Muscle Testing and Other Ideomotor Methods
Ideomotor Phenomenon (IMP) = (Ideo: idea) + (Motor: movement)
Ideomotor is a psycho-neuro-muscular phenomenon where a person performs unconscious muscle activity. The phrase was coined in 1852 by Dr. William Benjamin Carpenter; considered to be one of the original thinkers who helped to lay the foundation for the modern theory of the adaptive unconscious (beneficial unconscious processes involved with rapid evaluation and response to one’s environment).
Ideomotor phenomena include muscle testing (MT), dowsing, pendulum use, hypnotic movements, diagnosis by touch, automatic writing, ouija boards, etc. Since muscle action produces all of these movements, I will often use MT and IMP to refer to the entire collection of associated applications of IMP.
Many scientists have proven that IMP is an unconscious action; even though it may appear to be originating from something mysterious (either within or without). Our unconscious notions overpower our conscious ones, so the “mysterious” effect of IMP is understandable. But just because we can identify a psycho-neuro-muscular mechanism of action does not mean that IMP is a random brain-fart; or that we understand the phenomenon in its entirety. We may have linked IMP to psychology, but we still don’t really understand the boundaries of “consciousness”. There is much more to be learned, with implications for various disciplines.
If you have already made up your mind that IMP is random muscle action, then you are at risk of having a “closed” mind; where no amount of evidence will get you to peer outside your “box”. But even if you have an “open” mind, you are not free of the “box” either; because it is human nature to think we know it all – it’s what we do. Rare is the person who can keep knowledge in perspective.
Unfortunately if you were to study a form of IMP, as a practitioner, you would not be provided with any education regarding its mechanisms or history; which would lead you to fill in knowledge gaps with imagination and motives. If you then build your life’s work around the use of IMP, only to find out at some point that it is not what you always thought it was… then you would find yourself in a cognitive pickle.
No matter how smart you are, once you experience how muscle testing can work (that it has miraculously helped you and others), the tendency is to believe that you correctly understand the phenomenon (according to your metaphysical or neurological biases). The tendency is not to consider that there are shades of gray, or other things at work, of which you may not be aware.
Everything Under the Sun Needs to Fit Together
Some swear by muscle testing, others swear at it. Supporters cite various scientific reasons why muscle testing and other forms of IMP work. And critics cite various scientific reasons why it does not. Makes me wonder if we are all living in the same universe. There is a lot of disagreement in how we all THINK the universe works. Some think everything is pure mechanics, or neurology, or chemistry, or “energy”, or “illusion”. Is everyone wrong about how things work? Can everyone be right?
There is not one building on the planet where only the laws of evidence-based medicine reign; and another building where only the laws of energy psychology reign; and still another building where only spiritual laws of (your religion here) reign. Everything has to work everywhere, all the time… or we got a problem in our space-time-reality matrix. So if it’s a choice between universal law and man-made law being dysfunctional – I’m putting my money on the universe. If things don’t seem to add up for different points of view, then it’s time we examined our points of view, and upgrade as appropriate.
I can’t address all of humanities universal mechanism disagreements, but I can address one mechanism that seems to overlap many diverse disciplines. My little corner of the universe examines how the mind operates in the body. Do you use muscle testing, dowsing, pendulums, or intuitive touch in your work; or are you curious about how these ideomotor phenomena work? Do you doubt IMP has any basis in reality? Do you believe these methods communicate a Divine, unadulterated truth?
By the way, I’m pro ideomotor, and pro intuition – but I’m also pro realism. Yes, maybe we will develop super powers in the future, but do YOU possess them now – in a way that can be demonstrated and reproduced? Some people do; but it’s ok to be honest and admit that you are not there yet – we weren’t born as masters of anything. Every skill must be developed over time. I try not to put limits on what is possible, because I don’t know everything. But I do know IMP is not a magical, 100% accurate crystal ball. It is not always correct. It is no more correct than your memory of things you have studied. You can make many mistakes with it; especially if you don’t know what you don’t know. So take responsibility for your end of it, and keep it “real”.
“Ideomotor” action can be defined as involuntary muscle activity caused by an idea.
When I use “muscle testing”, I also refer to all ideomotor phenomena – because what “powers” ALL of them is neuromuscluar activity. Take the practitioner’s muscles out of the picture, and there is no IMP.
