Monday, September 12, 2011

Brain Science and Putting

In golf strokes, the non-conscious body-brain is oriented to the objective world-as-it-is, and not concerned with the subjective state of the conscious mind for "feel" of the body.

"Feel" is the worst term bandied about without clear definition in golf. Golf psychologists who use this term certainly should know better, if they have been keeping up with the incredibly rich and important new brain science spawned since 1990, but of course they have not read any of this new science at all, as is pretty evident to anyone who has.

What is "feel", and why is it poison for golfers?

"Feel" is a subjective registering in the conscious mind of a state of the body for position or movement, used to allow the mind to "judge" whether the "feel" comports with expectations and memories of what the golfer "thinks" is the correct and appropriate body action for the immediate stroke.

What's poison about that?

What is absolutely bad about "feel" is:

first, what gets elevated to the conscious mind is not especially accurate and real, but is an assemblage of ad hoc sort-of's about the body that may or may not be accurate reporting of the body state; 

second, the conscious mind is not an impartial judge of "feel" but is tainted by habits and expectations and also false or partially false memories; 

third, the implicit notion that unless the conscious mind "approves" the current "feel" as correct and appropriate for the stroke, then the golfer is unlikely to execute the shot well, is a formula for de-emphasizing the world-as-it-is in favor of the body-as-it-might-be-if-that-matters, which promotes error in performance; and 

finally, routing the movement thru the conscious mind prevents or at least obstructs and interferes with reliance upon the body processes at the non-conscious level of the brain-as-organ/not-awareness and the body-as-organ-operated-by-the-brain-as-organ.

So what is superior to "feel" -- what is the better way to play golf? Non-consciously, with the body. 

But isn't that what golf psychs teach -- to play golf non-consciously? Yes, that's what they "say", but "feel" is NOT playing by non-conscious processes -- "feel" is only "feel" when it is in the conscious awareness. Evidently, golf psychs don't really know the difference between the mind and the non-mind.

Golf is a game played in the six inches between the ears? Well, sort of. Golf is 100% physical and mental in assessing what to do and getting prepared for the stroke, then it's 100% physical and 0% mental in executing the stroke. How's that?

I guess you'd have to have been keeping up with brain science to realize how this is all VERY DIFFERENT from how golf psychologists talk about the mind and the non-conscious. The non-conscious is FAR, FAR MORE than simply shutting off the mind, Bob.

In modern neuroscience, "consciousness" means "subjective awareness", and non-consciousness means "brain and body processes of which we have no subjective awareness".

In a nutshell, the BODY and it's processes (especially for movement) comprise the non-conscious processes of the brain as organ operating the body, and those processes account for about 90% or more of ALL brain processes. And the "conscious" experiences in the MIND don't seem to have much purpose, at least for human movements such as those in golf. But then that knowledge is pretty new, compared to the pop psychology of the 1970s and 1980s that infuses all "golf psychology" today, which is uniformly ignorant of the new brain science.

The better way is to play golf "non-consciously" with the body, not with the mind, and this means, frankly, that reliance upon "feel" is not only ill-advised, but counter productive by blocking off use of better ways of getting it done.

This brings us to the odd crux of the matter: the body is not concerned with "subjective" states and instead is "all about the external world". "Huh, come again?" the golf psychs mutter incredulously.

Your non-conscious brain and your body -- when it comes to moving in the world -- basically could care less what your mind thinks about things.

Contrary to what golf psychs and most motor sports experts believe (as evident by their writings and teachings), the body is not unintelligent compared to the mind, as in the old attitude that the body is the dumb brute and mind is the cultivated human part of ourselves. This notion is utterly pervasive in western society. 

Golf psychs certainly believe that playing non-consciously is little more than turning off and not using all the usual stuff that accounts for intelligence, such as analysis and language and avoiding error with check lists. That's the problem: modern brain science says that the non-conscious brain-body processes ARE intelligent in ways that the mind has no clue about. Turning off the mind is not at all what is needed to play golf with the non-conscious brain-body informed by current science. The golfer needs to KNOW about the body's movement intelligence and know also how to operate these processes to take advantage of the body's knowledge for movement.

