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On Belief Systems and Learning
A debate from the Alextech e-mail discussion group on the validity
of the premises of the Alexander Technique
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— David bows out (mostly) and a few others carry on...
1. John Coffin — SON of final exercise in futility — July 7/98
2. Tom Koch — re: On Belief Systems and Learning, part 3 of 3 —
3. David Gorman — Reply to Tom Koch — July 8/98
4. David Langstroth — inhibiting and directing — July 7/98
5. Brian McCullough — inhibiting and directing — July 7/98
6. Urban Larsson — Reply Peter Ruhrbergs reply to Urban — July
7. Linda.Birmingham — Thanks everyone and DG's work. — July 9/98
8. Tom Vasiliades — re: reality, judging our success or failure, the
— July 12/98
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 00:36:49 EDT
Subject: SON of final exercise in futility
It appears we are to have more 'final' farewells from David Gorman than Luisa Tetrazzini.
"I do recognize that the nature of what I am saying is explosive"
Only your claims to innovation and the formation of a new sect are explosive; not the practical,
teaching aspects of your posts.
"But what I mean is not that their senses are debauched or unreliable, but that they are
mis-appreciating or mis-interpreting what they are sensing. That is, that they have unreliable
'reality' appreciation--faulty belief systems, or untrue belief systems, or belief systems that do not
match what actually happens."
This is circular reasoning. They misinterpret reality as registered by their senses because of their
faulty belief systems-their innacurate interpretations cause them to 'experience reality' in a false
manner - their experience is their only guide in forming belief systems.
"But this does not tell you precisely what the student is thinking, or what they are feeling
from their point of view, or what their belief system is. That you can ONLY get at through asking
Asking them? IF the pupil can understand the question. IF the pupil can form an answer on a subject
he may never have thought about before. IF the pupil can perfectly express his thoughts. IF you can
understand what the pupil means. Of course it is worth while to ask the pupil, and look at the pupil,
and listen with your hands. But to assume that you can EVER know "precisely what the student is
thinking, or what they are feeling from their point of view, or what their belief system is" is
"In my experience what an Alexander teacher does not usually do is to notice the student's
pulling down or whatever, and then find out what the student thought they were up to and work with
that, not the pulling down..."
More's the pity, because that is what FM indicated we should be doing.
"When the faulty beliefs systems are exposed and become more accurate, these mechanics change
in a totally coordinated and integrated way all by themselves."
And how are they exposed, how do they become more accurate? By telling the pupil? Some new experience
must be involved.
"It is the teacher's use and skill the pupil experiences rather than their own"
This is one of the most dangerous misconceptions Alexander teachers fall into. When, for example, the
pupil rises from the chair in a manner contrary to his old conception of the act, HE has performed a
NEW act produced by HIS OWN muscles acting along new lines. IT IS THE PUPIL'S DIRECTION WHICH CAUSES
THE CHANGE, NOT THE TEACHER'S. There is a great danger that the pupil or the teacher may assume that
the change was caused by some magical property of the teacher's hands. Skilled teaching should steer
the pupil away from this illusion as smoothly as possible.
"I will certainly do my best to be as aware of everyone's sensibilities. I'm not sure how
much I can manage to say what i have to say any different because it is what it is and I cannot make
that any easier to swallow than it is..."
It is good to hear neglected aspects of the Technique brought to the attention of the list. My
sensibilities can handle it just fine thank you. As to 'what it is' please see the quotes I have
Some precursors of LearningMethodsŪ
MSI "Conscious Control"
In this case my first endeavour must be directed to keeping in abeyance, by the power of
inhibition, all the mental associations connected with the ideas of speaking, and to eradicating all
erroneous, preconceived ideas concerning the things X imagines he can or cannot do, . . .
