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What is Somatics? Part IV


When we stop and focus upon one feature of our experience while inhibiting any notice of the rest of experience, we are making voluntary use of the function of awareness.

It is for this reason that focusing awareness was earlier (Part One) described as “exclusionary: 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 (third–person awareness) or internal within the soma (first–person awareness).” We now know that the ability to shape experience into the third-person mode or the reflective mode of self-awareness is learned from second–person experience.

Awareness is an ordering force that suffuses the entire soma.

So the question arises: Where is awareness when it is not focused on these special tasks — which is to say, where is it most of the time, when we are unreflectively experiencing in the first–person mode?

To answer this we only need to reflect on the primary question: What is awareness? What kind of a function is it? If we consider how it functions in the act of focusing just described, we can see that it is a function which simultaneously controls both motor and sensory experience; namely, it can use “motor inhibition to exclude any sensory recognition other than that upon which it is focused.” Awareness is a function with full dominion over the sensory–motor system. It controls the input and output of experience.

We can well suspect that awareness embraces the whole of experience, constantly ordering it and constantly shaping it. And it performs this function for the whole of experience, both the core of unconscious processes and the cortex of conscious processes that surround this core.

The membrane is not so much a separative wall as it is a series of windows and doors through which elements of the environment are made to go in and elements of the soma are made to go out.

It will be recalled that, at the end of Part Two, the analogy of the tornado was amended to give the soma an image of “a horizontal cone–like spiral process whose supporting shaft of unconscious strands gradually narrows as it comes forward into the whorl of conscious strands and reaches its final projecting point: the aware self.” It was suggested that this aware self is “ever expanding”, “always reaching outward”, “invisible, powerful and guiding.” This amended analogy can, now be used in a more descriptive way.

The cell membrane is the originative sensory-motor function of the soma.

Awareness is an ordering force that suffuses the entire soma, always reaching outward, expanding and guiding somatic experience. This is a basic teaching of somatics, without which the human being remains a Cartesian mystery, but with which many of the major obscurities of physiology and psychology disappear.

Awareness is a comprehensive somatic function that shapes “what happens” in the core process and the cortical process. Using the crypto–religious terms of traditional physiology and psychology, awareness is the fundamental shaping force in the human “body” and the human “mind.”

One of the grand and embarassing mysteries of third–person science is the placebo effect and its negative correlate, the nocebo effect.

Everything that occurs in the human soma is ordered by the hand of awareness. without this constant monitoring and shaping we would fall asunder: All of the processes necessary for life’s ongoing depend upon this comprehensive function. The occasional moments when we self-consciously notice and modify our experience are as nothing in comparison with the constant and all–embracing activity of awareness that goes on day and night, whether we wish it or not. We can momentarily "possess" awareness in the voluntary act of self–aware focusing, but for ninety–nine per cent of our lives, it is awareness that possesses us and protects us, that guides us and heals us; and if the conditions are negative, it can destroy us.

Somatic Osmosis

In somatics, we can learn much from the earliest archetypes of somas: cells. The membrane of the cell defines the individuality of the cell, separating its process from the rest of the environment.

This separation is, however, illusory, because the membrane is not so much a separative wall as it is a series of windows and doors through which elements of the environment are made to go in and elements of the soma are made to go out. A membrane is a selective function that determines the relational interchange between soma and world. The survival of the cell depends upon the nature of this interchange.

The membrane is the interface between the cellular soma and its environment selectively ordering what goes in and out. This is to say that the cell membrane is the originative sensory–motor function comprehensively monitoring the needs of the soma and the available offerings of the environment.

The cell membrane is the cell’s awareness, and it has the dual function of (1) embracing the whole of the cell’s process to maintain its individual synthesis and (2) ordering the experience of the cell by osmotically selecting what enters and what exits.

The comprehensive osmotic function of the cell is the same in all somas, including human somas. In humans we do not think of it as a membranous function, but as awareness. But, unlike the single cell, human somas can take cognizance of this function by the skill of self–awareness learned through second–person experience. To recognize the somatic function of awareness is tantamount to recognizing the existence of a protective genie within us that informs, shapes, and guides us.

The osmotic function of awareness is the same in humans as it is in cells: It opens our process to the world, or it closes our process to the world — it allows or inhibits what goes in and out, thus ordering all sensory-motor activities.

Expectation is an osmotic function.

Because it is selective of what is beneficial for our process and what is to be inhibited as irrelevant, awareness is the determiner of somatic values. It provides the unconscious sense of “what is good for us.” And this selectivity of what is or is not good for us is utterly simple: As in the cell, awareness has the osmotic function of opening or closing. Because it is a comprehensive function, it can open or close, facilitate or inhibit, all or pan of the somatic process.