Just like “speaking”, IMP is more about subconscious “communication”, than reflexive “neurology” – and to grasp that you will need to use both sides of your brain. The neuromuscular events involved in making sounds are just the mechanical parts of speaking words (which possess different meanings). In the same way, the event of testing muscle responses are just the mechanical parts of non-verbal communication (which possess different meanings). We need to stay vigilant to the fact that we provide “meaning” to both sounds and muscle responses. Sounds and muscle responses have no intrinsic meaning of their own. This concept is crucial to understanding IMP. This may be a hard impulse to propagate for certain brains…
There’s Green Grass on Both Sides of the Fence
People can have a hard time with information they don’t know how to process. We tend to get defensive and create complex dramas to suppress the stuff we don’t understand, and promote the stuff we do understand. Such is the case with physical science and the intuitive arts – it’s changing, but there are growing pains. The pains are felt on both sides of the fence. This “fence” is all in our heads – literally. It’s called the “Falx cerebri”, and it is a connective tissue fence that separates the logical left hemisphere of the brain from the non-logical right hemisphere. When people argue over scientific “truths”, chances are there is some left/right brain perspectives that are being kept segregated. We were given two eyes in order to see depth… maybe were given two hemispheres to see dimension.
Both sides of the fence have backed themselves into their respective corners, and set up camp – neither one wanting to admit defeat. That’s what happens when you take sides without fully understanding the nature of reality. We need to acknowledge the depths of our ignorance when we study science and mind/reality topics. We only see what we know …and, due to the limitations of our biological sensing mechanisms, we also see illusions.
Certain medical institutions are beginning to offer wellness care, that include therapies that make use of the intuitive arts. And so maybe the intuitive arts could also take a step toward center by acknowledging the limitations of the physical world. If our IMP methods claim supernatural abilities that we can’t prove or manifest, admit it… and from this common ground we could put both sides of our heads together to evolve our understanding. This isn’t about boxing in what is possible – it’s about starting from a place of honesty.
The Reality of Illusions
The reality is that nothing is 100%. Nothing works all the time without fail. As human beings, bias and error are our middle names. It is an unrealistic goal to try to maintain the illusion that the intuitive arts are without error. This is done out of fear for being discredited. This fear is due to ignorance. The intuitive arts are quick to jump on the scientific bandwagon for research that supports their theories, only to jump off again when it shows evidence against their theories. What if, instead of this fear-based behavior, we just faced reality … a reality that contains both physical and non-physical. What if instead of sweeping things we don’t want to hear under the rug, we examined them closely for insights?
Most people who use ideomotor have good intentions, but this alone will not sidestep the illusion that causes people to feel that some other power is at work beyond one’s own body (“magic, “spirits” or “energetics”). Look at the optical illusion below. We can’t help but see it move – but it’s not moving. It’s not your “fault” if you see it moving – it’s a nuance of your neurological wiring.
So it’s no one’s “fault” that ideomotor is experienced as a force that is “out of your hands” – there is a neurological reason for it. The challenge is dealing with the psychological illusion – the need for the mind to fill in the logical gaps with a “reason” – something that makes sense to our current paradigm. Here is where we can fool not only ourselves, but those we work with. One way that “fooling” shows up is with practitioners who believe that, because they are in touch with a higher supernatural force, they can do no wrong in their work – that everything they do is “perfect”; and anyone who challenges this notion is weighed down by their own negativity… I’m sure you know the type. Supernatural forces aside, until we take responsibility for as much of ourselves as we are able, we will not evolve. I suggest we use challenges to our paradigms as opportunities for evolution… that we learn to take interest rather than offense in new perspectives. So let’s get real…!
“Truth is stranger than fiction”
We may not be able to avoid experiencing illusions, but we can avoid the urge for myth-making. Yes, it’s hard, but if we are to evolve in awareness (as is the goal of many who make use of ideomotor methods in their work), we need to see reality as it is… only then we can begin to expand our minds into a realer reality. Part of healing and growth is seeing reality for what it is – without our projected illusions. Human beings have the remarkable ability to create illusionary views, or take on illusions suggested by others. Separating illusion from reality is one of the reasons IMP is used… but this tool itself is also subject to illusions. There are new revelations that can’t be grasped if the mind is holding tight to a comfortable myth.
If we are to develop our intuitive abilities, then step one is to develop our discrimination (the “good” kind – like being able to distinguish one thing from another). Using IMP a competent practitioner can help one discriminate between the cloudiness of one’s conscious understanding, and the clarity hidden in the subconscious.
Nuances of Notion Motion
Ideomotor phenomenon (IMP) represents a function of mind, nerve and muscle, whose nuances are known by many names: muscle testing, dowsing, pendulum divination, hypnotic suggestion, automatic writing, and even therapeutic touch – what an interesting array of phenomenon you might think – and I would agree. Basically IMP presents clues to how the mind works through the body… and there is something amazing (and very practical) to be learned here, if one is willing to examine this phenomenon.
There is a rapidly growing assortment of well-meaning people who make use of IMP for everything from therapy to sales. But because no definitive, official explanation of the phenomenon exists, a gray zone persists; providing opportunities for not only pro and con research, but confusion, and manipulation. Internet searches for “muscle testing” have greatly increased from just a few years ago. The concept (and misunderstanding) is spreading fast. It is no wonder results from “muscle testing” vary so widely.
