General, specific

[There are many occurences of the words ‘general’ and ‘specific’ in Alexander’s writings. This listing is only concerned with the uses which contrast ‘general’ with ‘specific’. Ed.]

The term “conscious control” is one which is employed by different people to convey different conceptions. The usual conception is one which indicates specific control, such as the moving of a muscle consciously, and is practised by athletes who give performances of physical feats in public. Again, there is the conscious movement of a finger, toe, ear, or some other specific muscle or limb.
The phrase “conscious control” when used in this work is intended to indicate the value and use of conscious guidance and control, primarily as a universal, and secondly as a specific, the latter always being dependent on the former in practical procedure.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 36.

The conscious guidance and control advocated here is on a wide and general, and not on a specific basis. Conscious control applied in a specific way is unthinkable, except as a result of the principle primarily applied as a universal. For instance, the conscious controlling of the movements of a particular muscle or limb, as practised by athletes and others, is of little practical value in the science of living. The specific control of a finger, of the neck, or of the legs should primarily be the result of the conscious guidance and control of the mechanism of the torso, particularly of the antagonistic muscular actions which bring about those correct and greater co-ordinations intended to control the movements of the limbs, neck, respiratory mechanism, and the general activity of the internal organs.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 128.

In the ordinary way, the pupil is told to relax and straighten the neck and he and his teacher devote themselves to this end. This attempt may be attended with more or less success, chiefly less. If they do succeed in removing the specific trouble it is almost certain that new defects will have been cultivated during the process. In any case the teacher’s order to relax and straighten the neck is incorrect and primarily the result of a wrong assumption. It started from a false premise which led to false deductions. The pupil and his teacher decided that something was wrong and that therefore something specific had to be done to put it right. The “end” was held in mind primarily and not the “means whereby.”

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 129.

This means that although the “end” may be gained, the result as a whole will not be as satisfactory as it might be, for nothing will have been done in the way of re-education on a general basis to correct the mal-co-ordinated conditions connected with the use and control of the mechanisms when employed in the act of writing. . . . For the act of writing demands correct direction and control in the use of the fingers, wrist, and arm, and the standard of success reached in these particulars depends upon the co-ordinated use of the mechanisms in general

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 11.

This dependence of the process of conception upon the general psycho-physical condition is a factor of paramount importance.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 22.

As far as we can see, nothing as yet had occurred to make him suspect that his sensory appreciation was not reliable, or that his standard of co-ordination was not satisfactory, or that, in adapting his mechanisms to new activities in a specific way, he might be injuring them in a general way, and thus be leading gradually to a general deterioration.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 32.

Specific Remedy Chosen to Counteract a General Malcondition

Subtitle in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 39.

If he could have thought of his body in the terms of the very intricately constructed machine which it is, he would have seen in his deteriorated condition, not a deterioration in his muscular development alone, but a deterioration in his general psycho-physical co-ordination, accompanied by an interference with the general adjustment of the organism and by a general lowering of the standard of its functioning. He would then have realized that his deterioration must be merely the symptom of some failure in the working of the machinery, and that the whole machine would need to be readjusted before it could work co-ordinately once more.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 42.

I am quite willing to admit that we have a small minority of people actually attempting to analyse their own and others’ cases, where ills and imperfections are concerned, but, as I shall show later on, they are all attempting to make “cures” by means of a specific remedy, instead of dealing with each problem on a general basis.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 45.

Need for Substituting in all Spheres the Principle of Prevention on a General Basis for Methods of “Cure” on a Specific Basis

Subtitle in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 53.

In the attempt to improve its handwriting, for instance, new faults will be developed in the general use of the psycho-physical mechanisms, and the established defects will tend to become more pronounced.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 74.

But beyond this, the fatal defect in all such instances of attempted reforms on a subconscious plane is that they have been, and still are, based on the principle of a specific, not of a general development, and that whatever form the attempt may take in a particular school, we shall find that it has been worked out neither in relation to the child’s organism as a whole, nor with any recognition of the fact that the child of today does not start life with the standard of co-ordination and sensory appreciation enjoyed by the children of, say, two hundred years ago

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 74.

