Thursday, May 8, 2008

How hands and feet learn

© Rohit. Image from

There is a word that I find very interesting. It is "stereognosis". Stereognosis is learning through manipulating objects. A child playing with blocks is learning through touch. Handling three dimensional objects like blocks helps the child's brain develop.

We are familiar with learning through handling objects with the hands. But did you ever think about the information you gather by "handling" objects with your feet? Everything underfoot contributes to our learning process. Rocks, grass, pebbles and sand are objects that send messages to our brains

There was a Japanese school years ago that was entirely barefooted. The faculty felt that the students learned more while being unshod. The occasional splinter was worth the benefits of learning through the feet.

Go to YouTube and you will find loads of interesting videos on people who can do spectacular things with their feet.

There is one video of a woman born with arms. She could do a variety of things you would not think possible like eating with chopsticks. There are even people who can solve Rubik's Cube with their feet.

Are we using our full intelligence? Does encasing the foot and limiting the input from the outside world cause a kind of sensory "blindness"? Is the shoe in a sense a type of sensory deprivation chamber? Could the loss of stereognosis lead to over a lifetime the type of fragility we see with aging?

The real interesting thing is that stereognosis is linked to proprioception. Proprioception means sense of self. It is beyond the 5 senses. Proprioception is the way that when we close our eyes we can still sense ourselves. We do this through the stretch of muscles, the angulation of joints and deep pressure to the bottom of the feet. Proprioception is what the police officer checks in a checkpoint to see if you have been drinking. Touching your finger to your nose with your eyes closed is a proprioceptive test.

People with Alzheimer's lose proprioceptive abilities and have a distinctive loss of stereognosis. Could lack of stimulation of proprioceptors and accompanying loss of stereognosis lead to the devastating loss of self that Alzheimer's patients experience? Could we develop new and unique ways to stave off the effects of aging if we just started playing with our feet- again?

What do you think? And how would you do it?

Kevin Kunz

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