COMPANION

Alexander’s scientific method

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander made many grand claims for his technique, but he did not advance the argument that it was scientific. Alexander wrote, however, that his technique did not contradict contemporary science:

The physiological side of my technique has been the subject of friendly discussion between medical men and physiologists, and I am not aware of any physiological findings having been advanced which are at variance with any of its procedures.[1]

Alexander, however, did consider his work met the standards of operational verification, meaning stating the process, the means, for verifying a statement. [2] (See Operational verification.) To describe the process whereby a discovery is made is not scientific method by itself, but it is an essential part.

Alexander was not averse to other people to claim that his discovery, as set out in the chapter ‘Evolution of a technique’,[3] followed scientific method, and that his work had sound scientific foundation (see Magnus, see Coghill).

John Dewey on Alexander’s method

John Dewey was the first to claim that Alexander’s discovery of his technique followed scientific method. In his Introduction to CCC:

After studying over a period of years Mr Alexander’s method in actual operation, I would stake myself upon the fact that he has applied to our ideas and beliefs about ourselves and about our acts exactly the same method of experimentation and of production of new sensory observations, as tests and means of developing thought, that have been the source of all progress in the physical sciences; . . .[4]

Dewey repeated the claim in UoS:

In writing some introductory words to Mr. Alexander’s previous book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, I stated that his procedure and conclusions meet all the requirements of the strictest scientific method . . . [5]

He goes into detail:

The contrast between sustained and accurate observations of the living and the usual activities of man and those made upon dead things under unusual and artificial conditions marks the difference between true and pseudo science. And yet so used have we become to associating ‘science’ with the latter sort of thing that its contrast with the genuinely scientific character of Mr. Alexander’s observations has been one great reason for the failure of many to appreciate his technique and conclusions. As might be anticipated, the conclusions of Mr. Alexander’s experimental inquiries are in harmony with what physiologists know about the muscular and nervous structure. But they give a new significance to that knowledge; indeed, they make evident what knowledge itself really is. The anatomist may ‘know’ the exact function of each muscle, and conversely know what muscles come into play in the execution of any specified act. But if he is himself unable to co-ordinate all the muscular structures involved in, say, sitting down or in rising from a sitting position in a way which achieves the optimum and efficient performance of that act; if, in other words, he misuses himself in what he does, how can he be said to know in the full and vital sense of that word? Magnus proved by means of what may be called external evidence the existence of a central control in the organism. But Mr. Alexander’s technique gave a direct and intimate confirmation in personal experience of the fact of central control long before Magnus carried on his investigations. And one who has had experience of the technique knows it through the series of experiences which he himself has.

The genuinely scientific character of Mr. Alexander’s teaching and discoveries can be safely rested upon this fact alone.[6]

The above appears to apply to the procedures adopted in lessons. Dewey writes about how each lesson is a laboratory experiment.

F. P. Jones points out that Alexander’s methodology of his evolution of his technique bear similarities to Dewey’s outline of scientific method.[7] Dewey, in How We Think (1910), summarised his ‘analysis of a complete act of thought’ as follows:

Upon examination each instance reveals, more or less clearly, five logically distinct steps: (i) a felt difficulty; (ii) its location and definition; (iii) suggestion of possible solution; (iv) development by reasoning of the bearings of the suggestion; (v) further observation and experiment leading to its acceptance or rejection; that is, the conclusion of belief or disbelief.[8]

Dewey himself, in the 1910 edition, did not equate these steps with scientific inquiry specifically as his aim was to outline a general description of logical or reflective thinking. However, this brief five-step description caught on as an accessible description of ‘the scientific method’. The historian John Rudolph has argued how these steps were adapted by science-textbook authors as a convenient short-hand of the scientific method, and writes that the chapter in which they were presented (‘Analysis of a complete act of thought’) became a classic.[9]

Dewey himself was adamant that the steps were not a fixed formulation. In the 1910 edition he wrote: ‘The disciplined, or logically trained, mind . . . is the mind able to judge how far each of these steps needs to be carried in any particular situation. No cast-iron rules can be laid down.’ However, as Dewey’s five-step procedure became a rigid formula in many textbooks, he revised part of the book in the 1933 edition. He changed ‘steps’ to ‘phases’ and added a new section titled ‘The sequence of the five phases is not fixed’.[10]