So let's get serious and stop pretending it is unnecessary to incorporate the NEW brain science in golf. Teaching wrong stuff is just bad teaching. Teaching out-dated wrong stuff is bad and LAZY.

In what sense is the body in its non-conscious processes intelligent and educated?

The way the world and objects in the world including the body operate together in motion is called "physics". The BODY knows more specific and accurate physics about the world and body movement in the world than the MIND by a factor of 50 to 100 times. That's because the ONLY physics the MIND knows is the physics the mind assumes or the physics that a high school teacher implanted to replace misconceptions about how the physics of the world works. That is also because the world trains the BODY according to how the physics of world-body operates, and does not train the MIND at all. In fact, the MIND is completely ignorant that the world is training the BODY so that the BODY "knows" and "accurately uses" the real physics in movement planning and execution. The MIND believes and claims that the only the MIND could comprehend such a sophisticated science as physics and that the brutish BODY couldn't possibly hold a candle to what the MIND knows. This is the problem.

Ask any high school physics teacher what he faces when a new crop of bright-eyed students occupy the chairs in his or her classroom at the start of the academic period: all high school teachers know the students, be they ever so intelligent, are invariably besotted with firmly held but mistaken beliefs about the physics of the world. Among teachers, this is called "the usual collection of beliefs of naive physics". That's why the teacher has a job, and always will.

For example, Aristotle around 500 BC contemplated which mass will drop faster from the same height and reach the ground sooner: a bowling ball weighing 20 pounds or a golf ball weighing 45 grams (a little less that 2 ounces or 1/8th of one pound, 160 times less than a bowling ball). his answer, supported by sophisticated reasoning as usual, was that the bowling ball gets to the ground sooner. He didn't actually perform any experiment to check this, as Greek thinkers didn't do such menial things as experiments.

And for the ensuing 2,100 years ALL humans who inhabited the earth SWORE that the more massive object will always outrace the less massive object to the earth when released from the same height at the same time. Until ONE PERSON actually checked it, and found the claim and the belief to be wrong.

Galileo in about 1600 AD checked, and he was the first person who said, no, ANY two objects always fall side by side when dropped simultaneously from the same height, regardless of even the largest differences in mass of the objects. All masses always fall at the same rate of accelerated motion, side by side, no matter what!

And then for the following 400 more years to today, all the humans STILL get this wrong unless they take a physics class and hear the gospel, and remember it when asked the question. Otherwise, since Aristotle, every human on the planet, without specific education to correct this error, has a firmly held and completely incorrect belief that can be invalidated instantly by simply checking OR by observing what actually happens all the time on the planet.

This is the nature of the the MIND's stupidity about the real world and it's physics.

A similar misconception in the MIND is that two arms held out to the sides away from the thighs, with one being held a short distance and small angle off the thigh and the other being held a large distance and angle off the other thigh, when dropped down to the thighs by relaxing, reach the thighs in different times -- the closer one hitting the thigh first, followed by the farther-off arm and hand striking the thigh later. Wrong, and not only wrong, but always and forever happens a different way, but the MIND for some reason doesn't ever see the real answer.

As to these two fundamental examples of important physics for movement on earth (free fall of all objects and pendular motion of arms and legs and sticks and metronome rods pivoting on a point), the BODY knows the accurate physics and always gets this correct, and the MIND firmly believes an obviously incorrect if not to say stupid notion of real physics.

Okay, just how educated is the BODY? Very, and very specifically. 

An example is how the world trains the body to ONE TEMPO. A tempo is how long a stick takes to swing from top to top in pendular motion. The world's physics for this is set once and for all time by the size of the rock we live on, which has been the same for about 4 or 5 billion years and isn't likely to change this week. The earth swings ANY stick in ONLY one timing or tempo, and the timing depends solely upon the length of the stick, not the weight or mass of the stick (remember free fall, where mass is irrelevant?) That applies to the human arm of the adult as well, since the arm has finished growing longer and has been the same length now for years.

When a human moves about, the arm separates from the body by turning or by voluntarily swinging it away from the side, against the force of gravity, and then the earth swings the arm back down to the side according to the laws of earth's gravity. The timing of ALL these motions down are always and forever ONE TEMPO -- short or long swings all get returned in exactly the same timing every single time when the earth swings the arm down. Roughly speaking, every human BODY gets about 857 doses or trainings of the earth's tempo for the arms every single waking day since adulthood.

