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The kinesthesia switch

7 Post author: NancyLebovitz 04 March 2012 11:46AM

I've been working on improving my kinesthesia for about thirty years (for reasons which are not obvious to me, I've felt a strong motivation to get moved into my body), and I've found something interesting.

I was doing a chi gung exercise [1] which involves going up on the balls of my feet while pushing up with my hands, and I suddenly noticed that my body had mostly blanked out when I was in the extended position, which led to a realization that blanking out was a process rather than a thing [2]. I thought "kinesthesia switch on", and I could suddenly feel a good bit of detail about how I was wobbling-- I mean I could feel some of my bones moving relative to each other, instead of just feeling in a vague sort of way that the position didn't feel very good.

What's better, is that I remembered how to turn on the kinesthesia switch, and have continued to work with it.

A side effect of turning on the switch is that I uncurl my upper body (kinesthesia seems to have something to do with alignment), but deliberately uncurling doesn't work nearly as well as turning on the switch.

At first, I would try to turn on the switch as much as possible, but that began to feel bad-- probably because there was some perfectionism driving that approach. I've tweaked it to "as much as feels good to me".

The most noticeable effect (aside from better spirits and less akrasia) is that going up and down stairs has become a lot easier the vast majority of the time. Down stairs has been a problem for years because of accumulated knee injuries. Upstairs became problematic about 6 months ago because, for no apparent reason, I developed some sort of serious muscle tightness in my right leg. It started with pain in the back of my right heel which was clearly linked to movement, and eventually shifted to pain in what definitely felt like the muscle attachment to my sitzbone on the right.

This days, I'm mostly trotting up and down stairs rather than stepping down a step and then puting the other foot on the same step in order to avoid a good bit of pain.

The reason I'm doing this as a top level post is because I'm pretty sure the kinesthesia switch isn't the only switch-- I think other switches can be found in areas where you've done enough observation to have a chance of finding the path from one state to another, and I'm hoping there will be comments about finding other switches.

Another, and less cheerful switch: I haven't been in that state for a while, but I used to be mildly suicidal-- I wasn't making plans, but suicide was on the table as a possibility. What's more, I wanted it there-- I didn't want to be in a situation where committing suicide made sense, but I wasn't able to get myself to do it.

What I found was that I could chose to have suicide as a felt possibility, and I would deliberately turn that switch back on if it turned off. It eventually occurred to me that my reason for keeping the switch on wasn't good (it was impacting my current quality of life for the sake of something I wasn't sure I'd need), and I left it off.

I don't have a theory of mind or brain which does a good job of explaining switches. This is all just observation.

In Move into Life, there's a description of a learning switch. The book is by Anat Baniel, a Feldenkrais teacher who found that her students would become more vital and who decided to directly cultivate various aspects of vitality. In particular, she noticed that was a shift when her students became interested in learning. In her opinion, the major reason people stop learning is that they believe they already know enough.

The learning switch is related to letting yourself believe that you don't already know the answer, allowing in new information, and letting your mind drift to other areas of knowledge to see if there's a connection to what you're interested in. I haven't been able to get results from Baniel's description-- I'm just mentioning this as another example of a switch.

It's possible that my learning switch is already on, but my problem is finding my "do something useful" switch.

More generally, my impression is that once you find a switch, it makes accessing a different state easy. This doesn't mean it's easy if you haven't yet found the switch or if you don't have the motivation to turn it.

[1] This is part of the eight brocades set from The Way of Energy-- this book is a solid introduction to standing meditation.

[2] Recognizing that something you thought was static and simple is actually made of moving parts is probably in the sequences somewhere, but I can't think of anything in particular.

Comments (24)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 March 2012 01:40:29AM 2 points [-]

I've definitely noticed different mental tracks I can be on. Where I am and who I'm with seem to have a lot of influence on my mental track. I have a hard time making generalizations about my personality because it seems so different depending on who is around.

Comment author: handoflixue 23 March 2012 12:33:44AM 1 point [-]

Off the top of my head, I have the "happiness button": it produces a short-term positive mood when I push it, generally lasting no more than 24 hours before I have to push it again. I've never been able to modify this in to a switch that just "stays on", thus calling it a "button" instead. With about 5 seconds of meditation I can hit a rather euphoric state, and I can "flavor" it to match various "types" of happiness I've experienced before.

