Thursday, June 30, 2011

how big is my body? - the temporary feeling of being taller

Here's an initial description of the experience of my own body feeling taller to me.

The other day, walking home through downtown Turlock, I had an experience of my body as taller. As I’ve mentioned, I love this feeling, and I was able to focus some attention on it and possibly prolong it. We were walking along the south side sidewalk on Mitchell Avenue, from Denair Avenue to Palm. The sidewalk there is uneven, mainly from tree roots lifting the slabs of concrete – though I don’t believe this is a necessary feature of the experience, since it happens on even sidewalks as well. Suddenly, in a single step, I felt about a head taller.

Having a proprioceptive sense of being taller is a paradoxical experience. In my ordinary physical dealings with the world, my height is appresented to me. It is concomitant with my reaching for something on a shelf, or my walking gait, or through the fit of clothing or furniture. When I feel taller for myself and to myself, I feel as though this relation has shifted, that I am stretched. Specifically, I feel the stretch in my legs, arms, neck, and particularly visually. The ground looks further away. This is almost never unnerving or uncomfortable, and does not cause any difficulty in my ongoing activity. (It almost always happens when I am walking.) I don’t feel as if I no longer “fit” the world or my clothing, or my body for that matter. Only that I am taller.

At the same time (this is the paradoxical part) I continue to move and project into the world as usual, and the distortion of my felt sense of proportion does not make much difference in the way I feel that I can move. The feeling is only of being taller. (It is not a view from above, as in some kinds of out-of-body experience. I do not feel in any way disconnected from our outside of my body.)

The feeling rarely lasts more than a few seconds, and sometimes just a split second (though sometimes it recurs several times in quick succession over the course of a few seconds). The other day, it lasted about 10 seconds or so, in part because as it happened I directed my attention on it and attempted to will it to continue. I think that may have been effective, but I have never successfully voluntarily willed it to begin.

I have written that my limbs feel longer. This is complex. When the moment of taller-ness happens, I tend to look down at the sidewalk, because it’s the best way to experience it. I walk on, watching the sidewalk ahead of me, and see my moving legs and feet peripherally. They look further away, and at the same time my legs feel longer to the hips. As I shift my gaze to look further ahead, though still down at the sidewalk – say, 15 to 20 feet ahead – my gaze feels lifted higher. The enjoyment of the experience comes in part from a feeling of overseeing, even commanding the environment. There’s undoubtedly a cultural dimension to this, but to me it’s more of a physical sensation of bodily capacity.

How is this experience given? How is my body’s height given, and even pre-given, in my experience of walking in general, such that this experience of taller-ness can arise? It is very much a visually constituted experience (part of me wonders if my poor vision is largely responsible; my astigmatism makes depth perception tricky), but not exclusively. I feel taller-ness in my legs, especially, and to a lesser degree in my arms and in the top of my head. I described it above as a stretch, and that’s exactly it: my legs stretch down further. Sometimes the feeling is of my legs stretching through the surface I’m walking on, falling further into the ground somehow. The muscles feel more taut, as when stretching a limb out to reach, and the success of the reach is evident in the feeling – each step a successful striving to hit the far-away ground. Meanwhile, my head floats higher above, and I see from greater elevation, everything seeming to be below my eyes.

Let me emphasize again the paradox: at the same moment I sense my body as taller and as “normal” in height, or, so to speak, I know better, and my proprioceptive sense of my body is unstable, un-fulfillable – I have equivocal senses of my own body’s size that I cannot fully mesh together. This is also rather pleasant, almost the way being puzzled can be pleasant.

I don’t know if anybody else has experiences like this. If anybody coming across this does and wants to make a comment, please do. Or if you’d rather say something privately, please email me.

1 comment:

Devin Z. Shaw said...

Have you seen this article:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104152304.htm