The Difference That Makes A Difference

This was the original introduction to my first WordPress blog; it is still my essential goal, and I am just popping it here as a place-holder for what is to follow with regard to my Fun-damentals – learning to learn and having fun learning are inseparable, but the connection is only slowly reaching mainstream understanding, and then mainly with regard to the education of children. Play is a fundamental for learning, and it has a lovely array of meanings that express much of what learning through life is all about…

“Human sense organs can receive only news of difference, and the differences must be coded into events in time (i.e., into changes) in order to be perceptible. Ordinary static differences that remain constant for more than a few seconds become perceptible, only by scanning. Similarly, very slow changes become perceptible only by a combination of scanning and bringing together observations from separated moments in the continuum of time.”

Mind And Nature – Gregory Bateson

“A difference that makes a difference” was Gregory Bateson’s definition of a “bit” or “elementary unit” of information. This phrase – often simply and inaccurately quoted as a definition of information itself – expresses an idea that is so clear and easy to grasp that it feels instantly useful.  This maybe in part because it describes so well the way our nervous system behaves.

Metal that isn’t being heated in some way is often cold to the touch – if you drop a coin onto the palm of your hand you will feel its coolness and maybe some of its flatness and roundness as well, but after a while the sensations will diminish until your awareness of the coin has almost gone (although the simple act of focusing your awareness on the coin will bring sensation back, which is what Bateson means by “scanning”). This isn’t simply because the coin warms up, but because your brain edits out the signal from the contact of the coin on your skin – nerve cells do not keep conveying the same information unless it is likely to be useful to us, they only fire off a signal to the brain when something new happens, when something changes. Difference is what enables us to pick out new and relevant information from the sensory bombardment created by the highly stimulating world we live in.

In Feldenkrais teaching we are always looking for the difference that will make a positive difference to our own functioning and that of our students – Awareness Through Movement lessons are designed to maximise the amount of information that we get from the sensory motor nervous system by constantly paying attention to what changes – what feels different – as we move, and when we get up from the floor at the end of the lesson we are rewarded with a very different sense of our self – our balance, our stance, the way we hold our head, the way we walk.  We are standing with greater ease and less sense of conscious effort, and all these changes are achieved by the simple but powerful behaviour of paying attention to small differences.

By writing this ongoing blog, my goal is to show just how different Feldenkrais is from other routes to wellbeing, and how much difference it can make for us all.

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