The phrase “thinking in activity” is a happy one. It is a pity Dewey is the source, considering the intellectual baggage he comes with. His followers, quite vocal, use the phrase’s origin to surround the A.T. with corrupting ideas.
Dewey had in mind some obscure meaning involving his philosophy, where “thought comes after action and reconstructs indeterminate reality” (not a quote from Dewey). Dewey’s meaning can be argued over as the medieval scholastics argued over how many angels fit on the head of a pin.
When I first read a respondent’s interpretation of Dewey:
« Actual thought is always embodied in action. »
I thought: so, if you have a great thought and get struck by a bolt of lightning a second later, you hadn’t thought at all?
A teacher replied another way:
« ... isn’t the activity that we are working with movement? Either within the self or through space? It is quite possible to think without moving. I am speaking from personal experience! »
Perhaps we misunderstand Dewey, but only because there is nothing there to understand. The fact that grown men argue over the word “in” is some indication that Dewey didn’t take the trouble to clarify his thought to his readers — assuming it was a coherent thought in the first place.
On the other hand, the phrase “thinking in activity” can be nice shorthand, shorthand to which the A.T. alone — not Dewey — gives meaning: expanding your awareness to include your person, especially the relation of your head and neck, and maintaining that expanded awareness as you move.
Dewey’s simple phrase “thinking in activity” means one thing, or a contradictory mix of things, in Dewey’s philosophy, and acquires legitimate meaning only in the context of the Alexander Technique.
The A.T. was developed long before Dewey had ever heard of it. The string of words “thinking in activity,” however pithy in the Alexandrian context, is a very minor contribution.
Should you abandon the phrase? You needn’t believe in God to say “good bye” — originally short for “God be with you.” No one thinks of that anymore. And so with the shibboleth “Thinking in activity.” You needn’t be a Deweyan to find it useful.