... the greatest hope for the future lies in re-education rather than in education in the old sense. Modern man must be re-educated in a knowledge which he has lost, and the loss of which causes him to do untold damage to himself. The animals have apparently not lost this knowledge, which consists in the proper use of self. And here I come to Mr. Alexander again and to his second searching question. It will be remembered that Mr. Alexander, having come to the conclusion that our instinctive reactions to environment are no longer reliable and lead only to a faulty use of ourselves, proceeds to ask whether we have any other means of reacting to environment. To this question he replies most emphatically “Yes,” and he says that the old instinctive reactions must be replaced by consciously controlled actions.
What does he mean by this? He means that every action performed by the lower animals, or by primitive man in a stable environment, is performed by means of a central control which prevents a vicious co-ordination of their bodies.
Let me give an example: a female cat finds one of her blind new-born kittens placed on a ledge three or four feet above the floor (this experiment can be tried by anyone at any time, provided that they are dealing with a cat which is used to them, and which, moreover, is a good and passionate mother). To recover the kitten she will spring on to the ledge, and seizing the little one in her mouth, proceed to make preparations to descend with it to the basket on the floor. Now she may have to jump twice — first on to another ledge and then on to the floor — or she may accomplish the whole descent at one spring; but which ever method she adopts, her jaws will not be jarred by the leap, although they are at tension, and her teeth will in no wise press through into her offspring’s skin to hurt it. *
* I have tried this experiment with one of my own cats which is an exceptionally good mother, over a jump of four feet. But I warn the reader that not every cat will make an effort to recover her kitten, and the passionate desire to do so is essential to the experiment.
To the modern man such a feat would be impossible. The tension at his jaws would be appreciably increased, probably with an uncontrolled jerk, at the conclusion of each jump when his feet touched the ground, and the tendency would be for his teeth to try to meet in a penetrating bite.
The reason of this difference between the cat and modern man is that the cat still possesses a central control of her muscular system, which enables her to arrange a harmonious co-ordination of her body for any effort connected with the normal demands of her life, whereas man has long ago lost his central control through having had to meet too many extraordinary demands at too short notice — without, that is to say, having had time to re-educate himself.
But what is the consequence of this to man? It may be argued that, since man does not have to carry his young in his mouth from ledge to ledge of a mountain pass, there is no reason why his difference from the cat in this matter should be deplored. This is perfectly true. But man performs many other movements with his body quite as intricate as the mother cat’s feat, and if we can for a moment picture the wrongly communicated strain or stress resulting from the faulty co-ordination of each muscular effort, we at once recognize the gravity of the consequences to the individual. For although there may be no second party (the kitten in the case of the cat) to register the jar on the jaws, we must remember that the faulty co-ordination is there all the same, to produce undue pressure, constriction, friction or strain in some other part of the body at each muscular effort, and that the cumulative result of such repeated misuse in the individual himself can become very much more serious than the worst bite into the muscles of a second party.
If this is admitted — and it is easily demonstrated as a fact on the body of any modern man, be he an athlete or a sedentary philosopher — the wrong use of self is sure to be a most insidious and potent cause of faulty functioning and therefore of disease. * And Mr. Alexander’s claim that he can correct it, by means of re-educating the individual in the use of his lost central control, becomes extremely interesting and of the greatest importance for the problem of progressive physical deterioration.
* Mr. J. E. R. McDonagh, F.R.C.S., the eminent specialist, writing in Truth on Dec. 30, 1925, says: “I have spent many years in attempting to discern the nature of disease . . . and in The Nature of Disease, Part II, which is now in the Press, there is clearly portrayed what disease is, why it occurs and why it gives rise to signs and symptoms. But it is necessary to go even further back and to find why the human body should so readily become the seat of disease. This has been done by F. M. Alexander, who has shown it to be the sequence of wrong functioning, an inheritance of civilization.”
Indeed, if it be true that the function of the intellect is merely a derivative of the muscular sense — and there are many cogent reasons for accepting this view — then it is obvious that a faulty use of self debauches the mind itself; because a perverted sensory appreciation in the body must find its counterpart in a perverted consciousness. * And thus even the modern man’s concepts become suspect and unreliable.
* Prof. Dewey accepts this consequence of Mr. Alexander’s diagnosis. See p. 312, ante [chapter XI].
When once this is acknowledged, the importance of Mr. Alexander’s proposed correction increases a hundredfold; for, in addition to being a prophylactic against faulty functioning, it is seen to be a corrective of conceptual aberration or perverted consciousness.
The fact, as we have seen, that school children are found to deteriorate soon after reaching school; * the fact that, as Sir Arthur Keith has pointed out, ** there are serious faults in the posture of modern man, and the further fact that, in spite of athleticism and the prevalent enthusiasm for out-of-door games, health is not improving, all point to only one conclusion, that it is not what men do with their bodies that is so important, but how they employ their psycho-physical mechanism in doing it.
* See p. 187, ante.
** See p. 200, ante.
The position at drill is a strained and badly co-ordinated one, the movements in many physical exercises are damaging unless they are performed with a proper knowledge of the use of self, and the same applies to the movements in many games. Now, it must be clear that, if the bodily co-ordination in each of these activities is faulty, owing to the absence of the central control, very severe damage may ultimately be done by their constant repetition. And, truth to tell, that is precisely what happens.
