|A book by|
William H. Calvin
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON 98195-1800 USA
The Cerebral Symphony|
Seashore Reflections on the
Structure of Consciousness
Copyright ©1989 by William H. Calvin.
You may download this for personal reading but may not redistribute or archive without permission (exception: teachers should feel free to print out a chapter and photocopy it for students).
The Trilogy of Homo seriatim:
Language, Consciousness, and Music
[All] thinking is metaphorical, except mathematical thinking.... What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative values: you don't know the metaphor in its strength and its weaknesses. You don't know how far you may expect to ride it and when it may break down with you. You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history....
All metaphor breaks down somewhere. That is the beauty of it. It is touch and go with the metaphor, and until you have lived with it long enough you don't know when it is going.the American poet Robert Frost
When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality.... And what we call talent or perhaps genius itself depends to a large extent on the ability to use one's memory properly to find the analogies... essential to the development of new ideas.the Polish mathematician Stanislaw M. Ulam
Music and poetry may hold some clues about the sequencer machinery, simply because there has probably been little natural selection in their favor. Through music, we might be able to see the sequencer less obscured by the streamlining adaptations that interfere with our view if we attempt to study it via the peculiarities of ever-useful speech and planning.
Did the precise hammering of our common ancestor with the chimpanzee, as it cracked open tough nuts, make possible the throwing skills of prehumans? Did more accurate throwing, and its rewards in terms of hunting success, shape up an even better neural "sequencer"? Did language "borrow" that sequencer in the off-hours (we still stop speaking when we get set to throw accurately)? Does music borrow it now when it isn't needed for either throwing or speaking? Do we use it to spin a scenario, as when we attempt to explain the past or forecast the future? Does it account for our self-consciousness as we see ourselves poised at the intersection of two plausible scenarios, choosing between different futures? Is it the stuff that dreams are made of? Such are the possibilities created by the brain's multifunctional cells and circuits: they almost seem to specialize in sidesteps, the sequence-related sidesteps being the most recent and the most central to our humanity. It's a very different view of the evolution of our big brain than the usual bigger-is-smarter-is-better notions. As I said in The River that Flows Uphill,From such an evolutionary ratchet jacking up brain size, there arose unbidden our own brain of unbounded potential. From basketball to tennis, this mosaic brain expresses its ancient pleasure in precisely timing a sequence. Transcending its origins, our brain can now create novel sequences using grammar and music. Blind to our foundations, we nonetheless created poetry and reason; with a clearer footing, we can perhaps contemplate how our enlarged consciousness evolved and is evolving.We invented language without any understanding of the neural machinery underlying it. Yet think of what happened to transportation in the wake of understanding Newton's physics (from carts to trains, planes, and space shuttles), or to communication in the wake of our nineteenth century understanding of electricity and magnetism (from letters to our satellite-based telephone network), or to medicine once the circulation of the blood and the role of microscopic organisms were appreciated (from purging to physiologically-based neurosurgery for Parkinsonism). Once we establish a nearly-correct explanation for our thinking and language machinery, we should see a great augmentation in our capabilities as the principles become incorporated into our educational philosophy and into the ergonomic design of our machinery. "Rationality" will take on a whole new meaning, and musical composition will flourish as more people become capable of Bach-like mental agility.
Parallel trains of thought [are the] necessary heirs of every action, [and are] always running on in mind.MY DARWIN MACHINES METAPHOR is based on a strong analogy to the Darwinian Two-Step. This is the biological dance of randomness then selection, back and forth. Its many injections of randomness are usually by the gene shuffling that occurs during crossing over, as sperm and ova are made; we understand the gene shuffling that goes on in the immune response less well, but it's a similar setup. This achieves a very nonrandom-looking result because of the power of selection effected by an environment full of predators and pathogens, opportunities and obstacles. There are many serially coded individuals (DNA strings in the genome, amino-acid strings in antibodies, movement sequences in behavior) existing simultaneously in parallel -- but most are nonsense when graded by the "environment."Charles Darwin, M Notebook, 1838
To evaluate Darwin Machines as the possible off-line planner, we must briefly consider a topic that philosophers find daunting: the problem of value. For throwing plans, memories of closely-similar situations might cause a candidate to be rated 9+, while other situations (such as throwing while perched on a tree branch) might have few similar elements in memory and so no proposal receives more than a 4. One can imagine quantifying the elements of the problem (distance, height difference, wind, rock size, target size, etc.) separately and summing up. But for other sequential tasks such as scenario-spinning and language, how does one assign a value to a possible scenario, so that one can rate a scenario as "better" than another? And eventually find the "best"?
