In Part One of this essay, somatics was defined as the study of the soma: namely, the body as perceived from within by first-person perception. Somas were seen to be self–sensing, self–moving, and in possession of conscious volition — the latter being acquired through the process of somatic learning which focuses awareness upon what is unconscious in order to make it conscious.
In Part Two the analogy of the tornado was used to describe the soma as a process that is constituted by primordial cosmic patterns of coordinated movement that preceded the existence of somas and led to their evolution. The fundamental movement patterns — the three dimensions of space-are represented in the soma by the vertical pattern of standing, the frontal pattern of facing, and the sagittal pattern of maneuvering. It was noted that these three patterns were biased, i.e., they were preferred directions of movement, thus constituting a value system for somatic process.
Finally, in Part Two these originative cosmic patterns were designated as part of the unconscious core of somatic process, surrounded by a conscious cortex of voluntary processes. The word cortex is used in its dual sense of “outer layer, bark” and “cerebral cortex,” the neurological locus of conscious volition. Awareness was described as the leading edge of this process, which, like every other system in the universe, operates synergetically.
The comprehensive term for the content of first–person perception is experience.
We can now describe the soma more fully. The soma is not only the “body” as perceived within, nor only the “mind,” nor the “emotions,” nor any other specific function of the somatic process. The comprehensive term for the content of first–person perception is experience.
The soma is a process of experience and nothing but experience. This experience is two-layered, extending from the layer of the unconscious core to the layer of the conscious cortex surrounding this core. The somatic core is experienced as the stable foundation upon which conscious experience rests. The core conditions and shapes the nature of conscious experience, the latter being comprised of learned habits.
In ordinary language the core process is incorrectly referred to as the “body.” Similarly, the cortical process of conscious, voluntary experience is incorrectly referred to as the “mind.” These have never been accurate or appropriate terms, inasmuch as there is experientially no clear or fixed line between the usually involuntary process of the core and the usually voluntary process of the cortex. This is because voluntary functions — which are usually habitual — can be lost and fall under the control of the involuntary core, as in the case of sensory-motor amnesia. Conversely, involuntary functions can be voluntarily mastered by somatic learning, becoming voluntary. Thus, there is absolutely no categorical distinction between an entity called mind and one called body: Neither in experience nor in human behavior does such a distinction exist.
The distinction between the unconscious somatic core and the conscious somatic cortex is between involuntary, genetically ordained processes and voluntary, learned processes, i.e., habits
The distinction between the unconscious somatic core and the conscious somatic cortex is that of a polarity between a core of involuntary, genetically ordained processes and a surrounding cortex of voluntary, learned processes, i.e., habits. The core aspects of somatic experience are usually unconscious but can be highlighted by awareness. Inversely, the cortical aspects of somatic experience are usually conscious but can be claimed by the unconscious, as in the case of amnesia caused by core reactions to trauma or extended stress.
At inception, the human soma is only constituted of core processes. But, thereupon, the first adaptations occur within the womb, and the first primitive cortical learnings of habit begin. Habit provides the cortical process with the same kind of repertoire of stable, repetitive sensory-motor patterns that are already provided to the core process genetically. Hence, the cortical layer becomes an extension of the core layer by emulating its functions. Upon birth, these voluntary learnings proceed rapidly, elaborating more and more refined sensory-motor adaptations of the core processes.
In its essence, a soma is experience. It is not a “mind,” nor does it have one. It is not a “body,” nor does it have one.
The first years of learning are centrally involved with sensory–motor elaborations of the three cosmic patterns built into the somatic core (also called the a archesoma): (1) learning to stand up, (2) learning to face and move forward, and (3) learning to handle by lateral maneuvers. This is purely conscious, voluntary learning that creates the sensory–motor competence for the advanced learning of language and thumb–finger manipulation.
