Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Forgotten Sense

I’ve been reading about the development of the Proprioceptive system in babies. If you haven’t heard of this sensory system, you're not alone. Like the Vestibular system that I talked about in “Vestibular Shmibular”, the Proprioceptive system doesn’t get much respect. Yet, if you walk without stubbing your toe or kiss your baby without colliding, the Proprioceptive system is working. Its job is to create body awareness. Animals use Proprioception too. Anyone who’s seen a cat jump from the floor to the top of a bookshelf knows what I’m talking about.

Think about your back. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there. The Proprioceptive system is what gives us an image of our self in our minds. Some experts go so far as to say Proprioception marks the beginning of the recognition of the self. Proprioception actually means “awareness or feeling of one’s own self” in Latin. So the knowledge of “I” comes first from the body. The abstract notion of self evolves out of a concrete movement of muscle. That should stir up some controversy with the Cartesian "I think, therefore, I am" camp.

Proprioception is also developed through feeling the body work against a resistance. A baby will stamp its foot on the floor in order to get what’s called “Proprioceptive input”. Thus, the sense of self comes from differentiating ourselves from others and things. We gain awareness of ourselves from the boundary that exists between others and ourselves. It’s wild to think that the sense of self begins in relationship. In order for there to be an “I”, there must first be a “We”.

Proprioception certainly is a subtle sense, not a direct experience like sniffing hot apple pie or listening to Metallica. In fact, the “Proprioceptive receptors” are located deep in the joints and respond to stretching and compression. Someone will probably tell Claire that she has beautiful eyes someday. It would sound plain crazy to tell her she has a great Proprioceptive response.

I have a new respect for Proprioception now though. When my daughter splashes in the tub, it means something different to me. The doingness of it means that Claire is becoming more Claire. And watching Claire become Claire is a beautiful thing to me.

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