Grading is a procedure presumably analogous to the economist's utility functions, essentially dimensionless numbers assigned to various elements of the problem (not unlike the way that sensations can be graded by guessing where it falls on a scale of 0 to 10) and then summed up as if they were "costs" or "revenues" of some factory:
You're halfway down the stairs of your apartment building when a thought occurs: you've forgotten your umbrella.... You glance at your watch and recall the subway schedule. The neural circuits that are dealing with weather award 9 points to the possibility of rain. The likelihood of missing the subway is given an 8.... Perhaps there is a dial that controls fear of being late; turn it from 5 to 7. Perhaps this new signal would swing the decision the other way, in favor of forgetting about the umbrella. Or lower the level on another dial that controls one's aversion to rain.The point is that you can make your imaginary computer as complex as you like, adding dials to control any number of characteristics, making the gradations on the dials as fine as you please, programming the entire system to base its decisions on many times more data. Maybe that's not how the mind works. But it begins to look as though it could be modeled that way, if the simulation were fine enough.We're actually very good at making relative judgments, comparing two sounds or two lights or two tastes and saying what their relative "strength" is. S. S. Stevens and co-workers established a series of power-law relationships for such subjective rating scales in the 1950's.the American science journalist George Johnson, 1986
You can use these subjective ratings to compare unlike things, even guns and butter. For some people, an apple is worth 0.73 oranges. The economists in particular are always equating things for planning purposes, even outrageous things such as the "cost" of a worker's life (they are not, of course, proposing exchanges, only trying to establish true costs of building bridges and the like). Consumer organizations rating products are likely to award so many points for this, so many for that feature, so many for relative price, etc. To plan for the future, architects generate alternative scenarios and grade them according to subjective "liking." Environmental impact statements always list alternatives to the favored one, with their advantages and disadvantages; frequently, the public rates the alternatives quite differently than the planners.
Except for lacking the random shuffling and the Darwinian Two-Step, the economists' model of rational planning sounds rather like my model for mind:[There are] four principal components of the [Subjective Expected Utility] model: a cardinal utility function [that can assign a cardinal number as a measure of one's liking of any scenario of events in the future], an exhaustive set of alternative strategies, a probability distribution of scenarios for the future associated with each strategy, and a policy of maximizing expected utility.Of course, the "exhaustive set" and the expectation of a unique, optimal solution is where the economists got into trouble with this otherwise fine idea (which Simon calls "one of the most impressive intellectual achievements of the first half of the twentieth century. It is an elegant machine for applying reason to problems of choice"). What economists perhaps have not realized is that successive rounds of shaping up and additional injections of randomness can solve the problem -- as evolution demonstrates (just substitute "fitness" for "utility").the American computer scientist Herbert A. Simon, 1983
ATTENTION CAN WANDER, sometimes being loose (as when daydreaming at the beach), sometimes being fairly well focused (as in trying to decide between known alternatives), and sometimes being tightly focused (as when one "gets set" to throw). That makes it look as if the process of shaping up a population of sequencers can be held at various levels. To what does this correspond in the original darwinism?
In the Random Thoughts Mode exemplified by nocturnal dreams (and also daydreams), the valuation scheme is episodically changing, e.g., boredom and novelty. One never progresses to near-clones, as might happen if we maintained attention long enough; when we "become interested" in something new, as when the story line in a dream shifts, we also change "grading criteria" and set about trying to make some sense out of the scenario on another track. It is not unlike the child "at the top of the class" changing every day of the week as the teacher's tests switch from emphasizing spelling on Monday to emphasizing American history on Tuesday, to science on Wednesday, etc. If the teacher got stuck in a rut, as used to happen when a spelling bee stimulated competition, then the leaders of the pack are shaped up by the competition -- but to the neglect of other subject matter.
The Variations-on-a-theme Mode would be where attention mechanisms keep the valuation scheme fairly constant, but still drift around enough to maintain variation, keeping a pure clone from taking over. Because of the drift in climate (if not continents!), biological evolution seldom progresses to a pure clone, except via the artificial selection practiced by laboratory rat breeders trying to produce a strain with minimal variability. "Making up one's mind" might only require a majority of the tracks achieving the same string, not nearly all of them. Pathological processes such as worry might correspond to an inability to break out of such a tightly focussed mode: no new string ever has a chance to become good enough to outscore an existing one.
