An investigation into the mind body split in the West and whether this assumption is a problem for golf teaching.



Dylan W.K.E Bawden
written in 2002




There is an assumption in the West that the mind and body are split. This assumption has caused disciplines to assume a theory or rule following must be known to fill the gap enabling a human to act.

Most Professional Golfers learn to teach golf by learning the theory of the golf swing so that they can teach this theory on the assumption the pupil needs to know this to act (to hit a golf ball).

Professor Searle, writer of Minds Brains and Science, says this assumption is a fundamental flaw in understanding action and how humans act because there is no split between mind and body. The brain just does it. There is no need to assume on top of this biological function that a theory is needed for the brain to perform.

This assumption is also known as conceptual learning which is to assume the mind is an empty receptacle at birth and is then filled with knowledge to function. Using knock down arguments, Professor Searle illustrates the implausibility of this assumption.

Robert.M.Pirsig, writer of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, also states the implausibility of this assumption when he notices his pupils can learn and create good writing without him instructing them with theory of creative writing. He goes onto discover when, why, and how this split between mind and body occurred in Western history and how a phenomena that he calls ‘quality’ existed before this split and how it is the same as the practices of Zen in the East where there is no split between mind and body.

A primary research project was compiled to test the findings of Professor Searle and Robert.M.Pirsig. It was designed to compare the effectiveness of theory following and just doing it. This has been followed up with secondary research of what Tour Professionals are saying about this form of teaching.

The findings in the primary research project and the secondary research are underpinned by the findings of a few teachers in golf that have written controversial books on the subject, such as Timothy Gallwey. These books, and what Professor Searle and Robert.M.Pirsig have stated, are compared with the superior practices of the East in performance to show their similarity concluding that assuming there is a mind and body split is ineffective.


For the purposes of this dissertation “the West” shall be understood to mean the collection of countries generally referred to by political commentators and sociologists when discussing the development of civilization, as the West.

It has been expressed by a few people who have written about golf such as, Timothy Gallwey, Micheal Murphy, Larry Miller and M.Scott Peck that there may be a fundamental flaw in the methods used in the West to teach golf. To test these methods and assess how effective they are should support this theory.

There is a growing body of opinion that the reason for this ineffectiveness is that the West places too much importance on theories. As a result, teaching and learning is based on imparting theories rather than allowing experiential learning to occur.

Much has been written on the subject of the golf swing, which is based on ‘knowledge’ of the golf swing. It has been dissected and discussed scientifically thousands of times on the assumption that if you remember it then you will be able to perform the golf swing.

There are thousands of amateur golf students and many professionals across the Western hemisphere who are very frustrated with learning the golf swing this way because it is ineffective and results in a deterioration in their performance. The dissertation will therefore investigate the nature of action and  the subject of golf teaching in the West to illuminate this problem.

Chapter 1 will start by introducing some of the work of Professor Searle and his book ‘Minds Brains & Science’ about the problem with Western man’s scientific theories of action. Chapter 2 will look into where the fascination in knowledge and reason (theories) comes from and how a particular individual, Robert. M. Pirsig, discovered the origins of this form of reasoning and why he did so in his book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. Chapter 3 is a primary research project undertaken to test the effectiveness of following a concept or theory of action as opposed to just doing it. Chapter 4 is secondary research to follow the findings of the primary research project to discover what the golfing community, including tour professionals,  are saying about the form of teaching and learning that is based on theory following. Chapter 5 will research individuals involved in golf who have noticed and written about this problem. Chapter 6 will look into an alternative to this form of teaching and learning that the East offers and how this form coincides with what existed before knowledge and reasoning (needing a theory) took such a stranglehold on how we in the West teach and learn.

Throughout the dissertation comparisons are made to golf teaching and learning to keep the reader on track with what the arguments are discussed for.

For reasons of brevity, it should be understood that teaching and learning co-exist much in the same way as the two sides of a coin, so from hereon the use of the word ‘teaching’ should be understood to mean ‘teaching and learning’ 


In conclusion it would suggest that there is sufficient evidence, in the primary, secondary and literature research, that we in the West, like it or not, are approaching a watershed in the way that we teach and learn to play golf. That no amount of theory, rule following, forms and mannerisms will take us to that Utopian place where we will play consistently effective and enjoyable golf. The Eastern disciplines do not have an assumption that the mind and body are split and therefore perform their practices in mind and body harmony. The assumption in the West that there is a mind and body split is fatal in trying to get the mind and body to work in harmony. It is a futile activity because there is no gap to fill. In answer to the title of this dissertation, the mind body split is a problem for golf teaching. That to impose this type of approach upon newcomers to the game will more than likely develop within them an aversion to both the game and the lessons. That they will be made vulnerable to feelings of frustration, despair, loss of self-esteem, loss of self-belief, instead of being given the opportunity to develop self-belief, self-esteem, self-awareness, and confidence to do something they enjoy, well.  It is therefore extremely important that the research made in this dissertation is taken seriously if golf teaching is to become effective and more importantly survive. It is therefore recommended to any aspiring teacher or pupil that the assumption a theory is needed to make the brain work is eradicated. Once this is successfully understood and done, the teacher can support and encourage the pupil to practice and play knowing the pupil is capable of doing this in their own individual way. The teacher pupil relationship should become one of friends rather than supplier of theory and client.