The nature of this osmotic function is now being recognized in physiological studies which confirm what humans have always known: One can die of a broken heart or be saved by love or healed by hope. This innovative area of science, called psychoneuroimmunology is thoroughly somatic in its concerns.

One of the grand and embarrassing mysteries of third-person science is the placebo effect and its negative correlate, the nocebo effect. Psychoneuroimmunologists, who study the relations between “mental” attitude, brain function, and the immune system, are fascinated by the consistent and predictable effects of expectation upon health.

Opening and closing is built into the functions of the human soma.

When given a placebo, a patient who believes it was a drug to relieve pain will consistently and predictably experience in excess of fifty per cent of the pain relief expected of that drug. Likewise, if the patient thinks the drug is morphine or aspirin, more than fifty per cent of the effect of morphine or the analgesic effect of aspirin will be experienced.

How can this be explained from a third-person scientific viewpoint? It cannot. That is why somatics is necessary in order to provide a reliable systemic framework for understanding what is, otherwise, a Cartesian mystery.

The soma has a value preference integral to its very nature.

It is the same with negative expectation: the nocebo effect. Studies made of the blood cell count of men whose wives were inexorably dying of cancer, showed that these men had immune systems that were becoming dangerously deficient. The system was closing down. They were beginning to die of broken hearts.

A large number of studies in this area lead to the following speculation: if expectation in regard to medicine can shape one’s health and if expectation in regard to another human can shape one’s health, then it is quite possibly the case that expectation in general will shape one’s health somatically (i.e., “mentally” as well as “physically”). A human’s prevailing attitude and belief system may be a prime determinant in that person’s well being.

Expectation is an osmotic function: It perceives the world in terms of the soma’s needs, and it organizes the soma’s needs in terms of the world. Expectation represents both sides of the membrane — the inner state of somatic appetite and the outer realm of possible satisfactions of that appetite. In this regard, expectation is an alternate manner of referring to awareness.

It is catastrophic that twentieth century science has no knowledge of the somatic function of awareness.

Awareness leads the soma into the world like a nose sniffing out the environment. In somas, the nose leads the mouth to its fulfillment. As in most things somatic, this is not merely an analogy, but one of several modes of description: From a third–person view, the nose is foremost and does lead the mouth to its satisfaction; but the sense of smell and the sense of taste and appetite are the foremost primitive functions; in brain structure, the sections devoted to smell and appetite are the earliest formed. The osmotic function of awareness sniffs out the world, guiding the somatic process toward fulfillment of its experiential appetite.

Because awareness, like the nose, represents somatic appetite, it osmotically opens the somatic process toward some experiences and closes it toward other experiences. That is its selectivity principle. This osmotic opening and closing is fundamental: It controls the moment–to–moment history and ongoing well being of the soma.

The opening and closing of somatic process is built into the elemental neurological functions of the human soma: parasympathetic nervous functions and sympathetic nervous functions. Somatic process is constantly alternating between these two osmotic functions. The parasympathetic is a state of openness — the soma softens, relaxes; entropy decreases; repair and healing occur; the cardiovascular system spatially expands and temporally slows down; breathing rate slows and deepens, taking in more air; blood flows from the center to the periphery; and the soma's surface relaxes and opens like a flower to the sun. In this state, the soma is vulnerable, defenseless, and in happy peace with the environment. It approximates the early experience of sarcal bliss.

The sympathetic nervous state is a state of closure — the soma hardens contracts; entropy increases; repair and healing are curtailed; the cardiovascular system spatially shrinks and temporally quickens; breathing rate quickens and becomes shallow, taking in less air; blood flows from the periphery to the center; and the soma's surface tenses and closes like a flower to the cold. In this state, the soma is vigilant, defended, and in uneasy confrontation with the environment. It is estranged from the early experience of sarcal bliss.

Somatic science integrates first–person evidence into the context of third–person evidence.

These two states, thoroughly incorporated in the central nervous system, are two states of somatic awareness: osmotic openness and, closure. They are two states showing the two options for inter. face with the environment. These same two states of awareness are constantly exhibited in another fashion, which, because they are so commonplace, are not usually noticed. Both osmotic states trigger primitive reflex patterns that categorically alter the way in which the soma organizes itself four dimensionally.