But when does the cerebral choir gang into lockstep to "sing a Hallelujah Chorus"? What in the consciousness version of darwinism might the Choral Mode correspond to? It, after all, is what would seem to be under the severe selection pressure during evolution, since it should be so helpful in making a regular living as a hunter. What in speech or scenario-spinning consciousness corresponds to the ganged-into-lockstep phase? The Choral Mode would be much closer to a real clone than a simple majority: everyone is singing the same "Hallelujah" as close to the "same time" as they can manage. But you probably only achieve such an ultimate state of affairs by "concentrating very hard" and excluding anything that might "distract" you from the task and cause you to value something else more for awhile. Both biological evolution and the immune system seem to value variety, and so a clone takeover isn't often seen.
But there are special circumstances, and they are particularly instructive. When rabbits were imported into Australia, there was a big population explosion based on the genes of the "founder population" that arrived by ship from England. The same thing happens naturally when an insect, carried away from the mainland by the wind or a piece of driftwood, comes to rest on an island -- and discovers that it has no competitors for the food and no predators either. If the insect happens to be a pregnant female, then just one individual's fortuitous arrival can set the stage for a population explosion, and each of them will have gene sequences as similar as in siblings. The Indians of North and South America could be descendants of a relatively closely related tribe which arrived at a virgin continent and expanded over 500 generations.
So shifting attention in our mental life seems analogous to the fluctuating environment that constantly changes what is valued. If selection is also weak, as when a new niche is discovered or a conversion of function has invented a new way of making a living, a lot of different sequences may be pursued at once; in Random Thoughts Mode, the "top dog" is constantly switching around, mostly because nothing achieves a very high score. I suspect that the reason our dreams are so changeable is the same reason that they are so absurd: checking candidate sequences against memory sequences doesn't work very well, and so scores are never very high; nothing gets shaped up very far before something else takes over the lead.
When efficiency is valued because the ecosystem has settled down enough to make competition between individuals more important, then some shaping up occurs -- but the environment drifts a little faster than evolution can track it, and so there remain lots of deviant sequences in Variation-on-a-theme Mode. But extreme concentration is rare in behavior, probably because it can cause you to be "blindsided"; flying instructors, for example, are careful to teach student pilots to always be looking around for other planes even after they've spotted one (many a pilot has let another plane approach unnoticed while his attention was riveted on a known threat).
When something extraordinary about the environment (such as the total lack of predators or competitors) and something unusual about the circumstances (such as a small founder population) set the stage, then you can wind up with near-uniformity. And the same may be true of the Choral Mode of that Darwin Machine inside our heads when it encounters an unusual set of memories in an unusual setting: The idée fixe? The person with the "one track mind"? The obsessive? The worrier? The person with perfect pitch? The baseball pitcher? It will be interesting to look at some of the correlates of synchrony in the electroencephalogram in such people to explore this new possibility for modeling brain processes.
MAKING UP A SENTENCE to speak is obviously one aspect of this scheme for consciousness. It is sometimes said that when we begin to speak a sentence, we seldom know how the sentence is going to end, certainly not if the utterance is more than a half-dozen words long. But even a half-dozen items would be a long sequence in the study of ape abilities with sign languages. In order to look at the word substitution aspects, it is convenient to start a discussion of word sequencing by restricting ourselves to just a pair of words, a darwinian marshaling yard for two-car trains. Naming horses may seem an idiosyncratic introduction to the language uses of Darwin Machines but it avoids the elaborate sequential aspect of Darwin Machines while retaining its other properties.
So suppose we are horse breeders trying to name a new colt or filly. Their registered names tend to be compounds like "Incredible Nevele" or "Lumber Along." The idea is to combine the names of sire and dam in some way -- they don't have to be exact copies of a word from the name, but merely suggest something similar. For example:
Sometimes preference is given to one parent because of its racing record being so much better. And it's easy to see how a Darwin Machine could generate alternative horse names, using the synonyms and associations of each word, how the Darwin Machine could eliminate candidates by using utility scores based on racing times as well as information about how frequently the candidate words appear in juxtaposition in English usage. Take the lower right set of parents, "Star's Pride" and "Lumber Along." Star might suggest planet, famous, nova, meteor, starlet; lumber might suggest timber, trees, saplings, willows, etc. And so "Lumber Starlet." Combined with "Speedy Crown" and synonyms, it could lead to "Limber Lumber," or simply "Sapling."