The faulty co-ordination extends right through the muscular system, affecting even the minute and delicate muscles of the eyes, and one of its promptest symptoms is disturbed functioning. This accounts for the observed speedy deterioration of many children at school, as regards their eyesight and general condition; for it is in school that they are first drilled and encouraged to engage actively in violent exercise. It also accounts for the increase in heart and eye trouble at all ages all over England, and probably for a large number of functional disorders of the alimentary canal, which are ascribed to modern sedentary conditions, lack of fresh air, etc. It partly accounts, moreover, for the differences hitherto observable between modern man and modern woman, in the matter of the degree of their degeneracy, because, since it is only recently that women and girls have gone in for drilling, for violent games, and for physical exercises of all kinds, it is only recently that the evils resulting from ignorant use of self and faulty co-ordination have begun to affect the female sex in an acute form.
But by re-educating people in the proper use of themselves, Mr. Alexander makes games, drilling and exercises of all sorts (where there is not wilful and deliberate distortion of the body by vicious demands in posture * ) possible without damage being done to the system, and the recovery of one’s lost central control is probably one of the most wonderful experiences it is possible to have.
* As, for instance, in the standing attitude: “shoulders back,” “knees stiffened and unflexed,” “head back,” etc., all of which make faulty co-ordination inevitable.
Every action then becomes twofold: the proper means whereby are thought of and then the action is accomplished. The immediate performance of the action on wrong instinctive lines ceases to be the aim, and the means whereby supersede mere end-gaining in every activity. Response slows down, reaction also. Every act becomes a feat in conscious self-discipline, and the use of the central control leads in process to correct and harmonious co-ordination. The result is a truly marvellous toning up of the whole system, and a re-growth of unhealthy compressed nerves, blood-vessels, muscles and organs.
It is impossible to describe in words how the recovery of the central control is achieved inside the individual, or what it feels like, because inasmuch as it is a sensory experience, registered by the muscular sense, it can no more be conveyed by words than can the taste of bacon, or the look of the colour blue, or the sound of middle C of the piano. No phraseology, however skilful, can define a sensation. One can only say that it consists of restoring healthy perception to the sensory-motor system. But the mechanical process by which this is done is the following: On the threshold of every action the instinctive reflexes which are prepared to direct the individual in its accomplishment are inhibited by an act of will. For instance, the moment it occurs to him to get up, the old muscular reactions to this idea are inhibited and he sits still. Then the expert, who is aware of the correct co-ordinations required for the movement, performs the action for him, by seizing his body in such a way that the central control operates from the neck downwards and causes the body of the learner to move correctly from the chair. This constitutes a muscular experience which must be undergone in order to be known, and is the first valuable lesson. From that moment, an alert pupil knows something which he could not have known before — the difference between his former faulty and unconscious lift out of the chair, and his new and correctly co-ordinated lift out of it. This is the beginning and it is gradually built upon until two standards take shape in consciousness — the new standard with all that it means in the matter of eliminated vicious strains and pressures, and the old standard with its vicious strains and pressures vividly felt for the first time. Thus the sensory appreciation, by being re-educated, gradually serves as a check — as it always should do — to vicious and harmful movements of the body; and with this change, the further remarkable change of a chastened consciousness (a consciousness no longer reflecting a debauched bony and muscular structure) comes into being.
Gradually (the change is slow because it consists largely of regrowth) * the thoracic capacity increases, the back straightens, the nerves recover serenity, functions tend to normalize, the heart is no longer hemmed in and regains its harmonious relation to the rest of the system, and, with the expansion of the thorax, oxidation becomes adequate, irritants are removed from the blood, which otherwise cause the partial toxæmia of debility, rheumatism, gout, etc., and the individual begins to enjoy that physical resistance which is called immunity. The psychical life naturally shares in this general recovery of well-being. Reactions become more controlled, suggestibility loses its acuteness, the basis of character which is resistance (and the counterpart to physical immunity) is formed, concepts become more real, and the quality of sanity, so little understood nowadays, appears as a permanent possession. The uncontrolled man who, to the rest of the world seems normal, then begins to strike the pupil as merely a “border-line case” the gravity of whose automatisms is not sufficiently acute to lead to his confinement.
* See Dr. Peter Macdonald of York (as quoted by the British Medical Journal) in his speech before the British Medical Association Conference, 1923. “The effect of his [Mr. Alexander’s] training on health and disease is astounding, though he in no way professes to treat disease at all; he professes solely to be a trainer. Flat foot becomes a trifling disability which simply disappeared. Asthma becomes ameliorated or removed; stammering is overcome.”
And these changes, as they appear, startle the individual, not only as strangers within the precincts of his inner life, but also as the extraordinary and punctual fulfilment of what the genial discoverer of this method of re-education never fails to prophesy from the start as the inevitable outcome of his teaching.
Nobody concerned with the problem of degeneration and its solution can afford to overlook this recent contribution to the science of human psycho-physiology * ; and it is to those who to-day regard themselves as the most normal and most “fit,” that its application will prove most salutary. It is they who will benefit most rapidly from re-education; it is they who will attain to perfection soonest by its adoption, and it is they who will be the first, if their number be great enough, to present a convincing standard and criterion to the rest of the world by means of which it can measure its own corruption.
* See, for instance, the opinion of the eminent surgeon Mr. Macleod Yearsley, F.R.C.S., in the Literary Guide of Oct. 1925: “To my mind, Mr. Alexander points definitely and uncompromisingly the way to man’s right future, if man will but follow his directing finger. . . . The misuse of the body, in standing, walking, sitting, breathing, articulation, or any other daily action, cannot be treated successfully upon any other method than a psycho-physical one. Mr. Alexander makes this plain, and he points out decisively that this applies, not to the individual man alone, with his stammer, his faulty drive at golf, or his asthma, but to a whole nation as well in its attitude towards any question which calls urgently for solution.”