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backward bicycle

May 14 2015 at 11:20 PM
stuart  (Login stuartca)
from IP address

Hey Geoff,
Wanted to see if you saw this video on the backwards bicycle? Essentially the guy in the video tries to learn to ride a bicycle which is backwards, as in when you turn handlebars to the right the wheel goes left. It is not possible to ride apparently because of the neural pathways and the way our brain is wired to ride a bicycle. At the first sign of a wobble you can't help but turn the handlebars and your weight in a fashion that works for a normal bike works and on this bike it will cause you to fall.

He sets out to learn to ride it and it takes him 8 months. Then his 6 year old son learns in 2 weeks! Showing some interesting things about neuroplasticity. The real interesting part is after learning to ride the backwards bicycle, he can no longer ride a regular bike again. My description is poor I'm sure so hopefully you have time to watch the whole video, very interesting.

My question is what are your thoughts and how do we apply some principles of learning new motor patters the the golf stroke and swing. Also how best to practice/train when we want to ingrain a new pattern to work under pressure?
As the video shows, whenever he would be distracted on the backwards bike he would revert to the old bike pattern and fall, so how do we continue to train new motions of the golf swing to be permanent and automatic under pressure, for lack of better term "muscle memory." I know myelin is a huge simplification as you have stated but was curious to learn more about how to truly make a change in swing motion stick. Some people say slow motion, some says thousands of reps, and on and on.
As a side note because of you and stuff i have learned about neuroscience on your website, i discovered someone you had a link for called lorimer moseley. Does a lot of nueroscience research primarily on pain. Mind blowing stuff, i am addicted to watching his videos now and it is crazy the new research on neuroscience and pain!

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Geoff Mangum
(Login aceputt)

Great Question, Give Me a Bit of Time to Respond

May 29 2015, 8:01 AM 

Dear Stuart,

This is a great question but it will take me a bit of time to formulate a good response. Part of this is how the brain "flips", as known tom the 1960s and "inversion lenses" that changed the vision system to upside down. And part of this is the peculiarity of the task that is being challenged. It's not exactly transferrable to "golf habits".


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Geoff Mangum
(Login aceputt)

Inversion of Vision experiment

June 23 2015, 6:44 PM 

Dear Stuart,

In 1950 Ivo Kohler and Theodor Erismann at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, used inversion goggles to flip the visual system of subjects, and the subjects accommodated the upside-down visual world in a few days.

Here are two YouTube films about these experiments:

This actually goes back to the end of the 19th century:

The upside-down glasses were first investigated by George Stratton in the 1890 s. Since the image that the retina of our eye sees is inverted, he wanted to explore the effect of presenting the retina an upright image. He reported several experiments with a lens system that inverted images both vertically and horizontally. He initially wore the glasses over both eyes but found it too stressful, so he decided to wear a special reversing telescope over one eye and keep the other one covered.

In his first experiment, he wore the reversing telescope for twenty-one hours. However, his world only occasionally looked normal so he ran another experiment where he wore it for eight days in a row. On the fourth day, things seemed to be upright rather than inverted. On the fifth day, he was able to walk around his house fairly normally but he found that if he looked at objects very carefully, they again seemed to be inverted. On the whole, Stratton reported that his environment never really felt normal especially his body parts, although it was difficult to describe exactly how he felt. He also found that after removing the reversing lenses, it took several hours for his vision to return to normal.

A number of other people have done similar experiments and some references are listed below.

Stratton, G. (1896). Some preliminary experiments on vision without inversion of the retinal image. Psychological Review, 3, 611-617;
Stratton, G. (1897). Upright vision and the retinal image. Psychological Review, 4, 182-187.
Dolezal, H. (1982). Living in a world transformed. Chicago: Academic Press;
Kohler, I. (1964). the formation and transformation of the perceptual world. New York: International University Press.

The interesting point is that the brain accommodates to the inverted glasses in about four days, and then when the goggles are removed, the brain flips back after some hours.

Another brain accommodation is to weightlessness in outer space. Alain Berthoz in The Brain's Sense of Movement described performing experiments having cosmonauts for the European Space Agency catch tossed balls on earth and then catch balls floated across the International Space Station. The cosmonauts needed 15 days to accommodate to the ABSENCE of gravity free-fall timing used on earth to catch tossed balls, despite the obvious lack of gravity timing in the way the balls floated at a constant velocity across the ISS cabin. This indicates that the MOVEMENT timing of gravity is embedded much more deeply in human action than is the entire visual system. Interesting to know!

And of course the astronauts in outer space microgravity accommodate to the absence of gravity. One of the first people on the Moon said: "I learned that the way we walk on Earth is NOT what you do on the Moon with only 1/6th the gravity -- that tossing out of the leg with Earth-based forced will land you on your butt on the Moon. The proper mode of locomotion on the Moon is the "Bunny Hop"." And after reentry to earth's gravity, the astronauts undergo a reverse flipping of the brain back to Earth's gravity. Not too different from sailors and their sea-legs and having a few days' trouble once back on land.