Where harmful conditions such as those we have indicated above are present in a child, the teacher, in any attempt to remedy specific defects (such as, for instance, defects in a child’s handwriting) must take into account the standard of the general psycho-physical use of the child, otherwise the attempt will result not only in the development of new faults in this use, but also in a tendency to strengthen any old-established imperfect uses.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), pages 76-77.

It should be realized here that, during the course of this work, a process of building is going on, fundamental sensory building, on a general and not a specific basis.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 118.

Take the opportunity also, when possible, to be present when the unfortunate children or adults in a gymnasium are being given a lesson in breathing or are performing their breathing exercises. You will then have proof that the whole of the processes concerned are directed towards specific and not general improvement, and though the people who are guilty of teaching “breathing exercises” may differ in detail of method, they all base their work alike on the same specific “end-gaining” principle. I shall now proceed to detail the processes involved.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 127.

This consciousness is really a state of acute awareness which has been developed in him during the processes of re-education and co-ordination on a general basis, and the confidence associated with it is not likely to desert him in moments of crisis.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 140.

The processes of this form of re-education demand that the “means-whereby” to any “end” must be reasoned out, not on a specific but on a general basis, and with the continued use of these processes of reasoning, uncontrolled impulses and “emotional gusts” will gradually cease to dominate, and will ultimately be dominated.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 144.

This needs a process of re-education on a general basis, which will restore satisfactory functioning throughout the organism, and so ensure a continued raising of the standard of psycho-physical equilibrium right on through life.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 149.

An organized series of materials, or educative toys, provides the technique for this attempted sense cultivation, but it will be realized by anyone who has watched the classes of children at work that it is again a specific and not a general development that is aimed at in this technique—a fatal mistake when we consider the interdependence of what have been differentiated as “mental” and “physical” in the human organism. It is quite possible that a child, by using this material, may gain a certain facility in the use of its hands, or a specific development, say, of the sense of touch. But if, in making the movements necessary to the particular occupation in which he is engaged, he is relying upon the guidance of an imperfect sensory appreciation in the general use of his organism, it must follow that any specific improvement in the sense of touch will be accompanied by a use of his psycho-physical mech-anism which, faulty to start with, will become more and more faulty, the harder he tries or the more absorbed* he becomes in working subconsciously for his end. Although a specific improvement may take place in one direction, many more serious defects in the use of his mechanism as a whole will be cultivated in the process. It has been my experience that children who have had a specialized training such as this in their early years have exhibited more than the usual number of psycho-physical defects and imperfections, that their sensory appreciation has been more than usually unreliable, and anyone who has followed my argument through the earlier pages will see that this must be the case where any specific development has been sought and achieved on a subconscious basis.
The interdependence of the “mental” and “physical” and of the muscular mechanism in general in psycho-physical acts has long since been recognized in theory, and yet methods of education aiming at specific development remain the vogue.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), pages 160-61.

For many years past we have had practical proof of the improvement that can be effected in the sense of sight of pupils who have been re-educated and co-ordinated on a general basis of conscious control. In every case this improvement has followed a general improvement in the co-ordinated use of the whole organism.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 161.

This is the point which must always be emphasized by those advocating the claims of re-education and co-ordination on a general as against the claims of re-education and co-ordination on a specific basis.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 162.

Think, on the other hand, of what will be the harmful psycho-physical effect on a child, beset with all the impeding factors resulting from a condition of bad co-ordination, if, when learning to write, for instance, it takes up its pencil to use it for the first time and holds it with strained and cramped fingers, this being the result of a harmful condition of stress and strain in the general use of the psycho-physical organism.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 162.

 

1. I wish to make it clear that when I employ the word “use,” it is not in that limited sense of the use of any specific part, as, for instance, when we speak of the use of an arm or the use of a leg but in a much wider and more comprehensive sense applying to the working of the organism in general. For I recognize that the use of any specific part such as the arm or leg involves of necessity bringing into action the different psycho-physical mechanisms of the organism, this concerted activity bringing about the use of the specific part.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 4 fn.