Firm Belief in Illusion
The current situation with ideomotor activity is very reminiscent of the early 20th century spiritualist debate. Harry Houdini was known as a great illusionist and escape artist – skills that also allowed him a third fame: debunking spiritualist fraud. When you understand the elements required to create an illusion, you are not so easily fooled. He offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove true supernatural ability, but it was never claimed.
Houdini’s mission to expose fraud cost him the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a staunch spiritualist. It is ironic that the illusionist valued truth more than the spiritual seeker. There is a deep desire for “magic” in the human soul, and despite evidence to the contrary, we hold dear this innate yearning for the supernatural. Often the deconstruction of a revered illusion is mistaken for an attack on our very soul – provoking many to take offense rather than interest in such an exposé.
I’ll Believe It When I See It… or See It When I Believe It… or How Does That Work?
Scientifically speaking, making people “wrong” doesn’t help. Better to focus on finding the truth, than being “right” or “wrong”. Let’s frame things we don’t understand in terms that don’t make anyone “wrong”, so we can see more clearly.
I personally don’t view such human quirks as magic-philia as pure foolishness; but rather as examples of undisciplined reactions to vague impressions of forgotten truths. Truths so forgotten, we ascribe “magic” to them; because we have forgotten the words to describe them. Humanity as it is today is not the world’s first rodeo for human beings – we have lost a great deal of knowledge over the eons. We may view attacks on our beliefs in human intuitive abilities as attacks on our souls, because on some level, we recognize a “super-nature”… and the only reason we call it “super” (beyond) is because we have separated it from the “nature” our modern left-weighted (logical) minds have been trained to see.
People (be they doctors, therapists or researchers) possess cherished beliefs about what is possible, or how reality works. Beliefs are not dependent upon intelligence, educated knowledge, or even evidence and reason at times. Like anything known by a human being, there is a risk of attachment to and identification with ideas; and the whole drama that naturally follows of taking and defending a stance.
The Riddle of Muscle Testing: how is it that we can help people with a method proven not to work?
Yup – there is hard scientific evidence to prove that IMP is a purely “random” event. Kinda makes you go “hmmm…” when you have personal evidence to the contrary. So … is it time to pick a side to defend, or time to take a closer look? Clues: who “proved” it; what part of “it”; and from what perspective? Most scientific research studies are thrown out for bias, and various errors in premise, approach, procedure, etc. Hmmm…
We have beliefs about how things work that, though we may be very proficient in our practice, our understanding about the mechanism behind what we do may be totally wrong. With a topic like IMP, “proof” can have a lot of holes. These “holes” are in our heads – our ideas, perspectives, agendas, biases, blind spots, and emotional connections to knowledge that nature never intended.
Somehow, a mind needs a way to control its body – this has to happen if we are going to function in our physical world – in real time (which means “fast”). Ideomotor action is fundamental to movement – once you understand the principle, you will see examples of it everywhere. Intellectual humility is essential for expansion of knowledge. If we don’t know what a mind is, and are still learning what a body is, how much authority do we wield in placing limitations on things of which we are ignorant? More importantly – who is going to break the bad news to the birds that their murmurations are all in their heads …?
Who is Qualified to Evaluate IMP?
If being an illusionist provided Houdini the perspective to spot spiritualist fraud, what bodies of knowledge are well suited to understanding ideomotor activity? One would need education and experience in working with both bodies and minds (as the name implies), and being an illusionist certainly wouldn’t hurt either. Dogmatic skepticism gets in the way, but healthy (“show me”) skepticism, is essential. One profession spanning the wide spectrum of these apparently dissimilar polar opposites is chiropractic. As you can imagine, such a span of interest is not without its challenges, as people take sides within the profession, debating how our subjective and objective worlds form our collective reality; and how this understanding can be applied to help people heal and evolve.
It’s a good debate, and it’s not limited to chiropractic; as the medical and osteopathic professions are experiencing the same thing. Such a debate is inevitable, as intelligent and highly educated professionals, who are trained to observe things most people overlook, begin to discover patterns and connections in their quest to help mind-body entities (“human beings”). Again and again doctors of all kinds are realizing that mind and body work together… as the saying goes: “wherever you (body) go – there you (mind) are”.
Ideomotor activity isn’t going away – it’s not a quaint little spiritualist parlor trick from bygone days. It’s here, it’s now, it’s how we operate in bodies. Ever wonder what “supernatural” force is at work that allows you to drive home while you are day dreaming? Ideomotor. If you work with people in that gray zone between objective and subjective reality (body and/or mind therapies), do you think it might be beneficial to have a solid grasp on how the mind works through the body?