In Part two we pointed out how the soma reflected the three cosmic dimensions of space in the fact that, functionally and structurally, it stood, faced, and laterally handled its environment. We emphasized that these three dimensions, rather than being geometrically balanced, were biased in their directionality; namely, the soma stood up, it faced and moved forward and it maneuvered rotationally. This is to say that there is, by its very constitution, a preferred directionality of somatic activity.

The soma, from its earliest sarcal experience, is constituted to be osmotically open. Its process exhibits a preference for a world that sponsors such osmotic openness. This is a matter that cannot be too much emphasized: The soma has a value preference integral to its very nature. It has a cosmically ordained way of functioning that prefers an environment favoring this way of functioning. The historical and political pilgrimage of human somas is threaded upon that particular bias.

When human awareness interprets the environment as unequivocally propitious to its bias, a specific response is elicited: the joy reflex. If, for example, a human experiences a grand surprise or longed–for triumph, he opens mouth and eyes wide; lifts the head; opens the arms by lifting, extending, and abducting; lifts the chest, releasing the abdominal muscle, thereupon suddenly inhaling, making a gasping sound in the throat, arching the back to lift the entire trunk, and opening the legs. The joy reflex is the soma's ancient, and definitive expression of osmotic openness, fully affirming its ancient bias.

“Disease of stress” means the diseases caused by sustained osmotic closure.

When human awareness interprets the environment as unequivocably threatening to its bias, a specific response is elicited: the withdrawal reflex (also called “startle reflex”, or “escape response” in biology) if, for example, a human experiences great grief or bitter disappointment he contracts mouth and eyes; drops the head; closes the arms by dropping, flexing, and adducting; drops the chest, contracting the abdominal muscles, thereupon suddenly exhaling, making an expulsive sound in the throat, hunching the back to drop the entire trunk, and closing the legs. The withdrawal reflex is the soma’s ancient and definitive expression of osmotic closure, fully contravening its ancient bias.

The joy reflex and the withdrawal reflex are part of the core process of the soma — they are phylogenetic. They represent the polar extremes of the osmotic function, just as they represent the extremes of two contrasting states of the central nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic.

In light of these basic considerations, we can understand the enormous significance of awareness and its selective way of ordering sensory–motor functions. It is the determinative somatic function in the control of somatic experience; and, thus, it is crucial to somatic well–being.

Given its controlling osmotic function in the life and health of humans, it is catastrophic that twentieth century science has no knowledge of the somatic function of awareness. That medicine and psychiatry have caught themselves in the third–person trap of denying the very existence of somatic awareness is a cognitive monstrosity. in both theory and practice, contemporary human science, is predicated upon denying the nose upon one’s face.

This is why the most winsome event of the present moment is the discovery of the field of somatic science — a science which recognizes and integrates first–person evidence into the context of third–person evidence. It is a science so fresh and unexpected that those trained in the traditional third–person viewpoint have the greatest initial difficulty in grasping the enormity of its consequences.

One of the hallmarks of somatic science is that it recognizes both the priority of first–person experience (i.e., it is humanistic and ecological) and the efficacy of awareness (i.e., the self–sensing, self–moving capacity of the soma to order and shape its own process).

Osmotic Openness and Health

Osmotic openness, because it is a state of optimal efficiency and well–being, is a prime somatic desideratum. It is no exaggeration to say that the general goal of all human education is to make this state possible — that is, to learn sufficient volitional skills so that interchange with, the world does not become threatening, provoking osmotic closure.

Osmotic openness, idealized as a constant and unvarying state, is the general goal of many religious and ascetic disciplines. This would be the ongoing state of ecstasy, bliss, samadhi, zazen, or enlightenment. In secular society, constant osmotic openness is “happiness ever after.”

Osmotic openness is, thus, the style of somatic experience that facilitates the three-dimensional bias of the soma: The functions of standing, facing, and maneuvering have an optimal temporal flow.

By the same token, osmotic closure inhibits the efficient flow of somatic experience. The three dimensions are distorted both from the third–person view (the postural distortions of the withdrawal reflex) and in first–person experience (dis–ease). The contractile state is highly entropic, losing great energy while cutting off full sensory input with the environment. Closure is a double loss. If sustained for long periods, osmotic closure disintegrates somatic process. It is disease—causing.

So then, human education for coping in the world and for coping with somatic health share the same general goal: efficient process. Earlier, in Part One, this goal was called the fair state, meaning “a temporal progress that is unblemished and without distortions or the befoulment of inhibition.”

We all recognize that, within the last century, the human race has made enormous progress in learning how to reduce osmotic closure in coping with the environing world. This is the progress of technology, the offspring of third–person science. But we all recognize, at the same time, that the human race has made little progress in learning how to reduce osmotic closure. Indeed, the world fostered by technology has provoked an increase of osmotic closure and, thus, an increase of the diseases created by this state.