F. P. Jones in Freedom to Change points out that Alexander’s chapter ‘Evolution of a technique’ contains the steps that are characteristic of a John Dewey definition of a scientific inquiry.[11] Malcolm Williamson suggests, in ‘John Dewey’s influence on F. M. Alexander’, that Dewey inspired Alexander’s chapter ‘Evolution’ in such a way as to fit his (Dewey’s) form of a scientific method.[12]

Mungo Douglas on Alexander’s method

Dr Mungo Douglas, in ‘A unique example of operational verification during scientific experimentation’, argues that Alexander’s work is ‘the essence of scientific method’ by referring to science as ‘a statement of method or procedure in detail which when used or followed by anyone, will give rise to means for making further observations’ and hence fulfilling the criteria of operational verification.[13]

A. E. Heath on Alexander’s method

A. E. Heath, a Professor of Philosophy, in ‘Mr Alexander’s use of scientific method’, compares Alexander’s methodology of his evolution of his technique with a different description of the scientific method.[14] Heath writes:

Scientific method consists essentially of two steps:

1. The collecting and critical testing of a body of facts, and

2. The systematising of those facts, by means of appropriate ordering conceptions, into an intelligible whole . . .[15]

Heath then describes how Alexander’s teaching follows these steps, but he does not specifically state that Alexander’s teaching or his method of discovery is scientific.

Later writers on on Alexander’s method

  • ‘The Alexander Technique and science’ by Tim Kjeldsen considers whether Alexander’s writings constitutes a scientific theory, that is: whether it is an operational theory, and whether it is testable, and argues that it is.[16]

This article elicited several replies, of which two are:

  • ‘The Alexander Technique and science: a reply’ by Gerald Foley argues against the view that Alexander has set out a testable theory of the Alexander Technique in his writings.[17]
  • ‘Not quite science’ by Tim Cacciatore argues that Alexander’s writings lack the components of a scientific theory because ‘1) They do not aim to explain published experimental data; 2) By scientific standard Alexandrian concepts lack precise definition. . . . 3) Alexander’s writings are not based on previously established scientific principles, which means they are essentially a phenomenological description of what happens rather than a mechanistic theory.’[18]

See also Operational verification.

References

[1] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 104.
[2] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), endnote, p. 179.
[3] The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pp. 3–36.
[4] ‘Introduction’ by John Dewey in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. xxx.
[5] ‘Introduction’ by Professor John Dewey in The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), p. xiii.
[6] ‘Introduction’ by Professor John Dewey in The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pp. xvi–xvii.
[7] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), p. 45.
[8] How We Think by John Dewey (D. C. Heath & Co., 1910), p. 72.
[9] ‘Epistemology for the masses: The origins of “the scientific method” in American schools’ by John L. Rudolph in History of Education Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 3, Fall 2005, pp. 341–76.
[10] ‘Epistemology for the masses: The origins of “the scientific method” in American schools’ by John L. Rudolph in History of Education Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 3, Fall 2005, p. 375.
[11] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), p. 45.
[12] ‘John Dewey’s influence on F. M. Alexander’ by Malcolm Williamson in The Alexander Journal no. 26 edited by Paul Marsh and Jamie McDowell (STAT, 2017), pp. 29–44.
[13] The Medical Press and Circular, 30 October 1946, vol. CCXVI, no. 5608, pp. 325–27.
[14] ‘Mr Alexander’s use of scientific method’ by A. E. Heath in The Alexander Journal no. 5 edited by Wilfred Barlow (STAT, 1966), pp. 8–9. Also in More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), pp. 231–33.
[15] More Talk of Alexander edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2005 [1978]), p. 231.
[16] ‘The Alexander Technique and science’ by Tim Kjeldsen in STATNews vol. 7, no. 8 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2012), pp. 21–22.
[17] ‘The Alexander Technique and science: a reply’ by Gerald Foley in STATNews vol. 8, no. 1 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, September 2012), p. 25.
[18] ‘Not quite science’ by Tim Cacciatore in STATNews vol. 8, no. 2 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, January 2013), p. 33.
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