What is that timing or tempo? It simply depends upon the length of the human's arm. For most people, the arm is about 3 feet long from shoulder to fingertips. How long does the earth's physics take to swing a stick that long from top to top? A smidgen less than one second or 1,000 milleseconds, perhaps around 980 milleseconds. That's because a second (1,000 milleseconds) is the time required to swing a "meter stick" from top to top, and a meter stick is slightly longer (39.37") and slower than a human arm at 36", but not by much. Yes, each individual has a somewhat "unique" timing because each arm has a unique length, but that's dicing the matter too finely, and the reality is that the different lengths of adult human arms aren't all that different, and the overlap is very prominent among a random group of people.

The MIND is utterly unaware of this on-going, ceaseless, "mind-numbingly the same" BODY training that the world carries on. And golf psychs and motor sports experts are also completely unfamiliar with (ignorant of) this training relationship between the BODY and the WORLD.

How things fall from any given height is also trained into the body, and likewise how much force is required to SEND a given mass up away from the earth thru its gravity is also constantly trained. There is one and only one force that sends a golf ball to a height of 16 feet, ever, for every human who wants to send a golf ball that high.

This brings us to the OBJECTIVE nature of the NON-CONSCIOUS brain and body processes.

The essential purpose of the BRAIN is to record the WORLD and it's invariable physics so that the unchanging BODY can use this knowledge to make safe and successful motions, and avoid pain and injury as the top priority and achieve success as the secondary priority. The BRAIN is midway between the WORLD and the BODY.

That's the odd thing. The WORLD is what it is, regardless of what you or anyone might think. And, as it happens, the same is true about your BODY, since you won't be sprouting an extra arm in the next few days or hours. So the BRAIN is recording the physics of this WORLD as they objectively operate in terms of moving the only BODY it knows. For the BODY motion to comply with the objective requirements of the WORLD, then, the BRAIN in moving the BODY has to meet the objective requirements of the WORLD. Otherwise, the movement fails or at worst incurs pain and injury.

This all means that the BRAIN in movement of the BODY is not at all concerned about internal states of MIND. Of course, MIND can completely ruin a movement, but MIND actually is irrelevant otherwise to the BRAIN and BODY for safe and successful movement.

Okay, you say, this is way too theoretical. No, it's not. It's ACTUAL.

But how do you use it? Touch or pace control in putting is an excellent example of how this new brain science applies to golf.

First, the BRAIN cannot change space or mass, and can only influence the TIMING of movement of BODY parts. The BRAIN times movement. Period. Given a mass, such as the hand, or the arm and hand plus a putter, the timing defines the force. There is no calculating the force in the BRAIN -- there is only timing the mass in relation to the requirements of the WORLD. And timing is OBJECTIVE -- you either play the music in compliance with the conductor's tempo, or you get kicked out of the orchestra as a poor musician.

Second, the intentionality of a movement to a space and the definition of the space's perception in terms of what matters for the movement is what determines the force required for a given movement. In order to fly a ball 150 yards from tee to par-three, the force required is X ergs for all comers, Sally or Tom. You either deliver the goods required or you're short or long of the target. The MIND is not part of this except when the self-reflective human starts asking what's going on. What's going on is making a good stroke so the ball goes correctly to the space. That's pretty much it for the MIND, and that only comes up if you feel a need to be reflective. But it need not and should not come up at all, unless perhaps you suck at doing what is required when you play golf, or just don't like the challenge. Then perhaps the MIND has a role to keep you on task with your perceiving and your intentionality.

For force control in putting, the BRAIN uses the perceptions of the WORLD as it is with the clear intentionality to LIMIT the force first and foremost to insure safety in the motion by avoiding and ruling out "overshoot" or spastic movement that poses a substantial risk of pain or injury. But the BRAIN does not limit the force unreasonably so that success is thereby sacrificed: the limit is only imposed when the force reaches 100% of what the WORLD requires. 