But what kind of neural circuits can take the assigned values of tracks in the marshaling yard, compare them, and announce a winner? Find "the best"? This turns out to be an easy problem, given all of those lateral inhibition circuits that are so plentiful everywhere we look in the brain. A cell in an array with a larger output than all others will inhibit its neighbors more strongly than they inhibit it. And so the natural differences between "better" and "best" are exaggerated. The outcome is reminiscent of the Matthew Principle (the richer get richer), though the result is achieved by the dynamics of a network (even simpler mechanisms can also produce a matthewist result). With suitable tuning of inhibitory strengths between neighbors, one can almost get all-or-nothing results -- though a series of lateral inhibitory stages probably provides better stability (protection against wild oscillations and locking up) than would a single stage tuned so critically.
SENTENCES ARE MORE COMPLICATED than thoroughbred names, but Darwin Machines are also fancier than the limited one- or two-word sequence machinery needed for naming horses. Nouns may stand for some perceptual schema, but, unless a verb and its object are implied (as when your mother calls you, using your first and middle names!), a stand-alone noun isn't much of a message. But the trains that Darwin Machines shape up can be sentences, a string with an actor, an action, and the object of the action, etc.
Your basic everyday message is a clause, a noun with a predicate added. A typical predicate is a verb (generally a stand-in for a movement program, such as "come") plus objects of the verb (such as "here") and modifiers to the verb (such as "quickly"). Most of these may be omitted when a short form develops through frequent use: "You come here quickly" can be shortened in many ways, and voice inflections used to substitute for some words. Adjectives allow us to describe states of being, such as "happy" or "old" or "tall."
A sequence of clauses making a sentence may tell quite a story, first one action-action-object and then another. Clauses and sentences usually get us into word order considerations, as most languages utilize position within the phrase as a indicator of which noun is the subject, which the object -- as in the simple English declarative sentence's subject-verb-object ("You come here") word order. Verbs are the easiest words to identify, probably because they're "movement schemas"; then it's a matter of identifying the role played by the other words. Pretty soon you've made a reasonable model for the actors and actions intended by the speaker of the sentence -- in that you could rephrase the sentence, perhaps in another language, and have it come out correctly. Or, even more directly, you could carry out the suggestion-command-whatever yourself, such as "coming here."
That's a Darwin Machine interpretation of what happens when you're trying to decode a received message. What about coding a message for transmission, i.e., deciding what to say next? A model for planning a clause to speak could be very similar to naming horses, grading each randomly assembled train by the rules of syntax and by the individual's memories of similar verbal situations. The highest-ranked train might be kept and the rest shuffled with the rest of the deck (in the extreme, all the words of one's vocabulary, but usually just a subset of words recently used or strongly linked to other current elements). With many rounds of shuffling, the highest-ranked train will be shaped up to better and better approximations of a plan suitable to the situation. While remembered environments are less detailed than real ones, this off-line simulation and testing operates in milliseconds-to-seconds rather than the centuries-to-millennia of biological speciation.
So sequencers for an animal's ballistic movements might be capable of being borrowed for making up plans and sentences. Can this be done without modifications to the ballistic buffers, or might we expect hominid success in planning and talking to modify the planning buffers with a number of secondary structures to insure entailment or grammar? Fortunately, there may be some uses of the sequencing machinery that are so lacking in evolutionary usefulness that we might be able to "see" the underlying machinery without a lot of adaptive overlay. Four-part harmony and contrapuntal techniques may help illuminate the structure of the serial buffer ensemble, the exact shapes of the branching pattern of that marshaling yard in our heads.Song is the noblest, the most intimate, the most complete manner of self-expression known to mankind, and in the last analysis self-expression is the great thing for which mankind is ever searching. As the power to express grows, so the higher ideals of life develop and the greatest and most subtle influences which make for culture come to have full sway.
There comes into every life a time when the inner self can no longer be reached by things from without, when the soul craves that which it can supply to itself alone. Song then becomes not only a source of forgetfulness of material things and a solace, but also an inspiration.the American voice coach Oscar Saenger, 1915
THE WOODS HOLE CANTATA gives its one performance of the year tonight in the Church of the Messiah, after weeks of evening practice at MBL. They're doing Bach's Mass in F followed after an intermission by his Magnificat in D.