I don't use it as much these days, because it becomes very difficult to detect problems in my life when I push it. Using it to produce euphoria generally renders me more or less useless for getting anything done (I can't write this post with that emotional set still running - my brain is too occupied just enjoying itself. But I am smiling and feeling very physically relaxed and happy, like I just went for a jog and got some good news)

Earlier in my life, I'd use it often, since I was dealing with abuse that I didn't know how to escape from - since I was stuck with the problem, I figured I might as well just push the button repeatedly and at least enjoy myself. Prolonged use tends to build up more and more problems that I'm oblivious to - using it even once will make it hard to see big, "inescapable" problems in my life. More frequent use makes more and more of my life feel "inescapable" because I'm not actually thinking about it. In moderation and combined with some rationality skills, I can use the state to cut apart problems from a somewhat more detached standpoint, but that's a fairly complex skill, and not always the best approach.

It's sort of like turning off "pain" - great until you realize your hand is sitting on a hot stove and you now need to head to the hospital for serious burns.


I can also switch which senses I'm focusing on fairly readily. Focusing on food when I'm eating it is a very distinct sensation from eating while reading a book, thinking about something, or socializing. I'm often ignoring most of my visual data. I have various synaesthetic perceptions which are also tied in to this - focusing on music gives me very strong kinaesthetic feedback, but it's rare to feel that when just listening in the background.

To some degree, there's also just switching between various modes of thought about the world. For instance, being able to switch in to "cataloging possibilities" or "rationally analyzing data" modes of problem solving, versus a step-by-step or intuitive approach that I'd normally take.

I can easily toggle whether or not I care about quite a lot - in particular, I seem to be able to toggle between a highly empathic state and the ability to not care at all what others think of me (I seem to rate as vastly less self-conscious about weird behavior in public, but I'm also very able to read how people are reacting to me). I can also do things like suspend my sense of hunger until a more opportune time (I'll get "pinged" every so often, with pings being more frequent as my body reaches worse states). Very useful when I'm caught up in something, but I've recently developed the bad habit of just automatically suspending it and thus suffering performance degradation from not eating often enough >.>

I can switch how people react to me to a fair degree - invisible, threatening, and happy/trustworthy seem to be the most common states I project. I sometimes find it rather disconcerting how much I can project trustworthy (this seems to be more or less my default "no effort required" projection) - I've had security guards completely ignore me blatantly violating policies while other people got hassled for much more minor and subtle violations. I'm not sure why, but happiness and trustworthy also seem to go hand-in-hand.

There's probably others in here - I've spent a lot of time exploring various switches and learning how to shift my brain like this, and I tend to pick up new ones easily from other people's descriptions. Tapping in to your description, I notice my posture immediately improves (somewhat less slouched) when I tap in to my kinaesthetic perceptions. I think my posture is usually optimized to make vision easier (I tend to slouch so I'm closer to the monitor), and focusing on kinaesthetic data instead makes me realize that it's not comfortable.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 March 2012 02:05:55AM 0 points [-]

Off the top of my head, I have the "happiness button": it produces a short-term positive mood when I push it, generally lasting no more than 24 hours before I have to push it again. I've never been able to modify this in to a switch that just "stays on", thus calling it a "button" instead.

That's probably a good thing. Most interventions in that direction recommend a trip to the emergency room after several hours.

Comment author: Zaine 04 March 2012 01:03:13PM *  1 point [-]

I can't speak for anyone else, but if I think I should feel something, as according to my value system and want for its adherence, I can will that emotion to sublimate from my desire to experience it. I suppose it's a bit like a switch, though a switch can be easily turned on and off at will, with little transition time between the two states; the action I described, and your explanation of the 'learning switch', do not fit this description.

The 'learning switch' and my example can both be explained by intentional emotional and psychological manipulation: one apathetically doesn't feel like learning, yet prefers a learned state to an ignorant state, and so cajoles the subconscious into emitting curiosity-inducing neurotransmitters by smartly suggesting how fascinating the material is, how much more prepared and capable one will be upon learning said material, ways in which the material can be of future utility, etcetera.

Kinesthesia has been known[1] to be increased through exercises similar to chi gung. Activating it involves, as you said, identifying the neural pathways involved and mimicking the relevant thought processes. Can you activate and deactivate the 'kinesthesia switch' in relatively rapid succession?

