If you are interested in the experiences of the body and, if you will, the projections that are made about what the body might be doing. I mean imagine, for example, kids putting on a cape and saying, “I am going to be Superman and I am going to fly out the window. The kid has to have actually stepped off of a step and fallen down to understand that that’s a problem and that you have to have a fantasy about it. I mean the thing is; well, what are my limitations? And then, how do I do something so that I don’t have that limitation, anymore? I mean this clearly is what Leonardo was doing. I went on a trip once to Italy, and outside Florence we were taken to a place where the local story is this is where he tried his first flight. And, you have the sense that it had to be a guy who was fascinated with the physical body and who had a lot of experience with it handling materials and just being in love with the body as a machine to have started having ideas about how do we modify the body, or how do we amend the body, how do we implement the body in such a way that we can do more? It’s that—I think that seeing that history about how people came to think about a new way of doing something and it has been going on for a very, very long time.
The thing is that, again, if you get back to the experience I was talking about earlier with the child who is picking up an object. I mean, I’m holding a glass of water now. We take this to be such a natural thing that you don’t even have to look. You know you want a sip of water; you bring the water here; you do that and you return the glass. Well, it takes, probably, five or six years of rehearsal before a child becomes fluent in that kind of movement. And fluent doesn’t mean just moving it back and forth. Fluent means controlling the muscles that control the degree of pressure that is sensed and used in a precise way to do what it is that you might want to do. I might want to pick up this glass and throw it across the table at somebody who has annoyed me, or I might want to throw it over my shoulder. I might want to drop it on my head. There are a lot of things that I might want to do. I might want to spill it on the floor. The interesting thing about a physical act like that is that over a period time the social implications of manipulating a glass—if a kid in a highchair pushes it off the table and it splashes, and Mommy comes in, that’s interesting!
There is a lot of learning that goes on. It turns out that people have actually discovered that there is a very particular sound profile of a glass bounding as opposed to breaking that allows the determination to be made without looking that the glass either broke or it bounced. So, children are also playing with different materials; plastics, glass. They are learning a whole universe of important and useful information. Why is it that when put cold chocolate in a glass, you can turn it upside down and it doesn’t fall out? Well, what if you . . .? You know, the questions multiply, they simply multiply; they never stop. It is the interesting thing about children, I think, and that they have inside them a set of instructions about how to move around in the world, about what they need to learn. This is a notion that is spelled out in Henry Plotkin’s book, Darwin, Machines and the Nature of Knowledge, about—he uses the fancy Greek word, “heuristics,” which means teaching devices. What we don’t have is a lot of information about the actual world that we’re going to see. The world looks very different now than it did a thousand years ago, or ten thousand or a hundred thousand years ago. It still has trees and plants and it has horses and animals and stuff, but it has a lot of stuff now that wasn’t there before, so the surface texture has changed. Well, if we have the same brain that expected to see horses and, you know, a lot of stuff that isn’t there, then we’d be lost. So, the human brain is programmed not expect all of those things, but to expect a sort of stable physical environment, and that has taught us, even as young children, that our job is to pick things up and to play with them. Our job is to make noises and to listen for what comes back at us. Our job is to look at what is around us, to be attracted to it and then to play with it, and to acquire experience in the actual world in which we happen to live, in the century that happens to be the active century when we get here.
So, evolution has equipped us to use our body in an extraordinary way, to acquire information about, make inferences about, and then develop a sort of prospective or projective intelligence about what to do in order to be successful as we grow up in the world. Proprioception sounds very remote from that, but in fact, it is acquiring this repertoire of physical skills in relation to the objects around us that seems to produce the flowering of an imaginative or image-based competence to deal with the world, whether it is the world as it really is, or it is the world we would like to have that would work better for us.