I’m at the MIT media lab at the moment (on one of their laptops, in fact), and this morning I got a chance to try that galvanic skin response thing again. It showed something that I thought might be normal, but I was told was definitely not normal: Every time I voluntarily moved a body part, the graph started jumping upwards. I am told that most people can wave their arms around really heavily and not have it do that. All I had to do was move a leg a little bit or even wiggle my toes.
This did not happen during movements that were more automatic. Rocking did not cause the response to jump upwards. Neither did typing. But those were the only two things that didn’t, and that’s because neither of them were something I just decided on doing and then did, they were both run in the background.
I have known for a long time that my relationship to voluntary movement is not the same as my relationship to automatic movements, that there is in fact quite a large difference between the two, and that I process automatic movements as “background” but don’t process voluntary movements that way. And that most movements for me are not automatic, but require finding the body part and making it move around for me in a fairly laborious way.
In fact, I met Oliver Sacks at Human 2.0 the other day, and this is exactly what he and I talked about. I was explaining to him the lengths I go to to string together automatic movements in order to get through the day, and how difficult voluntary movements are in comparison, and so forth. He told me how much effort a friend of his with Parkinson’s expended in his head just planning everything out like that, and I told him my stork analogy, which he liked.
But we’d just been talking about this. And I didn’t know it was going to show up on any sort of objective measurement of the way I moved. In fact when the things started jumping up, the person was asking what was going on, and I said “It’s just from me moving.” And she said “But you moving shouldn’t make it go up like that, most people can wave their arms around frantically, even wave the hand the electrodes are attached to, and nothing like that happens.”
So apparently there is an objectively verifiable measure of the amount of effort I put into even very simple voluntary motions, and also of the fact that the motions of typing and rocking (and presumably other automatic movements that have not yet happened while I was attached to the sensors) are not doing that to me at all.