Linking Gardner to McLuhan — Extending Ourselves via Muscle Memory


In his 1964 classic, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan described the wheel as an extension of the foot,  the arrow as an extension of the hand and arm, and electronic technology as an extension of the central nervous system.

In defining what he calls “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence,” Howard Gardner (1983) described the ability of handling objects skillfully and controlling one’s body movements.  A person with this “intelligence” will have good hand-eye coordination and fine-motor control. They will also have a strong sense of the space around them (in terms of volumes of air and objects placed within those volumes) and well as a strong sense of timing or rhythm.

Putting bodies in motion
‘Cause I got the notion
Like Roy Cormier
With the coconut lotion

The sound of the music
Making you insane
You can’t explain to people
This type of mind frame

   – Beastie Boys, Body Movin’

Danny MacAskill (mac-a-skill?) of Scotland proves that the bicyle is the extension of the body:

(another great video here… they don’t allow embedding on this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbJ1sseQVbY )

Watching this guy is like watching a talented programmer work with multiple windows open on their computer, quickly putting together brilliant bits of code, knitted together with databases and application interfaces.  What goes into this technical brilliance and apparent creativity is a blend of autonomic sequences — complex actions that have been practically hardwired into muscle memory — which are available for perfect recall and execution with barely a conscious thought.

That’s how you learn to become an Excel Ninja, or a Photoshop Funkster.   Take on an ambitious project that requires repetitive use of progressively more complex functions (e.g. #1: build a multi-currency multi-unit Income Statement and Balance Sheet consolidation and reconciliation workbook on a quarterly and monthly basis; or, e.g. #2: scan a dozen comic books and remove the voice baloons from each frame and rebuild the background images for each frame… you know, that sorta thing…).  At the end, you will find yourself building masterpieces with an economy of  keystrokes and mouse clicks.

Control-X (CUT), Control-V (PASTE).   I don’t know if others have this, but when I CUT or COPY something using a keyboard, I get an actual physical sensation that there is something between my thumb and forefinger… and I can’t put another thing there until I let it go.  Sometimes 20 minutes will pass and I have to hit PASTE into an open window to see what’s there.

The more we can tap into our bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to store, retrieve and execute complex tasks flawlessly — the more subroutines we can load into our muscle memory — the more we can extend our central nervous system.  Muscle memory is the interface between our tools and our minds.

Wax on, wax off.

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on May 18, 2009, in Learning, music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. another vestibules classic 🙂
    [audio src="http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/downloads/ballad_of_marshall_mcluhan.mp3" /]

    when i press ctrl-C i can’t rest till i ctrl-V it…

    i always thought it had to do with my mental issues tho.

    • LOL… great little McLuhan song!

      Good to know I’m not the only one with ctrl-C attachment issues. Do you also get phantom cellphone/pager vibrations too, sometimes? Do you have dreams in Microsoft Office default palette colors? When you can’t find your keys, do you gesture ctrl-F wildly into the air?

      cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OODA.Boyd.svg

      (As for these “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)” links on WordPress, I definitely scratch my head sometimes about them.)

  2. Reblogged this on Dan Spira and commented:

    Starting the week off with positiv-e-motion and mo-mentum…

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