MSI Part II ch. 3 "The Processes of Conscious Guidance and Control"
In the performance of any muscular action by conscious guidance control there are four essential
1. The conception of the movement required:
2. The inhibition of erroneous preconceived ideas which subconsciously suggest the manner in which
the movement or series of movements should be performed;
3. The new and conscious mental orders which will set in motion the muscular mechanism essential
to the correct performance of the action:
4. The movements (contractions and expansions) of the muscles which carry out the mental orders.
MSI "Habits of Thought and Body"
. . . he must discover, or find someone who can discover for him, what his defects are in the uses
indicated. When this has been done he must proceed to inhibit the guiding sensations which cause him
to use the mechanism imperfectly; …
Ask a friend to lift a chair or any other object . . . You will see at once that your friend will
approach the task with a definite preconception as to the amount of physical tension necessary. His
mind is exclusively occupied with the question of his own myscular effort, instead of with the purpose
in front of him …
CCC Part II ch. 2 "Incorrect Conception"
In the matter of conception, the first step is to convince the pupil that his present misdirected
activities are the result of incorrect conception and of imperfect sensory appreciation (feeling).
The teacher experienced in the work of re-education can diagnose at once, by the expression and
use of the pupil's eyes, the degree of influence upon him of such conceptions …
CCC part II ch. 3 "Imperfect Sensory Appreciation"
The teacher therefore asks him to perform:
1. an inhibitory act, by inhibiting "his way" of taking breath-in other words, by
preventing or holding in check, in connection with the act, the wrong subconscious guidance and
direction, which constitutes the bad habit he has formed when taking breath ….
2. a volitionary act, by giving himself certain orders ….
Love and Service
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 09:37:09 +0200
From: "Tom Koch" Alextech@direct.A2000.nl
Subject: Re: On Belief Systems and Learning, part 3 of 3
Hello List and David Gorman --
I must agree with the assessment of others that David has managed to extract some of Alexander's
ideas and call them his own. Other than the name of David's "new" technique, I have found
absolutely nothing new in David's description of his work. I was always taught that the important
thing in the AT work is to change my intentions, not my tensions. Is this not what David is
I trained from 1984-1987 at ACAT-NY, with Barbara Kent, Judy Leibowitz, Debbie Caplan, Pamela
Anderson, Sarnie Ogus, Pearl Ausubel, as well as many others. Perhaps their training program is quite
different from what others have experienced, but I remember the question was always "What are you
thinking", and not "What are you doing". Is this not what David is describing?
In my own teaching, I might very well tell a student that he shortened and narrowed as he moved into
the chair. But I will also immediately ask, "What were you thinking?" I might point out that
the student demonstrated his belief that he must make some effort to perform a certain action, and
that this belief is, in Alexander's own words, "nothing but a set of tension patterns." Is
this not what David is describing?
I also detect a problem in David's distinction between "senses" and "sensory
appreciation". If we assume, as David suggests, that the "senses" are accurate but the
"student's perception of those senses" is inaccurate, we are then back at a Cartesian
duality of mind vs. body, but this time with a poorly-functioning ghost in a well-functioning machine.
That at least might be considered new, as it is usually assumed that the ghost is "good" and
the machine unruly.
I must confess that I question David's motivations in claiming so many of Alexander's ideas and
methods as his own invention. I met David very briefly once, and not in the context of the Alexander
Technique, so I cannot say that I have any great insight into the man. However, I am familiar with his
involvement in Alexander Technique International, which seems a haven for many who, for whatever
reasons, are not part of the Affiliated Societies. His name still appears as the web-master for the
ATI website. His name still appears on the list of Sponsoring Members, who alone are
"qualified" to grant teacher status to would-be members (even if the teacher is certified by
an Affiliated Society). The last time I checked, the email address firstname.lastname@example.org was still
registered to David. This all strikes me as strange at best, and hypocritical at worst, for someone
who is seeking to market his own stripped-down version of the Alexander Technique and who no longer
calls himself an Alexander teacher. In fact, this all strikes me as another step in what appears to be
David's long history of seeing himself as a rebel or outsider in the Alexander community.
Tom Koch, Alextech@direct.a2000.nl
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 13:07:42 -0400
From: David Gorman email@example.com
Subject: Reply to Tom Koch
Tom and List,
Tom Koch wrote on July 7, 1998:
"However, I am familiar with his involvement in Alexander Technique International... ...His
name still appears as the web-master for the ATI website... ...The last time I checked, the email
address firstname.lastname@example.org was still registered to David. This all strikes me as strange at
best, and hypocritical at worst, for someone who is seeking to market his own stripped-down version of
the Alexander Technique and who no longer calls himself an Alexander teacher."
