SHEETS-JOHNSTONE (2010) – Body and movement: basic dynamic principles


SHEETS-JOHNSTONE, Maxine. Body and movement: basic dynamic principles. In: SCHMICKING, Daniel. GALLAGHER, Shaun. (eds.), Handbook of Phenomenology and Cognitive Science, Springer Science & Business Media B.V. 2010, 688 p.


  • Embodiment is to the body as enaction is to movement. p.217
  • The lack of fit and missing reality are furthermore attested to by the terms in which proprioception is discussed and the fact that a clear-cut distinction and substantive understanding of the difference between proprioception and kinesthesia is nowhere in evidence. p.217
  • Properly speaking, proprioception is a matter of all manner of bodily organs that sense movement and deformations, a primordial form of animate awareness that began its evolutionary career in surface recognition sensitivity – tactility in the service of movement – that evolved into different external sensors registering movement – chordotonal organs, hair plates, sensilla, cilia, and so on – and that, with the advent of internal bodily organs sensing movement through muscular effort, evolved into kinesthesia (Mill 1976; Laverack 1976; Wright 1976; Dorsett 1976; see Sheets-Johnstone 1999 for a close examination and study of the data). As is evident, proprioception is the broader term with respect to kinesthesia. It refers to a sense of movement and position that includes tactility and gravitational orientation through vestibular sensory organs as well as kinesthesia. As its etymology indicates, kinesthesia in its primary, that is, experiential, sense denotes an awareness of movement, hence an awareness of dynamics, hence an awareness of a qualitatively felt kinetic flow.  p.218
  • Understandings of body and movement that are grounded in the natural history of  animate life begin with proprioception, with the beginning dynamics of life itself in surface recognition sensitivity, and thereby proceed naturally to understandings that encompass kinesthesia, affectivity, cognition, and the world, including a world of others. They encompass these aspects naturally because animation – the dynamics of life itself – naturally engenders kinesthesia, affectivity, cognition, and the world. Movement is in other words at the heart not only of being alive but of staying alive. In an existential as well as evolutionary sense, survival is a matter of effective movement, which means movement that is affectively and cognitively responsive to an ever-changing world that is not the same from 1 day to the next and that demands attentiveness in precisely the way an ant, a spider, a fly, or a human is attentive, not only to the expected and familiar, but to the unexpected or the unfamiliar, the ant, spider, fly, or human recognizing that what is out of the ordinary may perhaps be harmful. p.218
  • Husserl wrote of action, but he did  not write of active or enactive organisms; he wrote of bodies, but he did not write of embodied organisms. He wrote of animate organisms. Animation is the ground floor, the ontological as well as epistemological bedrock of human self-understandings and indeed of human pan-animate understandings, understandings that include but do not separate out cognition as the point of entry to those understandings. p.219
  • In a – word, it requires attention not to embodiment, but to animation, for it is in and through animation that we realize ourselves as living beings. We do not come into the world embodied. We come into the world moving; we are precisely not stillborn. We are indeed animated in basic ways concordant with other forms of animate life, forms whose daily rituals also include eating, sleeping, and mating, and whose affective relations with others and whose cognitive acuities are also central to their well-being. p.219
  • Members of the Animal Kingdom are indeed animate organisms in the full sense of animation, being attuned affectively, cognitively, and kinetically to the world around them. Once cognition is rightly recognized as being both an inherent and integral dimension of the fundamental reality of being alive and moving about effectively, efficiently, and intelligently in the world, there is no doubt that the word animation properly describes the bodily nature of cognition. (4) p.220
  • D.H. Lawrence once wrote (Lawrence 1932, p. 200) – and to be alive is first of all to be animate. Even in sleep, we not only move in breathing, but we roll over, bend a knee, extend an arm overhead, stretch a leg, pull the covers up or fling them off. We in fact not only come into the world moving but we go out of the world unmoving: we are no longer animate in the least part; we are precisely still. p.221
  • To term something ‘embodied’ is akin to anointing it with an ontological salve. The salve putatively binds together mind and body, “the physical” and “the lived,” or a first- as opposed to a thirdperson perspective on humanness. The term itself oftentimes appears gratuitous because the very phenomenon it modifies – for example, agent, action, experience – is already a corporeal-kinetic reality. Indeed, it appears at times tautological: it is as if the body is “embodied.” Moreover when we put all features of life that are “embodied” together, we fall far short of an elucidation of human life, and in fact can end up with a meaningless formal declaration on the order of: “embodied agents, through their embodied sensory-motor systems and in their embodied practices, have embodied experiences that they can speak of from an embodied first-person perspective grounded in an embodied subjectivity and an embodied self-consciousness.” p.221
  • This shift involves a shift toward thinking in movement (Sheets-Johnstone 1999, Body and Movement: Basic Dynamic Principles), a consistent everyday dimension of animation from infancy onward, not only in reaching and grasping something at hand or in weaving one’s way amidst a throng of people on a crowded sidewalk, but in calculating the distance and time to drive from one place to another or in judging the force necessary to splitting a piece of wood. Everyday human experience involves thinking in movement; the everyday experience of animate forms involves thinking in movement. Our capacity to think in movement is rooted in fundamental human concepts of space, time, and energy or force, all of which are rooted in the experience of movement itself, that is, in kinesthesia. p.222
