Neurophysiological Development

Ways to Train Up an Initially Weak or Marginal or New Sense, Skill or Ability

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Life-force energy — photograph by Elan Sun Star

All senses were once the sense of touch, deep in our history of when we were a fetus, and deeper still in our history before our ancestors became starfish, amphibia, reptomammals and then mammals, apes and finally humans. One sense after another emerged from being just skin touch to being specialized organs for handling smell, taste, sound, and light. Still embedded in our generalized sense of touch are temperature, pressure, tactility, movement, position, various electrical perceptions, a weak magnetic sense, and an initially weak, undeveloped sense of life-force energy, among others.

Even among the emerged senses, various of us have weaknesses which may stem from injury before or since birth, developmental deprivation and lack of opportunity, nutritional imbalances, or problems in the brain. Traditionally and even in most modern medicine, we try to provide that sense with a crutch if possible or train the person to get by without it; yet for many decades we’ve known better ways, mostly shrugging them off and not using them.

First of all, soon after Santiago Ramon y Cajal, father of vertebrate neuroanatomy, first began publishing his encyclopedic series of studies in The Histology of the Brain in 1911, we’ve known that what develops a nerve cell or brain cell or nerve circuit is not so much genetics, not so much nutrition, not even so much stimulus, as it is feedback from one’s own activities.

This finding was echoed in education with the work of Maria Montessori and of Omar K. Moore, that learning proceeds best as feedback upon one’s own spontaneous activities. Modern neurophysiologist Marion Diamond found that the very size and weight of the brain depends upon sensory feedback from one’s own activities.

We’ve known for a century and a half psychology’s Law of Effect, that “you get more of what you reinforce.” Biology is just beginning to recognize that this law also defines the whole of lifekind, not just humans and animals:  It is the business of life to discover what works and then to occupy it.

Whether we call this effect feedback or reinforcement, it’s how every generation of all life forms got to where they could live, and how each continues to do so. What makes the Law of Effect so powerful as a law is that any organism, in any of those generations, which did not sense its environment and how its environment was responding to its presence and to what it was doing, didn’t get to live very long or to pass on its traits. In every generation we are ascended from those who did.

So our senses are essential. The more and better our senses, other things being equal, the better our living. So let’s look at several of the more obvious ways that various senses can be trained to greater accuracy and acuity.

Derivative from the above Law of Effect are two laws of neurophysiological development:

  • First — Establish the perception. The function follows. Example: it’s hard to use your leg after it has gone to sleep. You can use your leg with any skill only after you’ve gotten feeling back into it. — And that is the case even with long-established skills. New or marginal ones are, of course, even more dependent upon sensory feedback.
  • Second — Start at the boundaries of what’s working, then from there train to finer and finer discriminations. For example, some autistics and many other persons have a poor sense of touch, to the point where even feeling sandpaper or a sharp pin is all the same to them or numb to them. Practice telling the difference between sandpaper and velvet, gradually learning to discriminate between finer differences to the point where one can tell the difference between two finely distinguished grades of velvet (and, incidentally become able to tell by touch heads from tails on a coin in the pocket). Further skill to aim for:  some people can even read the dates on coins by touch, or colors on paper.

Here are some other observations and principles for developing the senses:

  1. The key tool for building perception is describing from perception, in closely textured detail. Example — on several of his European teaching tours this writer has been advised that a favored method for training ordinary people into being sensitive, sophisticated wine tasters or perfume testers is this:  Present the subject a sample and then he, for some minutes, describes rapid-fire everything that comes to mind associated with that sample. Present him the next sample and again he describes rapid-fire for some minutes. Three days of this practice and he has become a sensitive, sophisticated taster or tester. Walt Whitman told us that if you look closely enough at an ordinary blade of grass, you’ll find the whole universe there — as the British poet Blake did with an ordinary grain of sand. Operational instruction how to “look closely enough”:   describe every detail while you are looking at it.
  2. Much of the sensory and motor cortices in the human brain are uncommitted. Thus they can be recruited in support of any number of new senses and functions.
  3. The back of the brain (cerebellum) is structured in such a coiled way as to likely be responsive or sensitive to electromagnetic effects.
  4. However mapped in the brain, every sense needs a previously structured concept in the brain in order to be perceptible. For example, the efforts of Lev Vygotsky’s young children to draw butterfly wings, or the situation of the newly sighted, hitherto blind-from-birth before the correction, who for weeks are nonetheless unable to distinguish triangles from circles.
  5. Anything that resonates with a standing wave to a sense to which one is sensible — by modulating that standing wave, you can convey immense quantities and qualities of information to that someone. This can be a new form of sensory crutch the way eyeglasses are a crutch. Or by conveying and conditioning immense quantities of information to that someone, you lay down patterns in the brain for recognizing and coping with that context. How much information can be conveyed by intermodulation? — just about all of it. Check interference-pattern physics or holographic photography, for example.
  6. Humans (and animals generally) depend for their sensing largely upon changing signals. The brain and nervous system “go to sleep” on a constant signal (neuronal habituation) and wake up on a changing signal. To sense more, change the signal.
  7. S/N Ratio (Signal-to-Noise Ratio): — the signal stands out much better against a “quiet” background. You perceive much more of that radio conversation or concert when you have a well-tuned station than when you have a lot of static.
  8. All sensings, as are ideas and pictures, are only “maps” of what they depict and not those things themselves. “The map” necessarily differs from what it depicts. All information is subject to thermodynamic laws of entropy increase (error). So are the human mind and concept structure which interpret the map. It is not shattering to be wrong about something; it is necessarily inevitable, to some degree.
    This points us toward useful strategies: (a) Looking for convergences and correlations between our various maps, our own and those of other diverse people; and (b) working our maps toward better and better approximations of what they are maps of.
  9. Our present immediate senses are, in a very real sense, biologically useful illusions. It has been evolutionarily useful on this planet to see in white light’s octave, for example, and to experience ourselves and others and other objects as solids rather than as whirling clouds of widely separated subatomic charges and particles. Different environments would have demanded different senses, and we would now have those in our repertoire of immediate senses. (Perhaps they are there anyway, or potentially there.)
  10. All events and structures which affect other things, in so doing communicate with those other things, indeed “write themselves onto” those other things and leave a record.
  11. Even if we are unconscious of a sensation or other communication, that does not mean that it has not been received or that it isn’t affecting us.
  12. There are so many structural configurations in our brain’s communicative pathways that virtually every conceivable sense should have many “antennas” within each of us to receive and handle its data. Planned experiment for anyone anywhere to try —
    • Choose the marginal sense to be enhanced or the new sense to be created. (This choosing can be done directly, or by your Freenoting, or by buzz-group, and/or as an outcome of Windtunnel.)
    • Construct procedures and exercises relevant to that new sense, based upon various of the above fourteen principles and factors.o   Use Toolbuilder to discover further relevant procedures and practices.
    • Play/practice with the new sense and, where possible, measure it. If possible, measure it in real-time and display sufficiently to reinforce that sense through biofeedback.

The Universe is much more wonderful than we’ve settled for noticing. These have been some ways that we can come to our senses to experience a more wonder-filled life.

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