Well, Tom I must say that I am surprised by your chain of assumptions about me. If you had thought to
ask me personally about what was happening with my involvements with ATI and my e-mail address rather
than so publicly jumping to conclusions, I would have been happy to explain why I still have these
connections AND what I have been doing to end them.
I no longer teach the Alexander Technique but I am still on the Executive Board of ATI serving out
the remainder of my 2-year term due to end in November. I have already given my notice that I do not
wish to seek re-election (for obvious reasons) and the call for nominations went out to ATI members
quite a while ago. Rather than resign immediately, which I have wanted to do several times, I have
been persuaded and have been happy to fulfil for the remaining several months the responsibilities I
took on when I was elected 2 years ago.
This also goes for the ATI web site where I have given notice near the start of this year that I will
not continue after November. ATI is currently seeking a replacement. I would have changed my e-mail
name long ago, but the old ATI web site was hosted on my personal Compuserve web space:
(http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/alextech). Even though I have set up a new web domain for
ATI (on www.ati-net.com) back in April so that I could rename the address, we agreed to leave the old
site up for 6 months so that people could still find ATI who did not know the new address. This
necessitates me keeping this address until the period is up. Then, believe me, I shall be more than
happy to re-name it to something more appropriate.
Koch also wrote:
"However, I am familiar with his involvement in Alexander Technique International, which seems
a haven for many who, for whatever reasons, are not part of the Affiliated Societies. His name still
appears as the web-master for the ATI website. His name still appears on the list of Sponsoring
Members, who alone are "qualified" to grant teacher status to would-be members (even if the
teacher is certified by an Affiliated Society). "
Quite a few members of this list are also members of ATI. Quite a few members of the 'affiliated
societies' are also members of ATI. I certainly agree with you that many of them have joined ATI
because it seems like a haven for them from some of the experiences they have had at the 'hands' of
those in the affiliated societies.
You have been thoroughly misinformed though about the nature of the Sponsoring Members of ATI. The
ATI membership has voted to recognize the certifications of all of the affiliated societies. This
means that any teacher certificated by any of the affiliated societies can join ATI as a Teaching
Member simply by showing their certificate. They do not gain an ATI teaching certificate, but of
course they do not need one since they already have one from their original society. The ATI
Sponsorship process is only for those who wish to obtain an ATI Teaching Certificate.
I have (so far) remained as a Sponsoring Member because there are still some people training in other
Alexander teacher trainings which I have visited and who I have worked with since they began their
training. These people have requested that I be one of their Sponsors when they graduate (which is
soon for all of them). While I no longer teach the Alexander Technique, I have not 'forgotten' what I
know, nor I have I lost the ability to know when someone is a competent teacher. I feel that I can
still do this assessment as well as I could before.
I have made it clear to some others who have asked me that I am not going to take on Sponsorship for
any people who I have not already been following their progress for some time, so that I can also end
this responsibility as soon as possible.
"In fact, this all strikes me as another step in what appears to be David's long history of
seeing himself as a rebel or outsider in the Alexander community."
Do you mean the kind of rebel who was instrumental in forming NASTAT and was the chairman of the
steering committee who started it? Do you mean the kind of outsider who dreamed up the idea of the
affiliated societies in the first place and wrote the bylaws that made them happen? Do you mean the
kind of rebel who wrote the certification and membership mechanisms for ATI? If so, then you've
certainly got me pegged !
"I must agree with the assessment of others that David has managed to extract some of
Alexander's ideas and call them his own. Other than the name of David's "new" technique, I
have found absolutely nothing new in David's description of his work... ...I must confess that I
question David's motivations in claiming so many of Alexander's ideas and methods as his own
Well, it seems hard to get anywhere on this one. Perhaps I will take another tack.
We have an interesting situation here. It sounds like a bunch of you are happy to accept that I am
teaching the Alexander Technique without even seeing me work, while several years ago, I ran into
another bunch of teachers who already seemed to consider that I was not teaching the Alexander
Technique and they had also not seen me teach. Those who had seen me teach and worked with me were
saying how very different it was from their understanding of the work and were urging me to change the
name and get out of the hassles from those who didn't like what I was doing.