It has been alleged that these first years of archesomatic learning are “unconscious.” To the contrary, these years are the very beginning of consciousness and volitional behavior without which language and tool handling would not occur. They are never forgotten (barring great traumatic injury) and constitute nonverbal feelings that are constantly evoked throughout our lives. The error is in mistaking language and its memory traces for the beginning of consciousness.
Language is merely a later refinement in sensory–motor control of conscious voluntary skills — without whose existence language and its memory traces would not be possible. The infantile experiences of archesomatic habit learning are always remembered but, quite understandably, are not remembered lingually as part of the later–acquired language memories.
It is with the learning of language that the “real” world of later adult consciousness seems to begin. But we must bear in mind that this “real” world of the human community becomes possible — if and only if — the human soma learns habitually to control its three–dimensional process so that it can cope with its environment in general and control the articulations of speech in particular. The presence of the world of lingual competence rests upon the presence of the world of sensory–motor competence.
In its essence, a soma is experience. It is not a “mind,” nor does it have one. It is not a “body,” nor does it have one. Nor is it a “spirit” or “soul” A soma is a four–dimensional process that is self–moving and self–sensing. Its three spatial dimensions are coordinated in movement (i.e., time) as a self-monitored activity. The word for this self–monitored activity is experience.
Experience is at the heart of all soma — not only human somas. It is the essential process occurring in animals and in plants. To say that all living beings experience is to say that they plan for and organize the new events or their present process and that they maintain the experience of these events within their historical present. Plants may not have third–person experience or the ability of self–awareness, but they have the essential somatic possession: first–person experience.
just as the vietreous humor is the medium through which all vision is processed, so is first–person experience the medium through which second–person and third–person experience is processed.
Experience exists only as somatic experience; the two are synonymous. Experience is self–generated and self–owned; namely, it is individuated. Thus the primordial mode of experience is first–person: It refers to itself. There are other modes of somatic experience, but they all occur in and through the self–referring medium of first–person experience, which colors, shapes, and gives specific reality to other modes of experience.
Just as the vitreous humor is the medium through which all vision is processed, so is first–person experience the medium through which second–person and third–person experience is processed. If the vitreous humor is mottled, cloudy, or opaque, so will be what is viewed. The first–person character of experience affects the other modes of experience in just the same manner.
The sensed reality of others that comes with lingual experience is firmly based on our initial sarcal experience of the other.
In general, the state of the four–dimensional process of somatic experience is the precondition for what is experienced in other modes: the experienced reality of others and the experienced reality of the world. As the first–person medium of experience changes, so will the reality of others and of the world.
The enormous number of voluntarily controlled habits are learned by the developing human soma. This learning, which takes place in the voluntary cortex, occurs in the mode of second–person experience.
Second–person experience begins with fleshly awareness: It is termed sarcal experienc (Gk. sarkos, flesh).
The primordial insularity of first–person experience is overcome by a bonding process that carries somatic experience outside the walls of the somatic membrane to discover other humans and to discover the outer world.
The first bonding of the soma is with the parent – a genetically inspired action of the core somatic process. Second–person experience begins with fleshly awareness: It is termed sarcal experience (Gk. sarkos, flesh), and is sharply distinguished from the other form of second–person experience, lingual experience.
Sarcal experience begins with inception and the fetus’ first adaptations to its growing life within the womb. It begins to flourish at birth when the nurturing and enfolding flesh of the mother gives the infant direct sarcal experience of the presence of another first–person individual — one somatic membrane in exchange with another.
Sarcal awareness is the experience of individuality⁄duality in the same histological sense that cells within tissue remain individual while in open osmotic exchange with all contiguous cells. In this pre–attuned state, the cell and infant soma experience idyllic ease and nurture — the infant with mother or the cell with neighbor exchange chemical substances, maximal openness to the other, and maximal support to each other’s individual needs.
The reality of the world outside our flesh is originally known only through our flesh. The adult sense of reality that comes later is lingually–based and is never quite as “real” as is sarcal reality. That is why humans can scarcely restrain themselves from reaching out to touch objects they wish to know well. If, in addition, they were to embrace, lick, and smell the object, its full sarcal reality would be experienced.
