Theory 🤝 Practice
Let's Get Psychophysical – Newsletter #18
Welcome to Let’s Get Psychophysical, a newsletter about mind-body techniques, self-experimentation, and psychophysical culture.
Each week I share 5 things to help you bridge the gap between psychology and physiology.
I’ve been thinking about the relation between theory and practice, and how it overlaps with the relation between mind and body. Your mind does the theorising and your body does the practicing. Kind of.
The thing is, we can only separate these things verbally. In Real Reality™ both mind & body, and theory & practice, are interdependent, inseparable, and interactive. Scratch your nose. Was that mostly mental or physical? Read a few scientific papers on experiments you nothing about. Were they mostly theory or practice?
There is a time for ‘just thinking',’ and a time for ‘acting without thinking’ (I enjoy a bit of both myself) but some people are lost in theory and never do anything. While others never seem to think before they act and do the wrong things.
Theory 🤝 Practice
Here are a few things I’ve found helpful in thinking about this. Just short introductions. You have to do your own synthesis to get the psychophysical benefits.
Here is F. Matthias Alexander on the importance of being able to convert your ideas into practical procedures.
To a certain point I am in sympathy with all workers in either " physical," " mental," or " spiritual" spheres, for I believe that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy," but it has always seemed to me that the first duty of man was and is to understand and develop those potentialities which are well within the sphere of his activities here on this earth.
… it forces the philosopher or teacher to give to the world practical procedures, which may be applied to the actual activities of life, instead of theoretical conclusions which too often have no practical bearing upon life.
… he is in duty bound to devote years of labour and investigation to the valuable but difficult process of converting to practical use each and every original idea (opinion).
… if at the end of each experiment he gives to the world only those ideas which he has succeeded in reducing to practical procedures, rejecting all others, he will be making a great contribution to humanity: he will be offering practical experiences in a field where for centuries we have too often been offered little but personal opinions.
– F. Matthias Alexander; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923/55)
The Edge (1997)
Can an intellectual billionaire also be a man of action? Can you make fire from ice? (And should billionaires be having bear fights instead of cage fights?!)
I first heard of this movie in Robert Anton Wilson’s book Prometheus Rising. One of those turning point books for me age 20, and now that I think about it, his synthesizing style is a direct influence on the way I’m doing these newsletters toooo many years later.
There are two interlinking themes in this movie: Theory v Practice, and Action v Inaction. But David Lynch told me not to explain films, so you’ll have to watch it.
“So you’re saying just throw away all this pesky thinking and just action, action, action?” Nope, that would be a different kind of stupid.
Here is an old Sufi story that gets the point across:
Discovering the speed of sound
One day Mullah Nasruddin climbed up a minaret and shouted at the top of his lungs. Then he immediately rushed down and began running as fast as his legs would carry him
“What’s happening? Why are you running so hard, Mullah?” asked a passer-by.
“To see how far my voice carries!” Nasruddin replied, rushing off into the distance.
I stumbled across the following quote while writing this newsletter, thank you cosmic coincidence control center.
“There is nothing as practical as a good theory.”
– Kurt Lewin
So it appears theory needs practice – and practice needs theory. So how do we do something with this idea?
Here is an example of how I use this principle in a new discipline I’m calling “psychophysical culture.” You can apply this approach to your own “thing.”
In 1 to 1 sessions I keep alternating between “theory” and “practice” in a way that might look erratic to an outsider, an inefficient use of time, or even worse, a lack of oPTiMiZaTiOn. This isn’t a lecture followed by a few action steps at the end. Theory and practice are intertwined and twisted together all the way through each session. It keeps you on your toes.
For every physical movement, you also have a mental conception of that movement and how these mechanisms work. Different conceptions will lead to different movements. Change the conception, change the movement. The problem is these “theories” are usually subconscious, automated and feel right. And if you do something new and different it feels wrong so you stop!
So first I need to discover the “theory” you are working with which is causing problems (e.g. bad posture, lack of focus) or is preventing you from performing at a higher level (e.g. in sports, music, productivity.) This unconscious theory of yours can only be made conscious (and visible) when you perform some movement experiments – on camera – which we then analyse together.
Next I give you a new “theory” of how those movements or postures can be performed with less effort, more poise and mechanical advantage. This includes explanations, diagrams, images, video analysis, analogies, stories, and verbal instructions (maybe some bad jokes.) It’s not a lecture or random list of facts, but is designed to change your unique conception on the inside – in order to change your actions on the outside.
Then I devise some new psychophysical “experiments” to help you enact this new conception of the movements. Just giving you a new theory about how the mechanisms work is not enough. You must also learn a method of doing the movements in a new way, to change your psychophysical understanding, which changes your physical behaviour.
My role as teacher is to guide you through a series of such experiments. So you learn how to develop your own theories and then test them in practice. You are being trained in a system of self-experimentation you can apply to any activity which benefits from a better mind-body connection.
I don’t know what your own “thing” is… but what are you learning or teaching right now, where you can apply this principle of “synthesized” theory and practice?” (Thraxis?)
Feel free to comment below with what you’re up to in the borderlands between theory and practice…
Thanks for reading,
PLUS: Whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you bridge the gap between psychology and physiology:
Get a FREE posture analysis. Normally $99, but you get free if I can use your clips and images in a youtube video. You can be as anon as you want!
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