  • A phenomenological investigation of movement discloses qualitative dimensions of movement that testify to movement being a dynamic phenomenon, and being a dynamic phenomenon, it is: (1) falsely defined as a change of position, (2) falsely specified in terms of sensations, and (3) inaccurately described as simply taking place in space and in time. A brief summary of each quality will attest to the falsity and inaccuracy of the above notions and to the complexity of movement. It should be noted that the phenomenologically-disclosed qualities are separable only analytically; that is, they are always integral parts of a whole kinetic dynamic. p.222
  • In sum, it is evident that (1) movement is not a change of position, but the dynamic reality of the kinetic change itself; (2) movement is a matter not of sensations but of a felt qualitative dynamic whose spatial, temporal, and force aspects are the spawning ground of fundamental human concepts; (3) any movement creates its own time, space, and force, and thereby its own particular dynamic. p.225
  • A flow of movement may be accentuated in various ways by shifting intensities or by shifts in direction, for example, or be qualitatively inflected in other ways as indicated above, but the flow is nonetheless coherent, precisely as when one picks up an apple, brings it to one’s mouth, opens one’s mouth, and bites into it. In a word, the differentially accented and directed flow – kinesthetically felt movement – is all of a piece and is experientially and neurologically so constituted. p.225
  • In short, when we turn attention to habitual movement patterns, we recognize our own kinetic melodies, indeed, our own kinesthetic melodies (Luria 1966, 1973); they bear the recognizable stamp of our own qualitatively felt movement patterns, our own familiar coordination dynamics. p.226
  • It is in and through movement that infants and young children discover aspects of themselves and of the world about them, aspects that do not disappear with age but that continue to inform their lives from beginning to end. Adult humans in various academic disciplines neglect movement and kinesthesia and indeed overlook having initially and originally learned their bodies and learned to move themselves. Their neglect and oversight are not rectified nor rectifiable by the term “embodiment” and its derivatives, and this because the coordination dynamics that develop in infancy and that perdure as foundational building blocks throughout our lives testify not to ‘embodiment’ but to animation, primal animation, and, in a complementary way to what prolific researcher and writer on coordination dynamics J.A. Scott Kelso aptly describes an “intrinsic dynamics”, a dynamics grounded in the self-organizational patterns of living beings (Kelso 1995). Primal animation and an intrinsic dynamics infuse our being and define our aliveness; they are our point of departure for living in the world and making sense of it. An adultist stance overlooks these animate beginnings, these initial ventures into and explorations of movement. It overlooks as well the complex and subtle ways in which these literally animate beginnings were – and still are – integrally and inherently entwined with cognition and affect. p.226
  • An investigation of our own habits teaches us about these animate beginnings; it teaches us about movement and kinesthesia directly, about how affects motivate and inform our movement, and about the built-in cognitive structures of movement. It teaches us how the particular coordination dynamics we articulate in walking, for example, are the result of the composite qualities of movement that we instantiate when we walk: it teaches us the basic fact that any movement creates its own space, time, and force, and thus a particular felt qualitative dynamic. p.226
  • In sum, the “limitations” of voluntary movement are sizable freedoms, precisely as Bernstein showed. Because they are, learning our bodies and learning to move ourselves are not necessarily learnings restricted to infancy. p.227
  • Clearly, members of the animal kingdom survive, if they do survive, not just because they are adept physically, but because they are consciously adept across a spectrum of faculties, precisely as Darwin indicates: they are affectively and cognitively attuned to their surrounds. They are animate in the full sense of being affectively and cognitively alive to themselves and to their surrounding world. p.228
  • (note: 10) We might note that agency is empirically linked not to an ontological entity called a self but toan epistemological subject in the form of animation and kinesthesia. p.228
  • Infant imitation is exemplary of a host of topics in phenomenology and cognitive science that are in actuality grounded in the affective-cognitive-kinetic dynamics of animation. Shifting concern to this ground requires a shift in thinking – a paradigm shift in Thomas Kuhn’s words. It requires thinking directly, intently, and unwaveringly along the lines of the body, reflecting at length on the aliveness of living bodies and all that that aliveness by its very nature encompasses in the way of movement, feeling, and cognition, all in an experiential sense. In imitating na adult’s mouth gestures, a newborn infant is learning its body and learning to move itself. It engages in a “kinetic-kinesthetic dynamic matching” (Sheets-Johnstone 1999, p. 261), a transfer of sense from the visual body of another to its own tactile-kinesthetic body, discovering the dynamic possibilities and actualities of its own moving body in the process. p.230

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