Proprioception: The Body’s Internal Map

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all.”    -Wittgenstein

17024438-Abstract-word-cloud-for-Proprioception-with-related-tags-and-terms-Stock-PhotoWittgenstein refers to our secret sense, or our “sixth sense.” Although we are never aware of it nor do we realize it, we all share the same sixth sense. We all have a continuous “unconscious sensory flow” throughout the parts of our bodies, like our muscles, tendons and nerves. Our bodies have the miraculous ability to oversee our very motions and body positions, which are continuously being adjusted. This action is part of our autonomic nervous system, which includes breathing and eye blinking, so we are not continually conscious of it.

This “hidden sense” is called proprioception, which by definitions means, “awareness of the position of one’s body.” We are capable of determining where each of our limbs are located, how they are positioned, and where they are in relation to one another and in relation to your surroundings. Certainly, this extends far beyond our limbs. The position of our head, back, and fingers and toes, as well as our movements, actions, the tone of our voices, and the sense of touch are all controlled by our proprioception. Ultimately, this gives us the feeling that our bodies are our property; they belong to us. 

Imagine you are sitting cross-legged with your hands placed gently in your lap. Your brain is able to sense where each of your limbs are. You are able to recognize that one leg is crossed over the other and you can distinguish that your hands are placed one on top of the other. You recognize your limbs are touching, so you are able to conclude that you are sitting down, but what would it be like to take away this sense?

Let’s imagine what would happen if this sensory part of the brain were to collapse suddenly.

The proprioceptive switch has been turned off. This means that one is no longer are able to recognize where the individual’s body parts are, what they are doing, and how they are positioned. The internal map has been shredded and there are no existing connected lines between any part of the body. The voice would become dull and rather monotone because the unconscious control over the vocal chords has been disrupted. One would have no idea if you’re standing up or sitting down. A person would not be able to sense what his/her body is resting on or what it is doing at all times. One’s arms would flail about with no control.

Our whole way of living would have to be adjusted in order to function. If we are not aware of where parts of our bodies are at all times, we would not be able to walk, pick objects up, or even speak in our normal manner. One would have to continuously visually monitor each part of our body in order to perform motor movements. For example, if we were to walk, we would have to look at our legs the whole time to know that they are moving the way they are supposed to to walk. Because we would be unaware of our own body, we would lose all sense of touch.

If we lost our proprioception, we would lose our sense of individuality and ownership over our bodies. The body would feel deaf to itself. We would be “disembodied” souls. A vessel merely pithed of essence.

We have a lot to thank our bodies for. It takes care of us in countless ways. Proprioception is something we take for granted. There are people who have no proprioceptive memory, so treat your body well and be thankful of it every day you have it.

Sixth sense or not, it’s still pretty amazing.

Food for thought.

Melanie Tassone

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