If not, then I suspect it's similar to the type of manipulation mentioned above, only instead of identifying and activating an emotion, you're actively shifting into a formerly desensitized mental state; id est you payed attention to how a not often isolated muscle felt when contracted, identified that feeling, and consciously activated it enough to make its isolated stimulation easy.

If so, then that's astounding. I wonder whether it's a particular quirk of kinesthesia.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldenkrais_method

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 November 2012 03:55:18PM *  0 points [-]

Update: My right leg is almost entirely alright, pretty certainly as a result of high quality massage-- there would be a noticeable improvement in the days after a session, and the average kept getting better.

I'd completely forgotten the kinesthesia switch, though I find I can still use it-- my current technique is focusing on a body part and telling it that it can rearrange the rest of me the way it wants. This also works, but I obviously need to keep records.

I still have no idea why my right leg tightened up like that.

Comment author: Dmytry 04 March 2012 04:39:28PM *  0 points [-]

Since as far back as I can remember I had the vision-proprioception synaesthesia... I literally see some dark-on-dark image of my limbs with my eyes closed.. Ditto for anything I touch. It is not exceptionally exact though. I can concentrate on it, and see more of the objects i am aware of, or see less.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 March 2012 06:07:44PM 1 point [-]

Can you get the visual image when you're moving? How much of your body can you include, even if sketchily?

Comment author: Dmytry 04 March 2012 07:02:31PM *  0 points [-]

All of the body usually, and all non-body items that I have in immediate memory if i focus (e.g. if i close you eyes now I see my hands and outline of the computer and the bed, if i concentrate i also see window and the dog even though they are almost outside my field of view). It works correctly when moving or turning head, too. When i was younger i thought everyone has this, formed due to conditioned association - you always see your limbs where proprioception tells they are. It's not like imagining either - it lacks the colour entirely, its involuntary (for some of the image), etc.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 04 March 2012 05:52:06PM 1 point [-]

I do not think that is exceptional. I never tried it before, afaik and I have a similar thing.

Are you a visual artist by any chance?

Comment author: Dmytry 05 March 2012 03:26:54PM *  1 point [-]

Yes. I am computer graphics programmer, I used to work on photo-realistic rendering but now I am mostly earning my living off a computer game I made. I can imagine 3d vector field as a 3d vector field, not as some 2d projection with arrows, that's quite weird (and that kind of thing helps me a lot with my work).

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 05 March 2012 06:23:54PM *  2 points [-]

So clearly your visualization is top notch, I take it you primarily think visually.

I am myself both quite strong in mathematical visualization, I have done some graphics programming (openGL) but nothing significant. My actual probe was for the ability to produce viasual art more directly and unaided, i.e. drawing and painting; since one of the prerequisites to being a good painter is usually the ability to look past the Symbolic World Representation (capitalized for mad drama) and actually see the lines, curves and colours that compose ones visual field.

This indirectly, coupled with a decent sense of proproiception should allow one to "see" oneself and ones surroundings without sight, purely by remembering the shapes of the enviroment.

But that is a relatively weak hypothesis, I think I need to investigate if non-visual thinkers can do it, if non-artist visual thinkers can and if art-skill is even correlated.

Comment author: Incorrect 08 March 2012 02:38:50AM *  1 point [-]

one of the prerequisites to being a good painter is usually the ability to look past the Symbolic World Representation (capitalized for mad drama) and actually see the lines, curves and colours that compose ones visual field.

This reminds me of the way children draw a strip of blue at the top of their paper to represent the sky instead of bringing it down to the horizon.

http://jbd.sagepub.com/content/13/1/49.short

Study 1 examined the landscape paintings of a group of 45 7-10-year-old children and found the children leaving an air gap to be significantly younger than those painting the sky to the horizon. In addition the omission of the air gap was associated with the use of devices to represent three-dimensional space in two dimensions.

That seems to imply it may be a learnable skill; though it's weak evidence.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 08 March 2012 09:33:49PM 1 point [-]

This reminds me of the way children draw a strip of blue at the top of their paper to represent the sky instead of bringing it down to the horizon.

That is exactly what I am talking about.

That seems to imply it may be a learnable skill; though it's weak evidence.

It is but the evidence is lacking other than a lot of artist going "yeah it's totally learnable," including myself. In actuality it is much the same techniques as applied in realising words aren't what they appear to be. I personally think it is strongly correlated with realising that the map isn't the territory.

