

Q: Could you please clarify the difference between the use of the words ‘reflexion’ and ‘reflection’ and why the latter can be understood as reasoning and the former as visuospatial cognition? I get most confused when you write that “he ordered the movements of his reflection”. It makes not much sense to me to substitute ‘reasoning’ in there. Hope you can clear this up for me!

What has become of the tool of inquiry, the Alexander technique described in 1917 by John Dewey?

With conscious control, on the other hand, true development (unfolding), education (drawing out), and evolution are possible along intellectual as against the old orthodox and fallacious [somatic] lines, by means of reasoned processes, analysed, understood, and explicitly directed. Conscious control enables the subject, once a fault be recognized, to find and readily apply the remedial process. (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance (Third Ed., 1946), p. 137)

I am sorry to have created the confusion; yet you must understand that I first started it on purpose. The sentence “he ordered the movements of his reflection”, where “his reflection” means the image of the articulated segments of his anatomical structure shown by his mirrors[1] makes perfect sense if you realise that visual analysis reveals the movements of the different parts of the mechanism with which a person assumes his postures. The movements of the different parts represent the means whereby a posture is gained while the form or position (the type of relationship between the parts) represents the end.

“I don’t like the word posture, I don’t like the word behaviour and I used them as little as possible in my books. Posture is a static condition, it is the end to be gained, not the means whereby you should gain it. […]
“The point I am after is that I am interested in what you are doing with yourself in moving, for instance, your arm…” (Alexander, F.M.; St. Dunstan’s Lecture, 1949).

When working with himself, Alexander found he could “order” himself to do simultaneously different movements of each and every parts of the anatomical structure that he had seen on the mirror to obtain a new relationship between the parts in his reflection/image.

The method is based firstly on the understanding of the co-ordinated uses of the muscular mechanisms, and secondly, on the complete acceptance of the hypothesis that each and every movement can be consciously directed and controlled. (Alexander, F.M., “Man’s supreme inheritance”, Chaterson Ltd 1910, reprinted 1946, p. 120)

This became possible, only because he had used mirrors and the means of reasoned processes, analysed, understood, and explicitly directedSeeing in his reflection/image what he theorised “wrong movements” or “series of habitual, unconsidered movements of the parts which had resulted in the deformation of the torso” gave him the opportunity to reason out a model of the mechanism he was dealing with to plan (to think about a future situation which was contrary to his habit of movements or habit of general use in order to decide the best way to do it) and experiment a new general coordination constructed with correct concerted movements of these parts explicitly directed by a series of verbal instructions.

He soon discovered that planning the orders and giving the orders of movement was only a necessary theoretical move with little effect in practice: more often than not, he failed to put his new decisions in practice because his sense of feeling was overriding the conscious series of decisions in his attempts at projecting the new use (at the critical moment when the giving of the orders of movement merged into “doing”).

Faced with this, I now saw that if I was ever to succeed in making the changes in use I desired, I must subject the processes directing my use to a new experience—the experience, that is, of being dominated by reasoning instead of by feeling, particularly at the critical moment when the giving of directions merged into “doing” for the gaining of the end I had decided upon. (Alexander, F.M., “The use of the self”, Integral Press 1932, reprinted 1955, p. 22)

This is how he came to devise a process of conscious guidance and control by which he could progressively make sure to obey his speech-instructions and not his feeling-sense, to bridge the gap between his speech (orders) and his actions, whatever his feelings during the projections of his intentions. You know the story of his combat against his subjective habit,[2] i.e., against his habit of judging whether experiences of use were “right” or not by the way they felt.

At least, this is what I had intended to do and thought I had done, so that, as far as I could then see, I should have been able to employ the new “means-whereby” for the gaining of my end with some degree of confidence. The fact remained that I failed more often than not, and nothing was more certain than that I must go back and reconsider my premises (Alexander, F.M.; The Use of the Self, Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis, (Third Ed. Centerline Press 1946).pdf, p. 20).

Coming back to your question, it is also true that I added on the confusion in my conclusion by exchanging by mistake the role I had affected to the words reflection (visuospatial cognition) and reflexion (reasoning with speech). Since then, and thanks to your comment, I have overhauled the article. Of course Walter Carrington, from whose mouth the sentence is taken,[3] could not have made a) the same spurious distinction because he was speaking that sentence aloud and b) nor the error which conflicted with my demonstration (which you cleanly spotted out) .

So to set the account straight, according to Walter, Alexander, unlike the people he trained, used his REASONING to plan and order the movements of the parts of his anatomical structure he could SEE of his own image in the mirror and he was not interested in the feelings these movements produced. In other words, he was not interested in the old orthodox and fallacious lines which all taught movements relying on the feeling sense of the pupil. The reason he was not interested should be obvious: he had found in his experiments of guidance of a new general use that he could not use his sense of feeling to make sure that he had obeyed his new reasoned decisions “— either to refuse to give consent to an unwanted movement or to give consent to a new movement in the concerted series he wanted to coordinate.