In the end, of course, it is my decision and my perception as to what I see as the Alexander work and
how different I see what I am doing. It is a constant phenomenon that people who have had Alexander
lessons (from all over the world) come and say that this is very different. Equally it is constant
that those who have worked with me recently and who then go for Alexander lessons describe the huge
difference. You put two and two together.
If the day comes when enough people with Alexander experience come to see what I am doing and most of
them say, "yup, that's the Alexander technique", then maybe there'll be no need for a
different name. When enough people say that there's no need for any hands-on, no need for movements
like sitting and standing, no need for tables or changing any experiences at all, no need to address
what is happening physically in the head-neck-back, then I'll agree with Tom and John and all of
you--I was always doing the Alexander Technique. But boy, will it have changed!
I think that I have gone with this thread about as far as I can go. I have little more to say without
repeating myself. There is nothing more that will prove or disprove anything without meeting any of
you in person and sharing experiences as some of you have already proposed.
Nevertheless, if any of you feel differently, I shall be happy to communicate with anyone who sends
me a private e-mail about my work or any questions, but I can't see as we are going to get any further
with this debate without that next step. I could be wrong, but I'll leave the rest of you to decide
Date: Tue, 07 Jul 1998 11:21:33 +0100
From: David Langstroth email@example.com
Subject: inhibiting and directing
I have been asked, "How does a student know when they are inhibiting and directing
correctly?" The truth is, initially they don't. That is why they come for lessons and that is the
skill that they are taught. Through good teaching they learn not to confuse thinking and feeling. We
get better and better at it as we learn. Gradually we acquire the skill to change our own conditions.
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 10:35:25 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (McCullough)
Subject: inhibiting and directing
"How... does a pupil know when they "have inhibited and directed correctly?"
A student "inhibits and directs correctly" at all times. If the student is sticking to
principle, they ARE doing it correctly. The student shouldn't judge whether they are doing it
"correctly" or not. Inhibiting and directing (i.e., the Alexander Technique) is a skill; and
as with all skills, the skill keeps evolving - we never "arrive".
Brian McCullough, Teacher of the Alexander Technique, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 18:42:48 +0200
From: "Urban Larsson" email@example.com
Subject: Reply Peter Ruhrbergs reply to Urban
Thank you for the clarification. It certainly helped me to understand a little more about where you
are at in your "Alexander" investigations. I had another few questions, but they will have
to wait, because we are going away on holiday tomorrow.
Date: Thu, 9 Jul 1998 10:10:11 +0100 (BST)
Subject: Thanks everyone and DG's work.
I'm am really sad that I haven't had time to follow all these threads. The postings have all been
very deep and just reading and contemplating one takes more time than I have available at the moment.
I am so grateful to you all for sharing your experiences with this list, the little I have had time
to read has set my own thinking going. Education indeed.
As far as David's work is concerned, it is great that he has shared it with us.
I have been to one day of David's training course and felt with my debauched feelings and reasoned
(with my probably debauched reasoning ;-) that he has a lot to offer. I did question at the time
whether it should still be called the Alexander technique and David agreed at the time that it
I am well known not to swallow all the teachings I am fed and David responded to my questioning and
not going along with all his statements in a very positive and explorational way. He is an excellent
teacher and is teaching his findings.
Many thanks again for all your exquisite postings.
Date: Sun, 12 Jul 1998 13:08:36 EDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (THOMAS VASILIADES)
Subject: RE: reality, judging our success or failure, the Gorman Tech
Dear Nina, David G, David L., and the list,
On July 6, NIna Aledort wrote:
"(Tom V.--there are significant differences in how children and adults learn due to
development of the brain through the experience of learning, age, baggage etc. although they may look
Vygotsky discovered that children learn through the process of performed activity ( I cited this in
July 1 posting on children learning to speak). Their learning (performing as a speaker) preceded their
human development (developing into a speaker). Vygotsky discoveries were in human development not
simply child development. Nina, it seems to me the reasons you gave for the differences in how
children and adults learn doesn't explain how come we cannot perform in adulthood as we did when we
were children. It is my understanding that nothing happens to us as we become adults that makes us no
longer capable of performance. I think we don't perform in adulthood but not due to incapability.