Small children usually draw symbolically. A house is a square with a triangle on top, a man has two arms and two legs, en eye is an oval with a dot in it, etc. The skill is to see that the house has perspective and funny looking windows and in fact doesn't have a chimney, to see that the man is sitting so his left leg is barely visible and that the eye is viewd from the side, etc.

Your field of vision is composed of curves and colours, your visual reasoning is composed of concepts and symbols. To draw, one needs to let the first be close connected to the hand that holds the brush, than the latter.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 March 2012 07:29:18PM 0 points [-]

Remembering in two dimensions (say, replaying a movie in one's mind to check visual details) and remembering in three dimensions may be different processes.

Comment author: Dmytry 05 March 2012 07:44:00PM *  2 points [-]

Hmm, well, when you look at object you reconstruct 3d item from 2d image; it could be considerably more compact to store the 3d objects than 2d images. Think 'demoscene' where a lot of 3d imagery is packed into 64 kilobytes.

What I find most odd is the immense diversity of human thought... it's almost as if people have some thinking substrate in their head, the cortical columns replicated all over the brain, and that substrate invented the ways to think and organize itself, on it's own (to the point that early brain damage is so amazingly compensated for). Usually same areas take on same functions, and there may be tweaks to properties of substrate, but all in all it's as if brain invents the ways to think - different ways.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 March 2012 05:39:32PM 0 points [-]

I heard something recently (sorry no cite, might be a TED talk) that brains might be plug-and-play-- that there's a world-building capacity which will make something coherent out of whatever senses happen to be available.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 06 March 2012 08:40:01AM 0 points [-]

What I find most odd is the immense diversity of human thought... it's almost as if people have some thinking substrate in their head, the cortical columns replicated all over the brain, and that substrate invented the ways to think and organize itself, on it's own (to the point that early brain damage is so amazingly compensated for). Usually same areas take on same functions, and there may be tweaks to properties of substrate, but all in all it's as if brain invents the ways to think - different ways.

I have to ask for clarrification, was that sarcasm?

Comment author: Dmytry 06 March 2012 08:57:09AM *  2 points [-]

I meant, some people can reason visually, some are entirely incapable of visualization; some have internal monologue, some don't; and so on. Some people may be unable to reflect on their thoughts altogether while still acting normal. The early (childhood) brain damage results in parts of brain taking function of the other parts, which implies that the brain is capable of sort of emerging this function from scratch.

Note: I don't care how common or rare is particular phenomenon here; if one person on Earth could instantly see number of matches (in the hundreds range) ala Rainman character, human brain is capable of that (with very minor physical changes), and that is amazing diversity even if everyone else had been copies of 1 perfectly ordinary mind upload. Most of people may be thinking in exactly same way, for all I care; there's still immense diversity if there's a few percent within which everyone thinks in different ways.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 06 March 2012 02:54:11PM 0 points [-]

Yes, and that is obvious. The variance in the human population is enormous, no two humans are the same, etc. etc.

I was just mistaking your tone for a sarcastic one, i.e. "this is so obvious that anyone not realising this isn't worth my time" feeling.

Comment author: Dmytry 06 March 2012 03:56:08PM *  0 points [-]

well one can often encounter arguments of how this or that function is 'hardwired' by evolution, which makes very little sense in light of a: evolution's slowness, and b: early brain damage to those regions not always resulting in loss of that function or any strong disadvantage. (perhaps the region where the task usually ends up implemented gets slightly tuned for the task, but that's it)

The relevance is that the very implementation of e.g. visual memory may differ between individuals, to the point of structuring the data in radically different ways. It seems that as brain develops, there's a great deal of hill-climbing of some kind performed by the brain to implement each particular function, and different hills end up climbed even for pretty ordinary functions.

Comment author: AspiringKnitter 12 March 2012 02:48:36AM 0 points [-]

Is that actually uncommon?

Comment author: [deleted] 12 March 2012 08:33:23PM 0 points [-]

Not only do I not have that (as synaesthesia -- I can still have vague mental images of my limbs the way I can with anything else), but if I lie with my eyes closed long enough (say, more than half an hour) I kind of forget which way I'm facing -- though I suppose this description wouldn't really make sense to people who haven't experienced this.

Comment author: Dmytry 12 March 2012 10:05:26AM 0 points [-]

No idea, people i ask irl don't have it. I thought everyone had it.