Specifically, the force of a putting stroke starts with tempo and then the velocity of impact at the bottom of the swing is simply a matter of the SIZE of the backstroke, as the size determines how much downward acceleration the stroke undergoes to peak at a specific velocity at the bottom of the stroke. That's what the BODY knows specifically. The BODY knows for the given main tempo the WORLD daily installs in the BODY what exact size stroke goes with what exact velocity. The "knowing" of this is not knowing in the same way a student answers a test in a class, but in terms of using the knowledge reliably and consistently. The BODY for this specific tempo very intimately knows exactly how an entire spectrum of backstrokes correspond to velocity of impact, and when a specific putter mass is used familiarly, the BRAIN/BODY then also knows every backstroke size in terms of the force of impact, since force is mass combined with velocity.

Now, to simplify: the BRAIN pays attention to the WORLD as it is and this sets the SIZE of the backstroke using the main tempo to 100% of what the WORLD requires, using the BODY that is essentially unchanging as is what it is. With the size of the backstroke set, and the tempo in place, a backstroke uses one dose of tempo to reach the full size of the backstroke and then expends this energy by repeating another dose of tempo from top of backstroke to top of thru-stroke. Anything else will be short or long.

Eh, that means the BODY processes of setting the backstroke and getting the touch correct are COMPLETELY OBJECTIVE. Here's the "check list" of things that the golfer either does or does not do, in a yes/no or black/white sense:

1. Did the golfer formulate the intentionality with seriousness and commitment to move accurately all the way to and not too far past the hole? Yes or no.

2. Did the golfer pay attention to and take into account whatever matters for the WORLD's force requirement, such as distance, green speed, and elevation change uphill or downhill from ball to hole?  Yes or no.

3. Did the golfer then respect and allow the toss-back impulse used to send the arms and hands and putter into a backstroke swings that achieves the only correct size (safe and sufficient) for the WORLD's requirement for force in this putt? Yes or no.

4. Did the golfer's backstroke persist for one full dose of the chosen tempo? Yes or no.

5.Did the golfer's thru-stroke match the backstroke timing with another dose of tempo? Yes or no.

None of this is subjective or at all dependent upon anything subjective or even conscious, with the possible exception of sticking to the task and keeping the perceptions going after useful and relevant perceptions.

But when it comes to the actual stroke motion, assuming the intentionality and perceptions have accurately set the size of the backstroke that will take place, nothing is subjective and everything is completely "do it right or mess up." Respect the impulse without knowing or having any awareness in advance (or even needing a practice stroke or any memory of what to expect, and certainly no judgement of the size as the stroke unfolds). Comply with the WORLD's tempo in the backstroke. Allow the WORLD to handle the thru-stroke, since that will always comply with the WORLD's tempo. Basically, touch is simply pay attention to the WORLD's space for the putt with movement intentionality and then start the backstroke with good tempo and whatever impulse that the non-conscious BODY has set by prior tempo-force training from the WORLD.

You can work math problems while you putt so long as you stay on movement task and comply with the tempo, without any effect at all on the safety of success of the touch.

So teaching that golf should be played non-consciously by turning off the mind is half-assed teaching that leaves out the positive information about HOW to employ the non-conscious processes. Turning off the mind is not really necessary OR sufficient to use the non-conscious processes effectively. That requires some real knowledge about how those processes are structured and operated.

From touch in putting to all human movement, it's a new century, folks. Catch up and stay up, and if you're a golf psych too lazy to incorporate the new knowledge about the BRAIN and the BODY, I would suggest you shut up about the MIND and the Non-conscious.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist -- golf's most advanced and comprehensive putting instruction.


  1. Geoff,

    we perform in ALL life skills when we are externally focused, allowing our sub-conscious mind to manage our physical actions. From riding a bike to driving a car, we trust it where our life is at risk. Whilst golfers consciously attempt to control their actions they inhibit performance. It is only when we shift our attentional focus external when we begin to trust our physical self. This never happens in golf due to a fundamental flaw in coaching methods.

    The fundamental problem in golf instruction is that the golfer is kept in a state of conscious control due to the coaching methods used to develop technique.

    It is impossible to trust your stroke if you spend your whole time in practice attempting to control it. Repetition does not lead to trust, shifting attentional focus away from the strokes does. Golfers are not taught HOW to do this today.

    I specialise in attentional focus training for golfers and working closely with Tony Piparo in the US. Please give him a call, I believe you know him, for we are doing very significant work in the field of neuroscience and putting and think you would be very interested to take the time to understand our coaching programs.

