A question of balance

I just carried a bowl of soup back to the computer. I learned from someone long ago: to avoid spilling while walking don’t look at what you are carrying. It works, but why? If I try to look at it I invariably do spill but when I ignore it, it never spills.

WAG: Because, when you’re looking elsewhere you can measure your surroundings, spot bumps in the carpet, keep an eye out for people in the way (and so on). When you stare at the soup, your only reference point for judging your balance is that bowl.

IMHO there is more to it than that **mattk[b/]. It works even if you close your eyes while moving. I must have something to do with a subtle sense of balance in your hand/arm.

OOpps…IMHO there is more to it than that mattk. It works even if you close your eyes while moving. I must have something to do with a subtle sense of balance in your hand/arm.

An old trick. If you aren’t looking at it you are looking far ahead, which is the old balancing trick tightrope walkers use.

Your sense of balance depends on three inputs, vestibular, visual, and tactile. You feel the tactile sense of “up” from the position of your upright stance, through your feet and legs. And the visual sense is gathered by looking at reference points as your body moves, like a horizon to keep level. And your vestibular sense is your ear’s balance organ giving you it’s own sense of “up.” I have one bad ear with a ruined vestibular organ, so I have terrible trouble with balance, I’m visually dependent for my sense of balance. I have easily lose my balance in dark conditions. And of all the things I find the most difficult, it is walking and carrying a full cup of coffee.
The way I see it is, if you keep your eye on the coffee, you are assigning the visual channel to keeping that cup upright. You’re now using tactile and visual channels to keep the coffee upright, and using it as feedback to holding your cup. This interferes with your body balance sensing and feedback. You’re trying to control the balance of your coffee cup separate from your body. I have enough trouble keeping myself standing up straight. The moment I start looking up from my cup to get my bearings, the coffee I’m carrying pours all over, I can’t seem to control both my own balance and my coffee’s balance at once. I’ll take my coffee with a lid and extra napkins please.

Thanks Chas, ask and you shall receive. I’ll bet there is still more to this than we see… I wasn’t aware of the three points of balance, so you have given me lots more to go from.

I’m fairly certain that this is not an instinctual act. Watch a child trying to carry a cup of soup, their attention is focused on the soup and trying to avoid our wrath when it gets spilled.(visual)

Then there’s me: dumpdedumpdedumpdumpdump, ::not paying attention:: OW, damn that’s hot! (tactile)

I’m gonna have to look up the vestibular input and go from there.

How would you attribute my observation that visually impaired folks can avoid the spill?

Like Chas, I have to balance visually. However, at night, one can use the muscles for balance quite effectively.