Clearly, to “feel” or think I had inhibited the old instinctive reaction was no proof that I had really done so, and I must find some way of ” knowing” (Alexander, F.M.; The Use of the Self, Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis, (Third Ed. Centerline Press 1946), p. 21).

I will come back in a moment to the emphasis on the ‘reasoning phase’ [reflexion] in the previous sentence and the relation with the ‘seeing phase’ [reflection] in his process of experiments.

First, lets say that he whole apparent confusion between reflection and reflexion was an error on my part which I made to alert the reader to a connection seldom recognized. I will explain.

You need to know that is possible to think the distinction between what you see in the mirror and what you reason very easily in French: In French, the word “le reflet” is the reflection of something on the mirror. It is purely a visual characteristic and has no connotation of reasoning. Again, in French, the word “la réflexion” is the capacity to think. It belongs primarily to the semantic field of ideas, logic and speech constructions. It can only become associated with visual cues when associated with a clause involving some ray of light being projected on a reflective surface.

In English, the nouns reflection and reflexion exist and are identical. They both mean a) the image of someone on a mirror and/or b) careful thought and consideration. Depending on the context, the reader will find which definition to use, whether the writer is observing his reflected image or observing his thoughts.

Now, knowing this, the distinction I made was a remote attempt at highlighting the close relationship between the two activities in Alexander fundational experiments and the benefit that can be gained in teaching our students to reason with prototypal models (model-based reasoning), starting with the models Alexander describes when he sees the movements of the different parts of his torso in the mirrors. Different models will illustrate the main characteristics and constraints of a mechanism[4] which can because of the representation of the model in mind be manipulated mentally with tought-experiments in order to guide decisions of concerted movements you have never done before and, hence, never felt beforehand. I will show that making decisions on the basis of this form of reasoning and mental manipulations based on a score of definite models was essential to Alexander conceptual change and ‘discovery’ and it is quite possible that it will reveal itself as a fundamental means to learning conscious guidance and control in the future.

This is to say that the subject is, to me at least, much broader than it seems at first glance. It touches WHAT we are teaching and how we could teach. Most modern Alexander technique teachers nowadays teach the technique as if it was some sort of somatic therapy (teaching their pupil to feel a ‘correct use’, i.e., a correct result), or, for the less orthodox, a technique to cast hand-spells on the pupil to produce a gentle form of spiritual healing. Placing the sensory experience of an organisation of different parts before its conception, they all reject reasoning as a form of “separation from nature”. They do not see a) that Alexander had to reason before he could conceive a new coordination, i.e., an orderly combination of the different parts of his organism, and b) that he gained a sensory experience of it only after having managed to make his decisions effective against his subjective habit.

As the reader knows, I had recognized much earlier that I ought not to trust to my feeling for the direction of my use, but I had never fully realized all that this implied—namely, that the sensory experience associated with the new use would be so unfamiliar and therefore “feel” so unnatural and wrong that I, like everyone else, with my ingrained habit of judging whether experiences of use were “right” or not by the way they felt, would almost inevitably balk at employing the new use. Obviously, any new use must feel different from the old, and if the old use felt right, the new use was bound to feel wrong. I now had to face the fact that in all my attempts during these past months I had been trying to employ a new use of myself which was bound to feel wrong, at the same time trusting to my feeling of what was right to tell me whether I was employing it or not. This meant that all my efforts up till now had resolved themselves into an attempt to employ a reasoning direction of my use at the moment of speaking, while for the purpose of this attempt I was actually bringing into play my old habitual use and so reverting to my instinctive misdirection. Small wonder that this attempt had proved futile !
Faced with this, I now saw that if I was ever to succeed in making the changes in use I desired, I must subject the processes directing my use to a new experience—the experience, that is, of being dominated by reasoning instead of by feeling, particularly at the critical moment when the giving of directions merged into “doing” for the gaining of the end I had decided upon.(Alexander, F.M.; The Use of the Self, Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis, (Third Ed. Centerline Press 1946), p. 21)

I would like to show that there is another approach possible which, despite the fact that Alexander did not teach entirely that way, was clearly heralded in his writings. This other approach is to teach a process of inquiry, using model-based reasoning in order to make and maintain decisions of movements which are at variance with our habitual use of the different parts of the torso.

Despite John Dewey’s appreciation which places the Alexander technique as a scientific teaching in the strictest sense of the word, the modern Alexander technique has never been taught as principled teaching or, to take a more common expression, as a scientific subject, i.e., a tool of inquiry for the individual 1) to evaluate his decisions of concerted actions (concerted movements) and 2) to transform radically his attempts at changing his habitual coordination.

