F. M. Alexander would use the terms ‘conception’, ‘mental conception’, ‘preconception’ and ‘misconception’ in his writings. He first refers to ‘conception’ in 1908, and the term appears in all of his books.
In summary it may be said that since our conception of an activity governs how an activity is performed, discovering, addressing, and if needed, correcting a conception associated with an activity is fundamental to learning to improving the use of the self.
The importance of addressing a pupil’s preconceived ideas is emphasized in several places, here in Man’s Supreme Inheritance:
My reader must not fail to remember that mental conceptions are the stimuli to the ideo-motor centre which passes on the subconscious or conscious guiding orders to the mechanism. . . . In order to establish successfully the latter (correct conception), we must first inhibit the former (incorrect conception), and from the ideo-motor centre project the new and different directing orders which are to inﬂuence the complexes involved, gradually eradicating the tendency to employ the incorrect ones, and steadily building up those which are correct and reliable. . . In our attempts on these lines we are, at the outset, confronted with the difficulty of mental rigidity. The preconceptions and habits of thought with regard to the uses of the muscular mechanisms are the first if not the only stumbling blocks to the teaching of conscious control. . . . These preconceptions and habits of thought, therefore, must be broken down, and since the reactions of mind on body and body on mind are so intimate, it is often necessary to break down these preconceptions of mind by performing muscular acts for the subject vicariously; that is to say, the instructor must move the parts in question while the subject attends to the inhibition of all muscular movements.
And here in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual:
Since, as we have seen, the standard of functioning in the performance of any psycho-physical act depends upon the conception which inﬂuences the direction and control of the mechanisms involved, it is most essential to give consideration to this all-important matter of conception, in connection with the understanding of what we wish to learn or learn to do, and also in connection with that psycho-physical activity by means of which we are enabled to arrive at our conceptions concerned with learning and learning to do.
As conception always depends on our sensory appreciation the latter has to be dealt with simultaneously as he writes in CCC:
. . . the process of conception, like all other forms of psycho-physical activity, is a process the course of which is determined by our psycho-physical condition at the time when the particular stimulus (or stimuli) is received.
Conception is dependent on our sensory appreciation, on the use of our self. We are the instrument which ‘conceives’, as he said in one of his aphorisms:
Sensory appreciation conditions conception – you can’t know a thing by an instrument that is wrong.
Words and concepts (ideas) are also dependent on our use and functioning as he writes in CCC:
For, in every case, the pupil’s conception of what his teacher is trying to convey to him by words will be in accordance with his (the pupil’s) psycho-physical make-up.
As an example of a harmful conception Alexander mentions ‘the separation of the human organism into the parts which have been named soul, mind, and body.’
The importance of considering a pupil’s conception regarding learning and the carrying out of an activity is fundamental to the Alexander Technique. Later writers rarely use the term ‘conception’ but refer to attitude, ideas, habits of mind, mental habits, and similar terms.
See also Attitude.
For a selection of F. M. Alexander quotations on conception, see the Mouritz Key Concepts Library.