IW: clinical condition in summary

In 1971 Ian Waterman was a butcher on Jersey. He was nineteen. Suddenly he went down with what seemed to be gastric flu. Within days he had collapsed and was in hospital, unable to move or feel his body. He has never regained that feeling. Ian had contracted a disease of the nervous system so rare that the doctors on Jersey were unable to diagnose it. It had destroyed all the sensory nerves responsible for conveying touch and information about muscle and joint position which is fundamental to our capacity to move. Ian thus experiences our world as if he were in space, without sensation of weight of an object or even of his own weight. And without vision, Ian does not know where his limbs are.

Without this “proprioception”, that is the inner sense of posture or limb position, movement control is severely impaired. Ian was told that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. 
But Ian was not paralysed, and he was determined that he was going to lead as normal a life as he could.

With the help of physiotherapists he discovered that he could regain control of his limbs through his eyes. So long as he could see the limbs he was moving, he could will his muscles into action and monitor the resulting movements. Doggedly, he taught himself to stand and walk, to use cutlery and a pen, to pick up mugs of tea and to gesture convincingly while talking, but each movement requires unfaltering conscious effort. Ian has confounded the predictions of the specialists. He has found ways of performing tasks that should be impossible for him. In doing so he has become an expert not only on his own anatomy and nervous system, but also on the physics of movement and space.

Years ago Ian met Jonathan Cole, a neurologist with special interest in the way the brain controls movement. Jonathan Cole recognised that for Ian to move and gesture in the way that he does, he must be controlling his motor nerves in a wholly unorthodox manner. Jonathan Cole helped Ian to understand his nervous system, meeting fellow patients, neurophysiologists, and linguists. And Ian has helped Jonathan Cole, neurophysiologists, and linguists, to understand the nervous system. 
Jonathan Cole's books, Pride and a Daily Marathon (1991, The MIT Press) and Losing touch (2016, Oxford University Press), provide many details and stories on Ian's life. 

The Man Who Lost His Body is a BBC documentary film about Ian Waterman. 
The 48 minutes long video is part of BBC's Horizon series (1998), and was directed by Chris Rawlence and produced by Emma Crichton Miller. 

Another video featuring Ian, in FRENCH, but images speak by themselves.
Proprioception & Motor Control is a 21 minutes long documentary highlighting the roles of proprioception and vision for the control of our movements. 

An artist, Andrew Dawson, on IW' missing body at the World Science Festival.