When, therefore, I use the terms “prevention” and “cure,” I use them in a relative sense only, including under “preventive” measures all attempts to prevent faulty use and functioning of the organism generally as a means of preventing defect, disorder, and disease, and under “curative” measures those methods in which the influence of faulty use upon functioning is ignored when dealing with defects, disorder and disease.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 5.

It is important to remember that the use of a specific part in any activity is closely associated with the use of other parts of the organism, and that the influence exerted by the various parts one upon an other is continuously changing in accordance with the manner of use of these parts.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 20.

1 It may be contended that the athlete who successfully performs a complicated feat does consciously control his movements It is true, of course, that in a great many cases he is able by practice on the “trial and error” plan to acquire an automatic proficiency in performing the specific movements necessary for this feat, but this does not in any way prove that he is controlling these movements consciously. And even in those rare instances where the athlete consciously controls and co-ordinates certain specific movements, it still cannot be said that he consciously controls the use of himself as a whole in his performance. For it is safe to conclude that he does not know what use of his mechanisms as a whole is the best possible for making the specific movements he desires, so that should anything happen, as it often does, to cause a change in the familiar habitual use of his mechanisms, his proficiency in making these specific movements will also be interfered with. Practical experience shews that once he has lost this original standard of proficiency, he cannot easily regain it, and this is not surprising Seeing that he lacks the knowledge of how to direct the general use of himself which alone would enable him to restore the familiar use of his mechanisms which gave him his proficiency.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pages 22-23 fn.

For this reason I claim that the primary requirement in dealing with all specific symptoms is to prevent the misdirection which leads to wrong use and functioning, and to establish in its place a new and satisfactory direction as a means of bringing about an improvement in use and functioning throughout the organism.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 45.

The instruction given to the golfer of our illustration to keep his eyes on the ball is typical of the kind of specific instruction given by teachers generally for the purpose of eradicating specific defects in their pupils, and, as we have seen in his case, this instruction was a stimulus to him to try harder than ever to gain his end, and so to misdirect his efforts worse than ever.2

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 62.

I assured him that my long years of practical experience in dealing with the difficulties and idiosyncrasies of people who stutter had convinced me that stuttering was one of the most interesting specific symptoms of a general cause, namely, misdirection of the use of the psycho-physical mechanisms, and I did not wish to take him as a pupil, unless he was prepared to work with me on the basis of correcting this misdirection of use generally, as the primary step in remedying his defects in speech.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 70.

            Satisfactory control of the act of speaking demands a satisfactory standard of the general use of the mechanisms, since the satisfactory use of the tongue and lips and the required standard of control of the respiratory and vocal organs depend upon this satisfactory general use. This being so, the unsatisfactory general use of the mechanisms which, as we have seen, is present in every stutterer, constitutes a formidable obstacle in the way of mastering his habit.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), page 86.

On examination of such cases also I have always found present undesirable conditions of use of the self which have not been recognized, and which have tended to lower the general standard of functioning in the patient.1

1 Every medical man has records of cases in which he has been unable to find any specific trouble calling for treatment.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pages 91-92, 92 fn.

The connexion between disease and wrong functioning should be generally recognized, and it should also be recognized that where specific symptoms of disease have been diagnosed, the associated wrong functioning is always associated in its turn with undesirable use of the mechanisms of the organism as a whole. This association has been borne in upon me by my teaching experience, which has taught me that in the process of improving the use and functioning of the organism as a whole specific symptoms of disease tend to disappear or to be eradicated.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pages 99-100.

Now it is clear that such a method of diagnosis and treatment differs fundamentally in. principle from orthodox medical methods, whereby definite local symptoms are traced back to specific disorders which are diagnosed as the cause of the trouble and then treated specifically. Suppose, for instance, a general practitioner finds symptoms which he diagnoses as due to trouble in some part, or parts, such as the heart, liver, eye, lung or any other, he will either treat the trouble in the specific part or parts himself, or else send the patient on to a specialist who will proceed to prescribe treatment specially adapted to meet the trouble in that specific part or parts.
            I admit, of course, that by this method specific symptoms may be and often are eliminated, but since

(1) specific symptoms are never found apart from wrong functioning,
(2) the wrong functioning associated with such symptoms is always, in my experience, associated with wrong use of the mechanisms of the organism,
(3) by such methods nothing will have been done to improve this wrong use,

conditions will be left within the organism which, if allowed to develop unchecked, will tend to lower the standard of functioning generally, and it will then be only a matter of time before the trouble—either the original disorder, or, as frequently happens, some more serious trouble—will manifest itself.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pages 100-101.

