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Sensorimotor Coordination and the Structure of Space
Journal of Vestibular Research (2003)
  • Gin McCollum, Portland State University

Embedded in neural and behavioral organization is a structure of sensorimotor space. Both this embedded spatial structure and the structure of physical space inform sensorimotor control. This paper reviews studies in which the gravitational vertical and horizontal are crucial. The mathematical expressions of spatial geometry in these studies indicate methods for investigating sensorimotor control in freefall.

In freefall, the spatial structure introduced by gravitation – the distinction between vertical and horizontal – does not exist. However, an astronaut arriving in space carries the physiologically-embedded distinction between horizontal and vertical learned on earth. The physiological organization based on this distinction collapses when the strong otolith activity and other gravitational cues for sensorimotor behavior become unavailable. The mathematical methods in this review are applicable in understanding the changes in physiological organization as an astronaut adapts to sensorimotor control in freefall.

Many mathematical languages are available for characterizing the logical structures in physiological organization. Here, group theory is used to characterize basic structure of physical and physiological spaces. Dynamics and topology allow the grouping of trajectory ranges according to the outcomes or attractors. The mathematics of ordered structures express complex orderings, such as in multiphase movements in which different parts of the body are moving in different phase sequences. Conditional dynamics, which combines dynamics with the mathematics of ordered structures, accommodates the parsing of movement sequences into trajectories and transitions.

Studies reviewed include those of the sit-to-stand movement and early locomotion, because of the salience of gravitation in those behaviors. Sensorimotor transitions and the conditions leading to them are characterized in conditional dynamic control structures that do not require thinking of an organism as an input-output device. Conditions leading to sensorimotor transitions on earth assume the presence of a gravitational vertical which is lacking in space. Thus, conditions used on earth for sensorimotor transitions may become ambiguous in space. A platform study in which sensorimotor transition conditions are ambiguous and are related to motion sickness is reviewed.

Publication Date
Citation Information
Gin McCollum. "Sensorimotor Coordination and the Structure of Space" Journal of Vestibular Research Vol. 13 Iss. 4-6 (2003)
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