These college students below try writing their names wearing inversion goggles:

That connects up to another oddity of the brain called "mirror writing". This is the ability to write words backwards, the same way the word would appear when seen reflected in a mirror -- like the word ECNALUBMA across the front of the EMS vehicle, so drivers can read it in their rear-view mirrors. Perhaps 1% of people can do this fairly naturally and fluidly. My pal Bob Montello does it any time he wants, and it seems to have something to do with a brain suited for art and drawing and seeing the world not with any left-right bias but straight on for what it is, including seeing words as shapes instead of meanings. I recall some brain science that says everyone sees words and letters in BOTH directions, but our cultural adaptation suppresses one, but it's still there. Here is a neuroscience article on mirror writing:

Leonardo Da Vinci is said to have practiced mirror writing. Another advocate of mirror writing and handwriting with the non-dominant hand is Michael Lavery of Laguna Beach, California.

Lavery advocates using the non-dominant hand to enhance brain function, specifically sports skills and other brain functions (mood enhancement, focus, stuff like that). Lavery uses a rubber mallet to bounce balls ambidextrously and to grow a "whole brain" set of hand-eye coordination skills, bringing the non-dominant side up to the level of the dominant side. His book, Whole Brain Power, includes discussions of the neuroscience of plasticity, hemisphericity, and laterality of hands and eyes which may or may not pan out. But the general idea of up-building the non-dominant sides of the brain for hands and eyes is standard neuroscience recommendation for "brain health and longevity." Lavery's website is here:

Looking at all this together, we see the brain is very capable of "flipping" and accommodating the flipped perceptual and movement processes, the brain has underdeveloped and unused non-dominant processes, the brain has underdeveloped and unused "symmetrical" processes, the brain has plasticity for development, and the brain is not currently designed solely for sports skills and so offers a nice potential for upgrading.

You question about the OLD HABITS resurfacing under stress is an old story in motor sports science. it usual comes up in the context of building a NEW HABIT while EXTINGUISHING an OLD HABIT. Motor sports people tend to get stuck on stale ideas when a theme like this gets a lot of currency in their peer community, like the "notion" that it takes 3 weeks to grow a new habit (a recent study said the more usual time is 66 days), that it takes 50,000 hours to become an expert, and similar "STUCK" ideas. But that's "motor sports" people -- i.e., Phys. Ed. jocks holding clipboards and wearing pocket protectors trying to look scientific so they can get a little respect and a raise in an academic setting.

Specifically addressing the re-emergence of an "old habit" under certain conditions, despite the effort to build a "new habit" (and apparently doing so, but some how not actually "extinguishing" the "old habit), recent MIT brain research shows this:

A habit even if "lost" is remembered in the brain. The basal ganglia is involved in the STARTING of automatic behaviors like walking and reaching-grabbing (and so problems in the basal ganglia are viewed as causing Parkinson's Disease and the halting, fitful "starting" of automatic movements). The basal ganglia is also involved in the STOPPING of automatic behaviors, and so is viewed as dysfunctional in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in which the person has great difficulty STOPPING automatic behaviors. The researchers seem to think that the CUES and REWARDS in themselves operate in the basal ganglia to reactivate a dormant "old habit". That is, when the CUES and REWARDS of the "old habit" are present, the "old habit" gets reactivated.

That's a bit vague and unclear, because "habits" are considered structurally to be CUES, ROUTINE BEHAVIOR, and REWARDS. The CUES and REWARDS are what set up the ROUTINE BEHAVIOR. Recent "habit change" guru Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, describes habits and the CUE, ROUTINE, REWARD structure, and advises that changing a habit is a process that leaves the CUES and REWARDS associated with the habit the same, while changing only the ROUTINE BEHAVIOR. If that's the case, the MIT research doesn't help much! It basically says that changing a habit but leaving the CUES and REWARDS the same guarantees the "old habit" will remain subject to re-activation. That's no good!

So someone is off base here! The problem seems to be the distinction between forming a new habit and KILLING an old habit.

Conventional motor sports science claims that STRESS re-activates the "old habit", but they don't seem to have any decent ideas from neuroscience as to how and why this happens, if it does.

A better idea is that STRESS causes people to FALL BACK UPON their existing HABITS. "Habits don’t change in a high-pressure situation," study researcher David Neal, Ph.D., who is a psychologist and founding partner at Empirica Research, said in a statement. "People default to what their habits are under stress, whether healthy or not."

That's interesting to know, but the problem is TWO HABITS, one "old" and "not good", and one "new" and "good". So this research doesn't tell us why UNDER STRESS someone with a new habit would abandon that habit and revert to the older habit even though it is considered "not good".

