Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Skateboarding and the Brain

Recent studies have shown that squirrels are smarter than dogs. Researchers suggest this may be due to the inner representation necessary to building the world as they live it. The 3d map in their heads includes not just horizontal territory but vertical space. Extra skills are necessary, like assessing whether a branch will support them or the best path to navigate among the tops of trees. The way they use their front paws to hold and manipulate things, how their tails can be a roof in the rain or a way of keeping balance, the huge range of positions they can take on trees, and remembering where they put nuts requires lots of neural space for such a big inner image of their reality. Their way of being in the world is far more complex and self-sufficient than the world of dogs. The brain grows in accommodation to the experience we live. Dogs have more social intelligence, are interactive and bond oriented.  But that’s not what’s measured in problem solving oriented intelligence tests.
The neural benefits of adapting to such complex surroundings seen in squirrels makes me think of the skateboarders I see around monuments, like the one at Mt Royal Ave. and Cathedral St. with irregular steps that creates an interesting skateboard challenge. It’s experiential physics, cultivating deep understanding of speed and trajectory, angles, distance and gravity that’s rooted in the body. Not to mention physical agility and balance. It didn’t occur to me until recently that the perceptive intelligence of students who carried skateboards might not be coincidental. Even though their verbal smarts could be quite different from each other, reflecting the quality of their education, what they shared was insight, an ability to get to the heart of things, seeing the patterns that matter in a circumstance. One person I emailed about it said that every urban environment is seen as a different obstacle course. Like squirrels they have a broader range of physical assessments in how to interact with the world and so create a bigger inner representation of ways to move in their surroundings. They learn how to gauge possibilities and what’s the best fit for a given situation. Another mentioned the power of danger for sharpening focus. Like with acrobatics, the risk involved in skateboarding forces a level of attention not required in mental challenge. A current student described it as one of the most intensely meditative activities available, saying “Skateboarding is living in the moment”.

Skateboarding schools the body intelligence that George Lakoff describes as the underpinning of our conceptual structure, the basis of many metaphors. Using the body in novel ways gives us more patterns to structure ideas and analogies. Being aware of the importance of physical experience to thinking has been central to continuing my practice of T’ai Chi and Yoga. Anything involving balance and assessing the best path develops nuance in applying those metaphors. As David Bohm emphasized, “All of our concepts and explanations…have at their core the perception of a totality of ratios and proportions.” Perception is key to understanding. Like the arts, skateboarding extends the sensitivity of right brain knowing and the vast realm of non-verbal intelligence. With so much life being experienced through machines, it’s important to keep the body tuned and give dimension to our reasoning.

1 comment:

Jon Marro said...

I have been fascinated by the idea of late that metaphor is the closest we can get to expressing or communicating "The Divine." And that, Art at it's best does just that. It leads and redirects to something either greater than or the fundamental essence of the human experience. It has the capacity to be "communication itself." And as I've begun to study Sacred symbols from all traditions realizing they all were here to guide, teach and remind. Two quotes I've been pondering recently are: "The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good." Andrei Tarkovsky, Director. I love this idea that art prepares someone for death. And whether that's physical death or death of an idea or old habit, only through death of the old can we see and experience anew. That if we aren't training our minds or bodies to be fluid- if we aren't moving and being animated by life itself - we are stagnant - and only that which is dead does not move. So death is tempting and taunting us whether we fear it, ignore it, or welcome it in as a constant companion. The other quote that I though was fitting was by Meister Eckhart who states: "No idea represents or signifies itself. It always points to something else, of which it is a symbol. And since man has no ideas, except those abstracted from external things through the sense, he cannot be blessed by an idea." Again - this plays on "Art imitating life." Science does the same thing - it uncovers and claims to discover that which was already there. Constant and true in the underlying mechanics of Nature. In the Quantum level - it has been witnessed that particles actually react and respond differently when being observed. I would say that's true for all consciousness. That consciousness is a vehicle (not unlike a skateboard) and we can choose to be it's passenger or it's operator with drastically varying results. I have never had to consciously beat a single heartbeat of mine, as I sleep my lungs breath for me, the earth spins hovering is space, the sun shines, I am the blessed recipient of the consciousness behind life itself and I'd much rather dance with it - be danced by it - than standing in the corner contemplating it's waltz!