The Vault

A Medical Scientist's View

By David Garlick


My lecture can only be dealt with summarily here. Much of it I have written about in successive issues of DIRECTION.

It should be stressed, however, that the Alexander Technique is essentially a physiological process that was based on experimental observations and there has been a continuing strand of experimental observations since. John Dewey, one of the leading philosophers of the USA, was impressed with the validity of Alexander's observations. Dewey was a leading exponent of the philosophy of ‘instrumentalism’ and of the need to employ scientific hypotheses to help understand human nature and conduct. As a result of John Dewey's strong encouragement, Frank P. Jones undertook his series of observations on the technique that have contributed important insights.

Professor N. Tinbergen could be said to have given the Technique the imprimatur of scientific respectability when he devoted half of his 1973 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to the Technique and his experience of it. When I visited him in 1977 he expressed hope that medical physiologists would pursue the significance he saw for the Technique in relation to medical science. Christopher Stevens has produced a bibliographic paper describing research observations related to the Alexander Technique up to recent times.

I was invited to present a scientific address in a symposium on muscle late last year at the Australian Physiological and Pharmacological Society. The title the organiser of the symposium gave me was “Muscles and the control of posture: new strategies for old problems.” In the paper I described some of our work on Alexander-trained subjects in which there was an increase, compared with control subjects, in back muscle (erector spinae) activity correlated with an increased depth and decreased rate of breathing when standing. I also referred to our observations on how heart rate increased as forearm muscle contractions increased; that these will be important future observations on the effect of the Technique which seeks to reduce co-contractions of flexor and extensor muscles of the trunk and limbs.

There is, then, a growing body of scientific observation that undergird the objective observations of Alexander. Descartes (1596-1750) was founder of the ‘modern’ scientific approach and could be said to have laid the scientific basis for medicine—a process extending almost 250 years. The Alexander Technique, only 100 years old, has a scientific tradition of which it need not be ashamed. Not that scientific verification is the be-all-and-end-all. There should be a rational basis for any human endeavour (or, at least, no conflict with rationality) but the scientific approach has its limitations as Karl Popper noted (in The Self and Its Brain) and human experience transcends the bounds of science. The Alexander Technique is, ultimately experiential—but let the scientific approach provide as much support as it can. 

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