Whereas the later — arriving lingual experience is an indirect, differentiated, and fixed form of second–person experience, sarcal experience is a direct, diffused, and flowing form of experience. The sensed reality of others that comes with lingual experience is firmly based on our initial sarcal experience of the other.
Sarcal experience haunts and undergirds the fleshless mediation of lingual communication, anchoring it to first person experience. It is the never–forgotten, formative experience of absorption of one somatic system into another. It is not a two-dimensional experience of touch, but a four$#8211;dimensional experience of fleshly communication between self and environment. It is the full parasympathetic state of blissful osmotic openness.
Human reality is largely founded on human language, which, like sarcal experience, consists of vibratory pressures.
Human experience begins with a sarcal learning that is histological in nature. The remembrance of this formative reality underlies all of human culture which later comes to us by lingual learning. The attainment of this state is the great appetite motivator of human behavior. This idyllic experience is not only sexual, as Freud believed, but is equally the blissful state of mystical absorption. In general, it is the happy sense of fulfillment. It is the poetry underlying ordinary language that human lingual consciousness is always trying to remember. In fine, sarcal experience is the “transcendent” aspect of human life that is not “above” experience, but beneath it as its foundation.
If this sarcal experience were lacking or if it becomes traumatized in infanthood, the later lingual relation with other humans will be without immediate relevance to first–person experience. Communication becomes errant and dehumanized. in fine, without an initial sarcal bonding of fleshly love, adult human relationships are deformed, inconsistent, and unsatisfying.
Although sarcal experience teaches us that there really are human beings like ourselves behind the words they speak, nonetheless it is words alone that create the full world of human culture. Moreover, without the second–person experience of words, we would never experience third–person reality: The “world” outside our membrane would be undifferentiated, unstable, and without permanence when out–of–touch. It would be the sarcally–based world experienced by all other vertebrate somas. Human reality is largely founded on, human language which, like sarcal experience, consists of vibratory pressures. Language, as a sensory medium, is sarcal — communication–at–a–distance; i.e., from a distance each soma embraces the other and interpenetrates, the other. As language is acquired, so is the fullness of adult human consciousness acquired: The range of sensory-motor competence grows exponentially, and the repertoire of voluntary habits draws us vigorously into the environment. Indeed, language creates the very possibility of experiencing an environment, per se.
As a relationship between somas, second–person experience exhibits a sensory–motor polarity ranging between (1) passive (i.e., sensory) and (2) active (i.e., motor). To be addressed by another is a passive second–person relationship to address another is an active relationship.
Both at the sarcal level and lingual level, the human soma learns how to address others and how to be addressed. Each human acquires a uniquely characteristic way of doing this, and the individual variations form a large topic in somatic psychology.
Self–Awareness is the action of addressing one’s own first–person experience as if it were another person.
The learning of these two stances of second–person experience has immediate and profound applications in other modes of somatic experience. First of all, it makes possible somatic self–awareness. Self–awareness is the action of addressing one’s own first–person experience as if it were another person it is exactly the same stance we take in actively addressing another human soma. Without that lingually–learned stance, we could not address ourselves, nor could we experience the stance of being addressed by ourselves. In self–consciousness we make dialogue a first–person experience: We do, in effect, talk to ourselves.
But the learned ability to address others can also be applied to the nonhuman world. In its most primitive human form, the second–person form of address is applied to animals, plants, and all physical entities experienced as potent, e.g., mountains, wind, rain, thunder, soil, etc. Animism is the experienced reality of all young children, until human culture teaches them to differentiate animals and physical forces as being “not human."
The task of learning the third–person mode of experience is an arduous one and continues throughout childhood.
In more sophisticated human cultures, individuals learn conventionally to distinguish the stance of addressing humans from that of other entities. It is in this manner that animistic experience is transcended, and the presumed “scientific” stance —of human experience is established. In a word, this is the origin of third–person experience.