Adult actors perform all the time.
In the performatory approach I have mentioned my students and I create an environment ( a zpd - zone
for proximal development as Vygotsky called it) for learning and development. It is through the
process of performed activity that adults can reinitiate development. To create new ways of living
Questions for David Gorman on July 6 you wrote:
"It was this pedagogy and the belief systems it implies that I am looking at here. These very
teaching techniques only make sense to do from the context of a way of seeing things. When we include
the correlation between what is happening in the person's 'use' (in the Alexander sense) and what they
are thinking/feeling/doing (from their own point of view), then the way of seeing things CAN change
I have a question about the correlation you are writing about? Are you saying that there is a
specific movement that correlates to what someone is thinking/feeling/doing? For example: If someone
is sad are you noticing a collapse in the sternum? are you saying a collapse will always happen when
she/he is sad? Can you please clarify?
"It is the teacher's use and skill the pupil experiences rather than their own--this is why a
pupil has such different experiences from teachers trained in different ways. What they are
experiencing is NOT what 'good use' is like, the pupil is experiencing what it feels like to have a
skilled human being devote their entire attention to them with a particular belief system driving it.
In other words, they are experiencing the RELATIONSHIP with the teacher. On the other hand, when
someone makes the experiment of changing the actions they normally do because of their belief system,
they usually feel very different. But it is a difference that cannot possibly be from the physical
skill of the teacher since no teacher has been touching them nor in any way proposing a better
Here I think the relationship with the teacher can change the student's belief system. In my opinion,
the art of teaching is creating conditions so that students can learn and develop. Even if the teacher
does not put hands on during a lesson a students beliefs and use can change. Alexander himself proved
that with his discoveries, he didn't have hands on. At this point I'm not advocating hands on or no
hands on during a lesson although in my lessons and classes I am putting hands on less. In my lessons
I aim to have the student take a look at their beliefs in how they do things. Our relationship, what
we do together, is inseperable from how the student does explores this.
On July 7 David Langstroth wrote:
"In all the plans for self-improvement, The Alexander Technique is unique in having an
entirely rational criteria for judgement. If you have inhibited and directed correctly then you can
judge that you have successfully completed a constructive act towards your self-improvement, no matter
what it feels like."
It doesn't seem possible that there can be a rational criteria for judgement of performed human
activity. There are a myriad of processes, experiences going on with the teacher and the student. To
say that someone is inhibiting and directing (if one is working that way)correctly or incorrectly
without including the relationship of the teacher/student leaves out a big part of what would go into
making a judgement(if one wanted to). As I've stated in a previous post neither the student or the
teacher have the necessary distance to have rational criteria for what I am assuming is ('rational')
One of the things I find interesting in the work David Gorman has written about is the questioning of
students' beliefs, assumption, concepts, whatever you want to call them. I have mentioned in a
previous posting my disagreement with his pursuing causality. However, I do find David's going with
the beliefs the student is a significant change from Alexander's teaching approach. My understanding
of FM's teaching is that the students are going wrong and he is setting them right (I have a
disagreement with this duality). As I read it David G. is engaging the beliefs of the student and
working with those beliefs. Over the years, I have found in my teaching that the asking of questions
can spur the student to think about her/his assumptions and presuppositions. The performance of
philosophy, the asking big questions about little things can often open up doors for the student to
grow and develop beyond the captivity of their beliefs. One influence on my teaching is Ludwig
Wittgentstein, the Austrian philosopher of this. Wittgenstein belived that how we use and understand
language (especially language about subjective experiences such as feelings, thoughts, and beliefs) is
a source of our pathology. His philosophical undertaking was striving to free us from the mental
muddles we get into because we are trying to explain things that do not need explaining. I find that
it is necessary to understand language and meaning-not as corresponding to reality, not as "being
about " anything, but as human social activity. The student and I are continually making meaning.
In the process the students learn how their beliefs of 'use' don't have to be set in stone. They can
All the best,
Continued in PART 12...
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