Unknown, known

The long process of evolution still moves quietly to its unknown accomplishment.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 3.

Today the greater part of mankind carries out the normal responsibilities of a lifetime guided by the same imperfect forces. Men have learnt the meaning of many things which to the savage were inscrutable, but when faced with the unknown they betray the same lack of control.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 149.

The average person may exhibit complete nerve control and balance during accustomed experiences and accomplishment of the different mental and physical demands made during the ordinary round of life, but when suddenly confronted with the unexpected or unknown he betrays undue apprehension and loss of control, even when the new experience may not hold any real terrors for him.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 153.

If, for instance, before giving any of the “orders” which follow, the experimenter has already fixed in his mind that he is to go through the performance of sitting down, as that performance is known to him, this suggestion will at once call into play all the old vicious co-ordinations, and the new orders will never influence the mechanisms to which they are directed, because those mechanisms will already be imperfectly employed, and will be held in their old routine by the force of the familiar suggestion.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 173.

The problem was complicated by the fact that the human creature on whom this urgent demand was made was already badly co-ordinated and had acquired, by reason of the rapidity with which his experiences had been gained—a rapidity hitherto unknown to the human organism—the habit of reacting in a certain confident, nay, almost reckless way to stimuli.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 2004, London), page 37.

Hence changes in methods were made. Swedish drill became the fashion and also different types of exercisers and dumb-bells which were used in the performance of muscle-tensing movements of all kinds, and succeeding experiences in connection with posture, calisthenics, plastic dancing, deep breathing, “Daily Dozens” and other specific methods cannot evidently be considered satisfactory, as the search for the “great unknown or unrecognized” still continues.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 2004, London), page 39-40.

Here we find that though man’s fears were modified in the case of thunder and lightning, and other terrors with which he had now become familiar, they were no less acute in new and unfamiliar spheres. And beyond this original fear of the unknown, a new form of fear had come upon him, associated with the one-sided development which had taken place in the human organism.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 2004, London), page 48.

This process of directing energy out of familiar into new and unfamiliar paths, as a means of changing the manner of reacting to stimuli, implies of necessity an ever-increasing ability on the part of both teacher and pupil to “pass from the known to the unknown”;1 it is therefore a process which is true to the principle involved in all human growth and development.

The Use of the Self, page 87.

1 The late Mr. Joseph Rowntree after one of his lessons described my work as “reasoning from the known to the unknown, the known being the wrong and the unknown being the right.”

The Use of the Self, page 87 fn.

You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.

“Aphorisms”, 1930s, in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 196.

If people will go believing that they “know,” it is impossible to eradicate anything: it makes it impossible to teach them.

“Aphorisms”, 1930s, in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 199.

You all want to know if you’re right. When you get further on you will be rigt, but you won’t know it, and you won’t want to know if you’re right.

“Aphorisms”, 1930s, in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 203.

To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world.

“Aphorisms”, 1930s, in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 204..

Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know already.

“Aphorisms”, 1930s, in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 207.

If then he goes to his teacher convinced that he must try to be right in all that he does, and so attempts to conform to the teacher’s and his own conception of what is right in performing exercises or anything else he may be asked to do, he will continue to do what he feels is right (the known), and so will unknowingly tend to exaggerate the wrongness which is, and has been, the background of his trouble. The only way in which such a pupil could perform exercises or any other activity so that his practice of them would not have this result would be by doing what he feels is wrong; and he is not likely to do that for it would be the unknown to him.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 76.

A satisfactory technique for making the changes we are considering must be one in which the nature of the procedures provides for a continuous change towards improving conditions, by a method of indirect approach under which opportunity is given for the pupil to come into contact with the unfamiliar and unknown without fear or anxiety.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 78.

To begin with, the methods of training and education in which he is versed have developed in him a habit of end-gaining through a too quick and unthinking response to stimuli, and hence, at the moment when in order to carry out his considered decision he is obliged to depend upon procedures which are unfamiliar to him, his habit of responding too quickly overrides his new decision, and he relapses once again into doing what he has habitually done to gain his end, repeating experiences known to him.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 79.

As we have seen, one of the serious obstacles to be overcome in helping pupils to change their manner of use is that any change from the old wrong use (the known) to the new right use (the unknown) feels wrong to them, and at each stage of change the new improving manner of use has to be experienced for some time before the pupil can feel that it is right and comfortable, and so develop faith and confidence in the employment of it.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 83.

What we feel to be right is wrong, and before this habitual reflex activity can be changed we need to pass through a series of reconditioning experiences which, because they are previously unknown to us, at first feel wrong, and which must be repeated therefore until the unknown becomes the known and feels right and familiar.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 84.


This is true of his reaction to changes within himself, especially such as might adversely affect his position in the outside world, with what serious results will be obvious when we consider that without change, that is, without coming into contact with the unfamiliar (the unknown), we cannot make those changes in ourselves, and through ourselves in the outside world, which are essential to fundamental growth and development in an advancing civilization.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 90.

As the result of many years of teaching experience I would warn all those who, like Mr Allen, are endeavouring to help others to make the changes in the use of themselves that they desire, that both they and the people they wish to help must face the fact that the very essence of change demands coming into contact with the unknown, and that therefore their past experiences (the known) will not help but rather impede them.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 144.

For instance, if we study the technique that those employ who claim that by their method they succeed in changing conditions in others and are working for the progress and development of the individual and the mass, we shall find that in their plan of procedure no provision, in the fundamental sense we are interested in, has been made for bringing those they are desirous of helping into contact with what is unfamiliar and unknown. Yet progress and development depend upon the making of this contact, not only by the acceptance in theory of the new and the unfamiliar, but also by facing the unknown in the consistent carrying out of the procedures which are demonstrably the practical counterpart of the theory.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 146.

For years now the technique described in my book The Use of the Self has made possible the gaining of previously unknown experiences by reasoning from known to unknown experiences in the process of bringing about changes in manner of use. By this means any harmful influences associated with the habitual manner of use are changed to influences for good by becoming associated with a new and previously unknown manner of use by which the raising of the standard of general functioning can be ensured.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 146-47.

The projection of messages necessary to the carrying out of new procedures is inseparable from previously unknown sensory experiences of use and functioning, and tends to excite unduly the fear reflexes in all people who are faced with the difficulties of the pupil we are discussing.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 149.

This pattern provides him with the means of changing and controlling his reactions in face of the difficulties which are inevitable in his attempts to pass from the known (wrong) to the unknown (right) experiences essential for the making of fundamental change.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 154.

Those who have read the account of the evolution of my technique in The Use of the Self will be aware that I was continually led into unknown experiences, and when employing new “means-whereby” found myself in unfamiliar situations, and experiencing impeding and illuminating adventures in dark places.* This was appreciated by the late Joseph Rowntree when he said of my technique that it was “reasoning from the known to the unknown, the known being the wrong and the unknown being the right.” This experience of passing from a “known” to an “unknown” manner of use of the self is the basic need in making a fundamental change in the control of man’s reaction, and he will remain impotent in meeting it, unless it is possible to give him the opportunity of accepting an unfamiliar theory and of acquiring the experience of employing consistently the unfamiliar procedures which are its practical counterpart, by means of an integrating process of reconditioning associated with experiences of use and functioning previously unknown to him.

The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000), p. 157.

You cannot change something by repeating that which you have. You must have something new and we are out to give you that something new, that unknown, that unfamiliar something. If it is the old thing and you know it, it is not new. . . .

“St. Dunstan’s Lecture”, 1949 in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 186.

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