To the degree that bureaucratized urban-industrial society has burdened humans with a greater burden of threat, it has fostered the tendency for osmotic closure as the primary way of coping with the environing world.

We must expand the scope of science into the first–person realm.

We all recognize that the diseases of contemporary society are the “diseases of stress.” Specifically, this means the diseases caused by sustained osmotic closure: cardiovascular disease, cancer, emotional incapacity, and a daily experience of pain so widespread in humans that analgesic drugs have become an integral part of the dietary intake of our society.

And the prevailing dis–ease in the way humans experience themselves inevitably creates instability in interpersonal relationships, marital bonds, parent–child relations, and worker–workplace efficiency.

Quantum theory is completely bound up with somatic theory: Each implies the other.

If all that we had to look forward to in the future were more technology and more third–person science, then we can confidently predict a future of even more cardiovascular disease, cancer, emotional incapacity, pain, interpersonal estrangement and social discord. In brief, if scientific technology is the culminating achievement of the human race, then we can be certain of the ultimate degeneration of the human race — individually, socially, and culturally.

In the face of this situation, the standard response has been to say that if we want technological science, then we must be willing to accept a trade–off on one side of the scale, technology: and on the other side, personal and social disease. And the best proposals for enduring this compromise are more technology, more scientific studies, more hospitals, more psychotherapists, more physicians, more prisons, more police, more lawyers — more of what we already have that is not working.

We do not need more osmotic closure. We need less. And no technology or third–person science is competent to discover explore, and establish the general possibility of osmotic openness. That can occur only with the advent of somatic science, with a recognition of first–person experience as an inviolate realm of human reality, and with a concerted effort to understand the function of somatic awareness.

Human awareness is a force. It performs work, creates motion, uses energy, and organizes multiple factors into a synthetic process. Obscure as it may seem to anyone wearing the blinders of third-person science and unable to remove them, awareness is a power, a little understood, little–used power that is exactly as significant for somatic science as E = MC2 is significant for third–person science.

Quantum Theory and Somatics

The distinction between soma and body in the life sciences is exactly parallel to the distinction between quantum waves and particles in physics.

The conception of physical matter as, ultimately, “particles” and of living matter as, ultimately, “bodies” is the objective, Newtonian viewpoint, which has its own laws, its own coherency and integrity: it is sui generis. This view begins with a world of separate entities whose relationships are governed by laws of mass, gravity, and momentum — these laws account for the continuous and unified interaction of the separate particles.

The conception of physical matter as, ultimately, waves within an energetic substrate and of living matter as, ultimately, centers of experience that extend sensorially and motorically into the total universe is the quantum/somatic viewpoint, which also has its own laws, coherency, and integrity.

Thus, the distinction between soma and body is not only scientifically allowable, but it is already a working distinction at the heart of modern physics; i.e., there are two ways of looking at the same phenomenon.

Human awareness is a power, as significant for somatic science as E=MC2 is significant for third–person science.

Whereas the “body” is discrete and separate (like a particle obeying laws of mass, Attraction, and momentum), a soma is a sensory–motor process within the whole cosmic process: Its sensory awareness extends outward without any known theoretical limitations — most likely, it is impinged upon by all cosmic energies, even though its ability to analyze and perceive those energies may be limited.

But the soma’s motor presence in the universe is just as unlimited — The pressures generated by its specific actions move outward like the waves of a stone thrown in a pool. The “pool,” in this instance, is the continuous substrate of energy through which the quantum waves of somatic action propagate.

Psychoneuroimmunology is just such a venture.

In brief, quantum theory is completely bound up with somatic theory: Each implies the other and implies the same conception of a universe that is integrally one.

Somatic Education

How, could one conceivably make use of “awareness” as an organizing “force” of “sensory-motor functions” in order to transform “osmotic closure to “osmotic openness;” thereby changing the “core somatic process” (i.e., “body”) by means of the “cortical somatic process” (i.e., “mind”)?

This is exactly what is being done daily by practitioners of biofeedback. By giving human awareness new sensory information, human awareness creates a reorganization of motor functions to make (1) high frequency brain waves drop to low frequency; (2) high blood pressure drop to low blood pressure; (3) constricted blood vessels become un–constricted; and (4) sympathetic nervous states relax into parasympathetic nervous states — all voluntarily. All four of these events are changes from osmotic closure to osmotic openness. All four of these events are changes performed by the soma — they are not third–person procedures done to the soma.

