Mind and Motion

Carl Ginsburg

Review of Alain Berthoz: The Brain's Sense of Movement

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, 337pp.,
$65, ISBN 0-674-80109-1
Translated from Le Sens du Mouvement Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 1997 by Giselle Weiss.
Reviewed by Carl Ginsburg, Ph.D.
(Published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol.8, No.11 (2001), pp. 65-73)

As a teacher of movement and awareness for twenty-five years, I have from a practical perspective been working with the relations between movement, sensation, perception, and cognition to guide my pupils and clients to improved human functioning, and increased awareness. I have observed during this time with myself and many others that improvement in one aspect, for example movement coordination, translates to other areas of cognitive functioning such as perception and cognition. I work most directly with attention and sensory awareness, particularly as to how one senses one's self in moving. To give a very simple example, I might ask what do you sense in your ribs and spine as you shift your weight sitting from one side to the other and how are the sensations different on the right and the left? As an alternative I might just gently bring my hand to the area of interest while the person is moving, which awakens then the sensory awareness for the person of aspects of moving normally unattended to. Something then is perceived in the action that was not available to one's conscious state. The interesting thing is that these changes have so profound an effect. A person who has difficulty with balance may find this functioning easier. Another person may find a change in eyesight, and another an easing of low back pain. Others may find that un-sensed and unacknowledged emotions may arise. (For more details see Ginsburg, 1999.)

It is hard for most people to appreciate how little they know of themselves in regards to these basic aspects of living, or how these simple and apparently uninteresting aspects of ourselves can have an influence on the higher aspects of human life and culture. As Alain Berthoz, in his groundbreaking book, The Brain's Sense of Movement, points out, "Plato forgot the body." It is a huge omission that continues into today and affects thinking in all our attempts to understand such aspects of ourselves as perception, cognition, emotion, and that major topic of this journal, consciousness.

There is a change happening. One sees recently a revival of interest in thinkers such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty who pioneered in rediscovering the importance of body in philosophy (see Petitot, 1999), and a whole spate of books taking the new buzzword, "embodiment" quite seriously, Damasio, 1999, Lakoff and Johnson, 1999, Lakoff and Nunez, 2000, Port and van Gelder, 1995. Recent issues of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Nunez and Freeman, 1999, and Thompson, 2001 have developed the theme further. This is just a small sampling.