The learning of the third–person mode of experience is a problematical achievement, inasmuch as there is enormous human variation in using the third–person mode of address — particularly in regard to animals, which for some individuals evoke a second–person (i.e. human) form of address. In other cases, some individuals ñ particularly those with early disturbances in their sarcal experiences — experience other humans as if they were third–person entities.
The task of learning the third-person mode of experience is an arduous one and continues throughout childhood. Children have undifferentiated sarcally based experiences of space and mass, time and age; these are overcome only with difficulty in sophisticated human cultures. In primitive cultures, they are rarely overcome and thus create the experience of a magical world.
The research of Jean Piaget on the development of human consciousness is exemplary as a somatic psychology. He makes it clear that the objective, third–person world is not a given fact, but an acquired learning affecting the entire four–dimensional realm that we have called the archesoma. “Where” things are in space, “when” they are, and “how” they are to be handled — these are matters that the cortical process learns from other humans and not from the “world.” The third–person realm is not a priori but a posteriori.
In scientific training dealing with human studies, the third–person stance is systematically employed, but normally the scientist shifts back to the second–person mode when not playing the role of scientist. The ability or inability to make this role shift has become one of the major social problems of the twentieth century — the century of science.
The mode of third–person experience is a special way of using the mode of second–person experience, which originally entailed the shaping of experience to address the other. However, the third–person mode has one difference: it is purely active (i.e., motor). To experience something as an “object” is the same active stance used in addressing another but without the expectation of passively being addressed.
To go from one mode of experience to another is a dynamic reshaping of the soma, Humans become so accustomed to modulating from one mode of experience to another that they are not normally aware of the categorical change involved. At moments of surprise, however, we can experience this sudden modulation with a jolt. For example, to believe one is looking at a statue (third–person mode) only to discover that the statue is looking back and smiling is a shocking modulation into second–person experience. A reverse example would be the discovery that the person whose back you are speaking to turns out to be just a dummy.
The modulations of first–, second–, and third–person experience are a central theme of somatic psychology.
The modulations of first–, second–, and third–person experience are constant somatic events. They are a central theme of somatic psychology, because these learned stances are used in such richly varying ways, e.g.:
(1) During the development of infantile sarcal and lingual experience, the, human may be so oppressed by subjection to passive second-person experience that the ability to address others actively is, on balance, deficient. The person becomes shy, lacking in social self–confidence. In the reverse situation of the “spoiled child,” the active, motor form of address may be overdeveloped and the passive, sensory mode deficient. The person becomes insensitive, running roughshod over others.
Such deficiencies will be manifested, obviously, in the human's social relationships, but it will automatically be manifested in unbalanced skills in self–awareness. The too–passive stance will experience itself as imploded upon by overwhelming pressures with which it can scarcely cope. This is obsessive self–awareness, The too–active stance has a self–awareness which is so assertively other–directed that it has little ability to sense and evaluate its own internal state of being. This is a vacuum of self–awareness.
The most common mode of experience is first–person—it is immersion in the immediate flow of experience.
(2) The most common mode of experience is first–person — the most primitive somatic mode. In traditional terms this is often characterized as “unreflective”: It does not involve awareness of others, of oneself, or of objects; but, rather, it is immersion in the immediate flow of experience, e.g., a worker at his lathe, a typist at her keyboard, a runner on his run, a listener to music, a child playing, et al. Because first–person experience is the primitive, unconditioned mode of experience, it is easiest. It is the playing out of habit in a stable, repetitive manner.
We must not forget that “to be conscious” does not meant “to be self–aware.” Language, as one of the prime habitual learnings of human consciousness, is rarely used in the mode of self–awareness.
The other modes of experience require effort. With out that effort, experience drops back to its primitive, least effortful state: the play of habitual patterns. This state of experience is, analogously, “home,– “ground,– “neutral,– “the tonic key– (in music), or “the default mode– (in computer language). Almost all of human life is spent in the unreflective first–person mode.