But we must keep the following in mind regarding biofeedback: We know that these somatic procedures can consistently produce these changes, but we do not know how. We do not know how, because, from a third–person viewpoint, these changes should not be happening is one more Cartesian mystery to be swept under the scientific rug.

Thus, if we are, scientifically, to understand and explore this consistent and predictable phenomenon, we must obviously expand the scope of science into the first–person realm. Otherwise, we are not being scientific; we are being medieval dogmatists.

Fortunately, the aforementioned research area of psychoneuroimmunology is just such a venture into somatic science. The very title itself — “psycho” combined with “neuroimmunology” - candidly declares its Somaticity.

Somatic techniques provoke a change from osmotic closure to that of openness.

In similar but much more subtle ways, somatic techniques, such as those developed by Gerda Alexander of Copenhagen, invite investigation. In her system of Eutony, Alexander often has people lie down and focus awareness on one internal sensory input, actively noticing various aspects of one perceived bodily part. After a period of such focusing, she may have them stand up and notice if there are differences in the way they stand, balance, and walk. Usually, there are remarkable differences. As in biofeedback awareness of new sensory information has resulted in new motor control.

In the tradition of Elsa Gindler and F. Matthias Alexander, and culminating in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, far more active somatic procedures are used; namely, rather than perceiving while being passive, sensory awareness is focused on specific movement patterns, resulting in greater motor control of these patterns and in reduced postural distortion. A large number of medical complaints disappear through these methods.

Many younger movement educators are developing these ideas in richly diverse directions: eg., Judith Aston, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Emilie Conrad Da’Oud, and a host of others.

Whether these somatic techniques are passive or active, they all provoke a change from osmotic closure to that of openness. This is to say that they teach the individual somatic skills: greater self–awareness and self–control in order to make somatic experience more efficient and less stressful. On the face of it, somatic education of this sort seems “antitechnological” and “antiscientific;” i.e., it is an antidote to the malaise of helplessness created by dependence upon the third–person operations of scientific technology and upon interventionary procedures such as drugs or surgery.

Recalling our earlier discussion of placebo and nocebo effects, another avenue of somatic investigation is that of belief and attitude — namely, what we take to be the case. This area, which includes significant realms of psychology, religion and ontology, is conceivably the most promising realm of exploration, because the attitudes inculcated early into children may create adults with high efficiency in adaptation, happiness, well–being, and social wisdom.

The development of somatic science is not only one of the most promising new directions in human science and one of the most fascinating, it is arguably the most imperative. In light of a technologized environment that, humanly, fails to achieve the osmotic openness that all humans constitutionally need and long for, the development of an authentic human science and an authentic ecological science of life is more than the way to new truth: It is a way to new goodness.

A final word concerning somatic awareness. The fact that it is a force that synthetically holds multiple factors in a unified process is highly suggestive. Since it is an actual force that has evolved within the four–dimensional framework that the cosmos has imposed upon somas, we can surmise that this centralizing force of awareness has some cosmic prototype.

Awareness functions in much the same manner as gravity — a force that is equally primordial and mysterious. Gravity and awareness are forces of cohesiveness and unity within a moving process. Both gravity and awareness are suffused throughout the process and their cohesive attraction extends beyond the boundaries of their proximal confines; that is, they are theoretically limitless in their outreach — infinite.

Awareness functions in much the same manner as gravity.

From this point of view, somatic awareness seems to be the product of a slowly evolved incorporation of the unifying function of gravity into the self–organizing cohesiveness of somas.

The discussion in Part Two is, from the viewpoint of contemporary astronomy and cosmology, called the “anthropic principle.” This is the view that the nature, shape, and timing of cosmic evolution since the “big bang” leads inevitably to the evolution of life and, eventually, to human "observers." Part Two is of the same view, but it differs from the scientific viewpoint in one regard: Cosmic evolution does not lead to the appearance of astronomical observers — that is a typical third–person prejudice–but it leads, rather, to the appearance of awareness, a first–person primal event that makes third–person observation possible.

It is my conviction that the most significant occurrence since the beginning of time is the evolution of human awareness. And it is equally my conviction that, in coming to understand the nature and force of human awareness, we shall for the first time begin to understand why there is a world and why there is humankind.

The foregoing four parts of “What is Somatics?” are fragmentary in nature. They should not be taken as anything more than provisional ideas that will, hopefully, have more definitive form in a future work, provisionally entitled: Somatics: An Introduction to Somatology and Somatic Psychology.

SOMA: The body experienced from within.

From SOMATICS: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Volume VI, No. 3, Autumn/Winter 1987-88.

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