Sunday, February 14, 2016

Butoh and Time

        This week in Neuro Dance, our guest lecturer was a man who specialized in Butoh dance, a very unique style of Japanese dance that focuses around removing the dancer’s inhibitions. In order to actually dance Butoh, you must slip past the conscious control of your body and let something other than yourself take control. Or, at least, that’s the way it feels once you fall into the trance of the dance. Your body is moving beyond your control. You’re fully aware of everything happening; you can take back control if you want to. But, if you do, you won’t be able to move the way you are. Your conscious mind simply can’t control your entire body, but, with practice, your unconscious mind can learn to.
A lot of really interesting things are probably happening in the brain of a Butoh dancer. Professional Butoh dancers are probably able to turn off their motor inhibitors at will, or, maybe, their motor inhibitors have been permanently shut off. One thing I noticed while watching the dancer’s body was that it never stopped moving. Even when he was listening intently and apparently still, there was a little tick of his finger or a twitch of his toe, and, when he was talking, his entire body talked with him. Most people will move their hands when they’re speaking, but his entire body moved. A couple times, I saw his toes add a finer shade of meaning to his words. His toes! That’s not supposed to be possible, but he did it effortlessly. It was as though no one had ever told him not to talk with his toes, so he just did it. As easy as breathing.
            Dring his talk, he also talked about the ways we raise our children. Most parents will unconsciously control the way their child’s movement develops. They’ll guide their child to a very simple way of standing up – you can watch almost anyone stand up and you’ll know which way I’m talking about – but that might not necessarily be the most natural way for the child’s body to stand up. As we all know, all of our bodies are different, and what works best for one of us – or even the majority of us – might not work for all of us.
A similar idea can be found in one of our readings, “How The Brain Perceives Time,” by Laura Sanders. Unsurprisingly, all of our brains process time slightly differently. For example, the average person’s brain perceives each event within about 200 milliseconds to have occurred simultaneously. In someone with schizophrenia, the same window can be anywhere from 300 to 400 seconds, and temporally similar events can often seem separate. “People with schizophrenia ‘describe their world as a movie that’s segmented and they have to reconstruct the meaning of that movie, because time is not continuous for them (Sanders 8).’”

The piece also talked about the groups of neurons that seem to be responsible for marking time. Specifically, a team of neuroscientists studied the cells in rats’ striatum, a part of the brain that is deep in the center of the brain, roughly above where the spinal cord enters. They found that separate groups of neurons in the striatum fired in a set sequence when the rat was counting time. When the length of time increased, the order the groups of neurons fired in stayed the same, and the amount of time each group was active increased. This suggests that, “the neurons are encoding relative time, not absolute time (Sanders 6),” which makes sense. Presumably, there are other mechanisms in the brain that measure absolute time (or, at least, can roughly keep track of time as it passes.) Personally, I could tell you roughly what time it was if I’d looked at a clock in the past hour or two, but I start guessing if it’s been longer than that. I’ve also noticed that my brain measures time far differently based on what I happen to be doing. For me, reading time-dilation feels much different than homework problem-solving time-dilation, but I’m still reasonably accurate if I try to guess what time it is. However, if I’m writing or deeply asleep, I completely lose all sense of time.  

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