Multicausality or Everything Matters

Dr. Esther Thelen, author of Dynamic Systems Approach to Human Development, former cognitive psychology chair of Indiana University, showed in her laboratory that the key to creating something new, to developmental process, is multicausality. She showed that developing organisms are complex systems composed of very many individual elements embedded within, and open to, a complex environment. And in her analyses of the development of walking, she gave us a clear-and fully worked out- example of how multicausality is at the core of developmental change. Children stand up to walk as the coordinated product of many interacting subsystems, including trunk control, muscle mass, motivation, and balance.
Walking occurs without an executive agent or a program. Rather the coherence is generated in the relationship between the organic components and the constraints and opportunities of the environment. In a truly elegant series of experiments, she showed how she could make the coordinated limb movements we call ‘walking’ come and go in babies by putting them on treadmills, by providing trunk control, and by giving them ankle weights. Dr.Thelen taught that self-organization means that no single element has causal priority. I studied with Dr Thelen in her first Feldenkrais training facilitated by the late Mark Reese.

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