One answer might lie in the notion of "extinguishment" of the "old habit." Like so much BS in the baseless speculations of psychology and their dumber, poorer, less energetic cousins in motor-sports science, concepts like "extinguishment" SOUND GOOD, but what REALLY HAPPENS requires some hard science like neuroscience.

Recent neuroscience and indeed conventional motor-sports science recommends that to CHANGE a habit requires eliminating the CUES, which is contrary to the guru Duhigg. The presence of the CUES is what activates the basal ganglia and the dormant "old habit".

Reza Habib and Mark Dixon conducted neuroscience research on compulsive gamblers, "Neurobehavioral Evidence for the “Near-Miss” Effect in Pathological Gamblers," J Exp Anal Behav. 2010 May; 93(3): 313–328,

They found that a "near miss" on the slot machine (two cherries but not three) is a loss to normal people but is very much like a win to compulsive gamblers. So that sounds like a defective REWARD. If an Army infantryman under intense combat "relapses" to his good-habit training under stress, perhaps that is because his REWARD associated with that habit is SURVIVAL. A compulsive gambler associates a WIN with SURVIVAL also, perhaps. But again, these are matters of only ONE HABIT, not TWO.

So what might be the conditions of TWO HABITS, one considered cognitively as "old" and "bad" and the other thought of as "new" and "good" for attaining the REWARD, whereby STRESS causes the person to re-lapse or revert to the "old habit"? Perhaps the "new habit" is not as OLD, and the "old habit" has been around longer and built up lot stronger links between "old habit" and "success". Even if the "new habit" IS linked to the "success", maybe the relative weakness and newness of the linkage is what causes the reversion under stress. It seems doubtful that the CUES or the REWARDS in and of themselves are the problem causing reversion under stress. And even if the person "develops" different cues for the "new habit", what does that really mean to a golf shot -- the CUES that are real are in the external world and not subject to modification -- only internal cues or the manner of responding to external stimuli are subject to modification. Hence, the CUES and REWARDS never change in golf, even if some folks think they might. So maybe we are left with the relative newness and weakness of the SAFETY that comes from the "old habit" more than the "new habit".

The "old habit" is the FATHER to the frightened child, and the "new habit" is the mere SALESMAN passing thru the neighborhood. Under stress, the golfer runs to Daddy.

Maybe this means that a STRONGER PERSON might NOT run to Daddy under stress, but would either not experience stress at the same level of intensity as others (because strong) or might STICK TO THE PLAN of the "new habit" being the "good" way to perform the skill.

In your example, when the balance is challenged on a bicycle, the person fears IMMINENT PAIN AND INJURY from a violent fall. This is STRESS with three capital S's! And the "new habit" was VERY NEW, and was only learned as a lark, and not because it was a BETTER way to ride a bicycle. So the backwards-bicycle example is not even close to what is afoot in golf when an old swing is replaced by a new swing because it is a BETTER way to get the REWARD when the CUES of the situation are present. And the stress of golf is no where close to the panic of the imminent falling off a moving bicycle.

And I don't have any reason to believe that BUILDING the "new habit" according to one or another teaching method or technique will address the reversion to "old habit" issue. The teaching method is disconnected from the structure of habits and apparently also disconnected from any likely processes in the brain, for eliminating or reducing the triggering of reversion. That's a typical situation of ignorance after three or four decades of "motor sports" science -- no real cause-and-effect understanding. At least so far as I am aware, there is NO SCIENCE addressing whether this or that teaching method affects the resurfacing of an "old habit" under stress. And real neuroscience basically deals with serious stuff, and doesn't usually devote research resources to issues like a swing breakdown on the golf course, so I also don't know of any neuroscience that addresses the resurfacing of "old habits" under stress.

The bottom line is that "old habit" resurfacing in golf swings under stress is probably not nearly as frequent as painted by Chicken Little golf psychs drumming up some business at the back of the range! And in any event, the SCIENCE about the reversion to the "old habit" is pretty weak and vague and useless. And the reversion likely can be guarded against with a stronger personality and a greater resolve about the change.

The ultimate problem is not what "magic bullet" can possibly prevent the "old habit" from canceling out the "new habit" right at the crucial and stressful moment, since there is no real hope that such a "magic bullet" exists, and the real problem is to deal with the stress in advance.


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Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist -- over 200 Certified PuttingZone Coaches teaching in 21 Countries Worldwide and growing strong!
The best putting instruction in the history of the game -- integrating the Four Skills of putting (reading, aiming, stroking for line, and stroking for delivery pace) by combining all putting lore in history with modern science for physics, anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, motor sports teaching and learning and performance, and especially the NEW brain science of the non-conscious processes of perception and movement action in putting skill.

This message has been edited by aceputt from IP address on Jun 23, 2015 7:11 PM

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