The renowned conductor Joseph Eger once asked a student to sit down and after a few seconds, to stand up again. The mystified student wondered what he was getting at. Eger then asked him to sit again, but this time, before standing up, to ponder on every single muscular action required for the simple act of standing up. A few bewildered students would quickly rise, but the more thoughtful ones remained sitting, unsure of what to do. The smartest student would try to do begin the impossible task Eger assigned – remaining still. Then, relieving their misery, he explained that every physical act – in this case, the simple motion of standing up – requires untold millions of coordinated muscular actions triggered by neurological messages in a mind-bogglingly complex procedure, far more complicated than the central telephone switchboard in a large city.
Yet, all humans, manage all this automatically simply by telling themselves to stand, sit, walk, jog, climb or take any other actions. Without delay, our wish becomes our brain’s command and billions of neurons are mobilized to do what is required, as if there exists an artificial intelligence neuro-muscular system inside us, except that it is isn’t artificial; all of it is the work of nature.
Unimpressed? Think of what musicians do with their instruments such as a virtuoso violinist. The concept of muscular coordination becomes even more astounding. A violinist places his instrument under his chin in a most awkward and uncomfortable position. He holds it there by pressing chin against violin against shoulder, then takes his bow and draws it across four strings in such a way that these strings maintain their tension at predetermined frequencies, stretched or relaxed to adjust the tuning. The four strings are then “stopped” by the left-hand fingers against the violin in exact positions while these fingers shift – slowly or rapidly – to other precise positions as called for in the music. The player must hold the left hand in such a way as to be able to move the fingers to stop the strings up and down the four strings’ lengths, sometimes with great speed, vibrating the hand (appropriately called a ‘vibrato’) in order to achieve the exact required wave frequencies to create the desire sound effects. That is not all. Back at the right arm, the bow must be drawn back and forth to match the music’s requirements. All this is done is midair, floating the arms, hands and fingers in front of the player’s body in a very unstable position. With all these movements going on, the player must make music, by varying the length, speed, and intensity of the bow’s pressure on the strings. I get goosebumps whenever I think about the amazing coordination machinery that is our body. I cannot help but say a huge ‘thank you’ to whoever designed it, for we are nothing short of a miracle.