Motor Control: The Heart of Kinesiology
Mark L. Latash
This brief review presents the subjective view of the author on the history of motor control and its current state among the subdisciplines of kinesiology. It summarizes the current controversies and challenges in motor control and emphasizes thenecessity for an adequate set of notions that would make motor control (and kinesiology) a science. Changes in the current undergraduate and graduate programs in kinesiology are suggested that would help prepare future faculty in this area. The article ends by describing the author’s view on motor control in 2050.
History of Motor Control
The origins of movement and the relations between humanmovements and their controller, the central nervous system (CNS), have been fascinating scientists at least since the times of the great Greek philosophers of the past. At that time, the problem of movement–CNS relation was more commonly formulated as that of the relation between the moving body and the controlling soul. For example, Plato viewed self-motion as a sign of immortal soul, which wasapparently inherent to all animals capable of voluntary movements. Aristotle was arguably the first to pay attention to a distinguishing feature of biological movement, that is its coordination. In the second century A.D., the great Roman physician Galen suggested that voluntary movements of body segments were controlled by the soul, which sent signals to muscles via nerves conveying “animal spirits.”The classical Greek-Roman understanding of the relation between the soul and the body was summarized by St. Augustine: “The way in which souls are cling to bodies is completely wonderful, and cannot be understood by man; and this is man himself” (cited after de Montaigne, 2003, p. 489). The great Renaissance philosopher René Descartes taught that every human being was composed of two independententities, the soul and the body. The soul was responsible for thinking and other cognitive things, and the body obeyed the soul and the laws of nature. Some movements were apparently independent of the soul, for example, the beating of the heart. Other movements were induced by senses and mediated by the soul. The great Isaac Newton also contributed to the discussion on how biological movement wasproduced. Newton was a religious man, and his theory of motor control was also based on the soul controlling the body. He was quite aware of the problem of communication between the soul
The author (AAKPE Fellow #434) is with the Dept. of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. E-mail: email@example.com 19
and the body, and as a true physicist,he solved it by introducing a medium, ether (unfortunately unobservable). In the 19th century, the role of electric phenomena in the neuromuscular processes was appreciated, and studies of movements were helped with the invention and development of photography. However, the philosophical issue of whether movements are produced by a soul (you can call it will or intention if these terms sound morepalatable) or represent responses of the body to external stimuli remained unresolved. I will return to this major controversy somewhat later. Two great scientists contributed so much to the area of control of movements that they deserve to be called Fathers of motor control. One of them is a great British neurophysiologist, Sir Charles Sherrington, and the other one is a great Russianphysiologist, Nikolai Bernstein. Sherrington’s contributions to neurophysiology of movements are many and varied (reviewed in Stuart, Pierce, Callister, Brichta, & McDonagh, 2001). In particular, he introduced the idea of reciprocal inhibition as a method of coordinating agonist–antagonist muscle pairs, described the tonic stretch reflex, and developed a theory of movements based on coordinated changes in...