    You are right about the limitations of science in green reading and traditional psychology opinions but I'd like you to understand why we can help golfers learn how to putt better using their conscious mind to trust the stroke that has been trained.

  2. The word "trust" is golf-speak. Trust has nothing to do with the non-conscious body processes of movement in the world, since WHETHER the mind trusts them or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is WHETHER the body does what it is made to do by the world training the body to the physics. The body does not want or need the mind's trust or permission at all. What it needs is for the mind not to have any role in the performance.

    What must be very disturbing to people who use the term "trust" when implicitly suggesting that the mind's trust is required, is to learn that the body really doesn't care whether the mind trusts it or not. The body is completely fine. The mind can do what it likes, including NOT trusting the body. The only thing the mind must not do is attempt to decide how to move.

    Shut the mind up? -- yes, or no -- who cares? Sing, talk to yourself, watch birds, work mathematical problems ... the body doesn't care. Just leave the body alone.

    Now, knowing how to help the body do what it needs to do ... that's skill! That's a whole other "body of knowledge" that golf psychs know nothing about in their minds. That's because they haven't gotten off their mental keisters and cracked the books of the new brain science to learn about the body's non-conscious knowledge. They just don't seem to "have the head for this stuff."

  3. Shut the mind up? -- yes, or no -- who cares? Sing, talk to yourself, watch birds, work mathematical problems ... the body doesn't care. Just leave the body alone.

    Totally agree with the last line Geoff but would debate the first.

    Do you really not care what the conscious mind is attending too?

    With no target in mind at execution, how does the body respond appropriately to the task at hand? Where is the committment?

    In golf, just because the golfer has to look away from their target prior to execution, it does not make the target less significant.

    Unfortunately, many not only remove their eyes from target but take their attentional focus away too and replace the target with some conscious thought about how to control their stroke or outcome.

    If you allow the conscious mind to wander as free as a cloud prior to execution, the target is lost from mind due to erroneous thoughts. You are in fact putting blind for whatever the golfer chooses to think about becomes their focus. If they are hummming mantra's, I imagine they are simply trying to distract the conscious mind from getting involved in the stroke.

    It's little wonder many struggle with anxiety when putting.


  4. Simeon Werner3:33 AM


    Great post. Rather than using the term "trust" is it more accurate to say that the mind has to "learn how to learn" from the body in order to succeed in fulfilling the mind's objective(s) as the body had to "learn how to learn" from the world in order to succeed in fulfilling the body's objective(s)?

    Perhaps most athletic instruction today has it backwards--in persisting in creating and upholding the illusion that the body has to learn from the mind.

    On an aside I also really liked this post for as well as being a golfer I like to think as well and I was very pleased to see you acknowledging the world-body-brain relationships.

    My own thinking had come up with the idea that all matter on the bubble that we call earth is in general an Earth-Body. Meaning that all matter inside the bubble of this earth is most accurately described to be existing as according to the conditions (pressure, temperature, radiation, etc..) of the earth Somewhere in the growth cycle of the earth "brains" came into being and as such animals (such as ourselves) are not only an Earth-Body, but an Earth-Body-Brain which is most accurately described to be existing as according to the same conditions only now a brain is is integrated as a part of the aforementioned conditions. Now perhaps, and only perhaps, such animals with the ability of subjective self-awareness (for example the ability to perceive a mirror image correctly) can be described as one step further: an Earth-Body-Brain-Mind(or Self).

    Anyways, I really hope to become a better golfer thanks to your research and teaching. Keep up the great work!


  5. Dear Simeon, That's correct. To see how far along we are in the PuttingZone, you should read Antonio Damasio's newest book Self Comes to Mind (2010), describing how an animal body grows an aware mind and then humans evolve a "self" that witnesses the content of awareness and thus makes human behaviors like city-building and art and science possible. The self and the mind evolve from the body for specific evolutionary advantages. But the bottom line is that the body CAUSES and LIMITS the mind (subjective awareness) and the self (subjective awareness of content and witnessing of content of mind). The PuttingZone, lowly sports coaching that it is, has been running down this track for about a decade now, so it's refreshing to see Tony catching up. :-)