But further, in his treatment of these defects, he would no longer be satisfied to employ purely specific treatment for dealing with specific symptoms, for he would have learned from his personal experience that by a process of restoring and maintaining in activity a reasoning direction of the use of his mechanisms, a satisfactory standard in the functioning of the organs and systems is likewise restored and maintained. For reasons of expediency, of course, he might still be forced in certain circumstances and crises to treat a specific trouble directly, but working on the principle of the indivisible unity of the human organism and equipped with the technique based upon it, he could be both what I will call a ‘‘generalist’’1 applying this knowledge practically to the requirements of his patient’s case, and also an educator, in that he would be called upon to teach his patient to direct and maintain a satisfactory use of himself in all his activities. Basing his teaching and treatment on the principle of unity, he could hardly fail to recognize the connexion between use and functioning which this implies. He would therefore relate any specific defects or symptoms, which he found present in specific organs or parts, to interference in the interworking of the mechanisms generally, and his method of dealing with such specific trouble would be to correct his patient’s wrong habitual use of his mechanisms as the means of correcting the specific wrong functioning associated with particular symptoms or defects; at the same time he would teach his patients how to direct and maintain a new and improved use which, if employed in all his activities, would be the means of preventing the recurrence of the old or the development of further defects.

The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), pages 105–06.

What you gain in one way you lose in another. Therefore you must not try for specific results.

“Teaching Aphorisms” (1930s) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 207.

Specific prevention is permissible only under conditions of non-doing, not of doing.

“Teaching Aphorisms” (1930s) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 207.

The whole organism is responsible for specific trouble. Proof of this is that we eradicate specific defects in process.

“Teaching Aphorisms” (1930s) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 207.

I found that in practice this use of the parts, beginning with the use of the head in relation to the neck, constituted a primary control of the mechanisms as a whole, involving control in process right through the organism, and that when I interfered with the employment of the primary control of my manner of use, this was always associated with a lowering of the standard of my general functioning. This brought me to realize that I had found a way by which we can judge whether the influence of our manner of use is affecting our general functioning adversely or otherwise, the criterion being whether or not this manner of use is interfering with the correct* employment of the primary control.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 8.

This adverse influence will still be operative even in the case of patients who are undergoing medical, surgical, or any other form of treatment for the “cure” or alleviation of some specific trouble, for it will tend constantly to lower the standard of their general functioning, not only during treatment but also after it is finished. And this will be so, no matter how successful as a specific “cure” the treatment may be. This applies in all fields of man’s activity and also to pupils being taught under any educational method. Whether they are being instructed in a school subject such as mathematics, French, etc., being coached for games or athletics, or being taught the specific technique of some art or craft, the adverse influence of any interference with the correct employment of the primary control of their use will tend constantly to lower the standard of their functioning and the quality of their output.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pages 8-9.

The full significance of this will be apparent to those of us who have had the experience of applying my technique consistently to the task of changing use by the indirect method of preventing interference with the manner of employment of the primary control, for this experience involves a practical demonstration that our manner of use is a constant influence for good or ill upon our general functioning.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 9.

If he had read my books he would have known that his contention that “systems of exercise” give only temporary relief in most cases corroborates what I have written on this subject, and that in employing my technique no attempt is made to gain specific results by direct means.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 20.

The orthodox view of this case had led to treatment and teaching for the specific improvement of the use of the organs of speech. The lessons given by teachers were based on the orthodox principle of telling and showing the pupil what to do with the tongue and the lips, and how “to take breath” to the best advantage and so on. No attempt was made to change the manner of the pupil’s general use of the self, . . .

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 29.