Any sound plan must prove its soundness in reference both to concrete consequences and to general principles. What we too often forget is that these principles and facts must not be judged separately, but in connexion with each other. Further, whilst any theory or principle must ultimately be judged by its consequences in operation, whilst it must be verified experimentally by observation of how it works, yet in order to justify a claim to be scientific, it must provide a method for making evident and observable what the consequences are; and this method must be such as to afford a guarantee that the observed consequences actually flow from the principle. And I unhesitatingly assert that, when judged by this standard—that is, of a principle at work in effecting definite and verifiable consequences—Mr. Alexander’s teaching is scientific in the strictest sense of the word. It meets both of these requirements. In other words, the plan of Mr. Alexander satisfies the most exacting demands of scientific method. (Dewey, John; in his introduction of Alexander, F.M.; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (Eighth edition, 1946).pdf, p. xxiiv)

It is not difficult to find in his books strong passages where Alexander considered both proposed subconscious practices (somatic therapy and spiritual healing) as “unreasoning ways to find a cure”, but his advice has been discarded and the damage has been done as it has been totally forgotten that the technique could be a tool of personal inquiry based on a form of reasoning unheard of in gestural and movements practices. As Norwood Russel Hanson remarked, when we are exposed to a radical new conception, “the issue is not to theory-using, but theory-finding“.[5] The main ordeal is not the testing of Alexander’s hypotheses but their re-discovery by each and every pupil which has lessons with me. Alexander saw different things in his mirrors and reasoned in a different way than somatic educators do, and there is no authoritarian way to make ourselves or our pupil see or reason the way he did. My way is to help the student construct his own path of inquiry, by teaching him how to use the tools which make reasoning with models possible, and thereby, construct his own experiments to form his own new conceptions.

Of course, there are obstacles to overcome or bypass. It is now impossible to talk about ‘reasoning’ and ‘teaching’ in the same sentence without having Alexander touch-teachers raise their shoulders to the sky. It has become inconceivable for trainees and pupils alike to envision learning and later teaching the technique as a form of science lesson —an everyday method of inquiry into their own gestures and reactions, i.e., a method of inquiry into the link between the orders they give themselves and how they respond to these orders. This approach does not seem, look or feel like the modern Alexander technique. It bypasses the need to rely on the pupil’s subconscous guidance, i.e., his ingrained habit of judging whether experiences of use are “right” or not by the way they feel; it rests on training the pupil’s mind 1) to reason about solving real kinematics problems on their own and 2) to inquire on how he can make his speech orders direct his decisions and actions in actual practice to create unknown experiences by reasoning from known to unknown experiences.

For years now the technique described in my book The Use of the Self has made possible the gaining of previously unknown experiences by reasoning from known to unknown experiences in the process of bringing about changes in manner of use (Alexander, F.M.; The Universal Constant in Living, (Third Ed. 1946), p. 161)

In my view, there is a great difference between teachers and therapists. “Teachers” teach their pupils to reason about problems they encounter and to construct their own appropriate experiment which lead to solutions, i.e., solutions appropriate to their needs, when therapists provide a fixed solution with their own hands!

It was a time when “reasoning” as in “reasoning from the known to the unknown[6] was the distinctive feature that served to distinguish the Alexander technique. Nowadays, reasoning is totally discredited by the therapist-teachers themselves as they cannot understand the link between reasoning and conscious guidance of a complex anatomical structure. They do not see that reasoning can make possible the gaining of previously unknown experiences in the process of bringing about changes in manner of use (in series of concerted movements). They most of the times restrict the conception of reasoning to a cold intellectual play with deductive and inductive arguments after which it is easy for them to oppose that ‘reduced form’ of reasoning to the live, gleaming world of feelings they propose as proof of the efficacy of their ‘teaching’. Even the offshoots of the main churches of the modern Alexander technique which make some effort at analysing Alexander’s books have totally cut off reasoning from the practice of procedures: in the end, all their reasoning is to justify the use of the hands in teaching and the “need of sensory control” to learn and apply a new use.

I maintain that when Alexander teachers view themselves as ‘somatic educators’, they are missing the fact that the kind of reasoning Alexander was using —model-based reasoning— is nothing they imagine and that there is a great cost to pay for dismissing it so readily, i.e., losing the very core of the rational technique brought to us by F.M. Alexander’s books.

Apart from the initial Alexander technique, all the approaches of gestural education are somatic — modern Alexander technique, Pilates, Feldenkrais, dance education, Yoga, BodyMind centering, etc…— are all based on the same core principles, “natural movement”, guidance and control through “correct feelings”, concept that the pupil should think the “correct thoughts” to invoke some ‘inner intelligence of the body’, positive suggestions associated with light touch and all the like. Associating the Alexander technique with these methods which seek to reach the subjective mind and the natural body and to put the flexible working of the reasoning mind is just missing its revolutionary theory of conscious reasoned  guidance and control.

Briefly, all three methods [hypnotism, faithhealing, repetition of positive orders] seek to reach the subjective mind by deadening the objective or conscious mind, and the centre and backbone of my theory and practice, upon which I feel that I cannot insist too strongly, is that THE CONSCIOUS MIND MUST BE QUICKENED.
It will be seen from this statement that my theory is in some ways a revolutionary one, since all