First–person experience is the beneficiary of the learning of conscious volitional habits — the major activity of the somatic cortex. Human consciousness is thatched of habits, the earliest being the archesomatic learning of the four dimensions of sensory–motor skills and the most spectacular being the learning of language and manual skills. These, the foundational skills of human consciousness, are also the foundation of what we think of as human culture.
It requires a series of actions of self–awareness in order, for example, to learn how to play tennis. But once these volitional skills have been made consciously, one plays tennis in the first–person mode: namely, unreflectively.
We must not forget that “to be conscious” does not mean “to be self–aware:” Language, as one of the prime habitual learnings of human consciousness, is rarely used in the mode of self–awareness. Because it is definitive of second–person relationships, its authentic function is in this mode —that is, it is unreflective. We do not reflect upon what we are going to say and then say it; we simply say it unreflectively in the flow of second–person dialogue.
The richness of consciousness largely rests upon the habitual ability to learn and act via language, and self–awareness rarely intrudes except in the case of deceit or in the course of deliberately acting out a role. Each of us has a typical active and passive stance of second–person relationship to others. Human conversation is an automatic and unreflective warp–and–woof interplay between these typical active and passive dialogic stances.
It requires a series of actions of self–awareness in order, for example, to team how to play tennis. But once these volitional skills have been made conscious, one plays tennis in the first–person mode: namely, unreflectively. In order to learn to operate a lathe, the worker must initially inhibit his first–person flow of experience by focusing awareness upon one thing.
Intensive training in scholarship and science involves cultivation of the third–person stance, which rests upon the deumanization of second–person experience.
(As was remarked in Part One, awareness is an exclusionary activity: i.e., “it uses motor inhibition to exclude any sensory recognition other than that upon which it is focused–which could be something external in the environment or internal within the soma.”)
But once the lathe operator has learned his skills, via sensory–motor self–awareness, he does his work in the experiential, mode of the first–person, unreflectively. Almost all human work occurs in this habitual manner, as does almost all conversation, walking, playing — in fact, almost all human activities.
If interrupted by awareness, these habitual activities become inefficient. At any point, one can reflect upon some aspect of one’s conscious habits, i.e., the volitional learnings within the somatic cortex. If it were not already conscious, it could not be focused upon — it would not be “recollectable.”
In this context, it should now be clearer why it was said at the conclusion of Part Two that the core patterns and cortical patterns that move about the aware self are experienced at all times, but not in the mode of self–awareness. The unconscious core is not immediately available to recollection nor control, but the conscious cortical layer is controllable and recollectable by self–reflection.
If all experience originating outside the somatic membrane is addressed in the third–person mode, the human experiences ≴cosmos.≵
(3) As already noted, intensive training in scholarship and science involves cultivation of the third–person stance, which rests upon the dehumanization of second–person experience, i.e., suppression of the passive stance of being addressed. This stance tends to habituate more easily in those whose infanthood involved traumatized sarcal development of the active stance of addressing others. When such a stance is habituated, humans and objects are experienced as identical.
Scientific technology, as it has become increasingly applied to social, business, industrial, and political institutions, fosters this habituated stance and encourages dehumanized modes of experience. In this regard, there is no distinction between the thinking of scientific technology and that of authoritarianism.
(4) If all experience originating outside the somatic membrane is addressed in the third–person mode, the human experiences “cosmos.” If all is addressed in the active second–person mode, the human experiences prayer. If all is addressed passively, the human experiences the divine presence of mystical encounter.
These four observations about the modulations of first–, second–, and third–person experience are merely suggestive of the broader compass of somatic psychology in which they play a role. A proper discussion of these varying roles can be made only by a more extended systematic treatment.
The fourth and final part of “What is Somatics?” will deal with awareness, somatic osmosis, and somatic education.
From SOMATICS: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Volume VI, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1987.