I have yet to see a person afflicted with the conditions in need of “cure” which were present in such cases as those we have been discussing whose employment of the primary control is not having a constant harmful effect upon his manner of general use, and therefore upon the standard of his general functioning.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 40.

It was obvious to me that the trouble was brought about by her bad manner of use of herself generally, which also accounted for other specific defects which I noticed, such as her habit of overstiffening the muscles of her legs and throwing them unduly backward at the knees in her attempts to keep her equilibrium. I pointed this out and another teacher then said: “We teach them to do that in order to improve the condition of the abdominal muscles.” Could one have a better example of a harmful by-product being cultivated through the practice of exercises “designed for the purpose” of producing a “specific effect”?

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 45.

I challenge any or all of the members of the B.M.A. committee to demonstrate to me that the person engaged in the performance of “each of these exercises” will not, in producing a specific effect (obviously the effect believed to be the right means for producing the “desired physical development”), also produce what I call byproducts in the way of new bad habits of use, with harmful effect upon the general psycho-physical functioning, making normal physical development impossible.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pages 45–46.

But unless our aim is merely that of suppressing one specific symptom, or of dropping some specific form of indulgence, without reference to the effect upon the organism as a whole, the value of the improvement brought about by any method of change must be judged entirely according to whether or not the standard of general functioning is being raised or lowered in the process, and in the latter case, whether by-products harmful to the general functioning have been brought about.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 72.

These findings furnish again an analogy with observations that I made when dealing with my own problem, for I observed an interference with the working of specific parts of my organism connected with my throat trouble (partial patterns), and found that this was brought about by interference with the working of the organism in general (total pattern).

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 112.

For it can be demonstrated that wrong use, which is always associated with wrong functioning, can be changed indirectly to right use by changing the employment of the primary control, and that in the process wrong functioning is restored to right functioning; whereas any attempt to restore right functioning specifically by direct means can only be palliative, because it still leaves the patient beset with the constant harmful influence of use which will consistently tend to lower the standard of his general functioning.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 114.

The idea underlying such methods of training arises from the belief that it is possible to give specific help to separate parts of the organism, as if the breathing mechanisms of the artist for instance functioned separately and apart from his vocal mechanisms or his general use of himself, and, what is more to the point, as if the use and functioning of these mechanisms could be separated from the use and functioning of the organism as a whole, whereas they are as closely associated and as dependent upon one another as are the parts of our mental and physical make-up.

The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), page 141.

Both writers advocate specific exercises for the cure of specific troubles, and have named certain conditions which, in these articles, are taken to be the causes of the specific troubles mentioned. As one who, over fifty years ago, evolved a technique for preventing and changing a manner of use of the self such as could have a harmful effect upon the general functioning which could lead to the development of such specific troubles, and who has spent a lifetime in teaching the application of this technique, I venture to write you in order to draw attention to certain fundamental points, which the writers of the articles mentioned may conclude to be worthy of their attention.
When I consider the nature of the conditions named as causes in these articles, my reaction is to ask: “What is the cause of these conditions?” In this connection my first point is that the fundamental cause of any specific trouble in the human organism will be found to be associated with a harmful use of the self as a unified whole, and that the conditions which the writers of these articles cite as the cause of specific troubles are symptoms of a harmful use of the self, revealed in the very symptoms which the writers are endeavouring to cure.

Letter: “Ends and Means in Treatment” (1948) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 137.

I am not interested in cure. It is only a specific thing. But if I can teach them something by a means which they can put into practice in daily life, in each act which they perform, and which leads to a good effect on their general functioning, then I am doing something. . . .

St. Dunstan’s Lecture (1949) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 189.

My life’s work as revealed in my books has been the teaching, on the lines of the educator, of a technique I evolved for changing and improving the manner of use of the self, which in turn so improves the general functioning of the pupil that specific symptoms tend to modify and in time disappear which, in medical terms, is called a “cure.” Therefore, no matter what these results or the manner of bringing them about are called they certainly are not gained by orthodox methods of medicine or physical culture.

“Manufacturing Premises Required for Desired Deductions” (c. 1949) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 214.

 

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