The orchestra and chorus of 65 fill the front of this small church with its peaked mahogany ceiling. Hundreds of people from the scientific community fill every pew and corner, sit in every aisle and doorway. There is one hazard of making notes like these about the church and the performance -- they might be read aloud to next year's gathering. Which is exactly what happened tonight, while they were passing the offering plate, to Gerald Weissman's opening chapter of his book of science essays taking their name from this event, The Woods Hole Cantata. The people sitting in the aisles laughed uproariously at being described as "limber postdocs." And one could not help but compare his description of the church interior (the "trim, no-nonsense bearing of its nautical setting: Bright timber work, well-hewn pews, and high brass") with the real thing. Writers are usually spared this indignity; if anyone reads my descriptions of the Grand Canyon aloud while at the spot, I hope not to be around to hear. But Weissman so nicely captured the feeling of the occasion that I shall have to quote him.
The audience -- relatives, friends, coworkers, students -- fills the hall with the tribal buzz and chatter that one hears at class reunions or graduations. The air is laced with pizzicati of nervous laughter that I recognize from my children's first recitals at music school or their undergraduate recitals. As the performers file in, I look about at the community gathered here. One can identify embryologists whose winter habitats range from Hawaii to Naples, biochemists from Northwestern to Stony Brook, physiologists from Seattle to the Cambridges, physicians from Duarte to Lund.... [Tonight] we are all en famille to celebrate the ancient ritual of music in concert.
Many of the musicians, and most of the audience, are making their once-a-year appearance in church with this evening of music. Quite a few scientists in my acquaintance are accomplished musicians who had to make a difficult choice between continuing their musical careers and their scientific careers. And so the weeks of practice for this night are a joy to such scientists, a chance to exercise their considerable skills once more. My choral career evaporated, alas, when my voice changed, but performances in church still have a special quality for me from having once been on the other side, singing Latin words that I didn't understand.
The pews and aisles were packed by the time I arrived. But I have, arguably, the best seat in the house: A commanding view, excellent acoustics, room to stretch my legs during the concert, and I can even imitate conducting the chorus because I am out of sight at the rear of the church and few people will see me. There is only one slight drawback: One dares not fall asleep, under penalty of falling one floor and landing in the cellar below, undoubtedly with a great crash. I have the window sill above the cellar stairs, and I am wedged in, thanks to a mountain climbing technique known as chimney bridging that I last used at Matkatamiba in the Grand Canyon. But there isn't the usual danger of becoming drowsy: I also have an excellent supply of fresh air, because the window is open. During pauses, I can hear it softly raining outdoors.
Much of the great music is church music, written to celebrate the faith and attract others to it. And so here with the Mass in F we have one of Bach's "Missae breve", descended from the Gregorian chants of the medieval Catholic Church, written for Lutheran services in Leipzig in the early eighteenth century, sung in a nineteenth-century Episcopal church on Cape Cod by and for a collection of late-twentieth-century scientists who would explain the world in very different terms from those used by many church goers.
Yet science is descended from the same roots as the philosophy of Bach and Handel; Newton surely considered himself to be attempting to understand deeply his Creator's works. In most cultures, there is little distinction between religion-philosophy-science; even in Western civilization, they were all one subject until only a few centuries ago, when religious and natural philosophy split apart, the former becoming theology and the latter again splitting in the last century to become science and what we now call philosophy. The scientists of Bach's time surely considered church music their music, not that of another tradition.
But music is music: It can stand by itself, transcending the centuries independent of rational and irrational beliefs about other things. No one really approaches modern religion like the proverbial cultural anthropologist from outer space ("But they organize all their good deeds around this gruesome symbol of torture, and their highest ritual is play acting cannibalism, and they constantly reaffirm their own version of what in other cultures they call magic and animism. They seem to expect members to check their brains at the church-house door!"). Yet cultures cannot simply start over fresh with a new vocabulary and new traditions untainted by past enthusiasms and misunderstandings; it is simply too easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, religions rationalize the past in various ways and go on from there with the real business: relieving suffering and building hope and advancing understanding. The philosophers and scientists have merely become the understanding specialists over the last several centuries. But if we've left some of the excess baggage and comforting rituals behind, we still revere the music.
And I think that musical forms will have a lot to teach us about our brains. Folksinger Bill Crowfoot observes that children in many cultures, speaking many languages, still all use the musical form known as a "minor third" to harass their siblings:Nyah-nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.The first few notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, G-G-G-Eflat, probably sound like "Thus, Fate knocks at the door" (or is it Kate?) in many cultures. The more elaborate forms of the Magnificat may not be as universal -- but still, they resonate. Some tunes (which the Germans call Ohrwurm, or "ear worm") seem to spread through the population like the latest respiratory infection. Why? Is there some niche in our brains, created by the language we speak, that predisposes us to certain melodies?The robin red-breast sings in a loud clear voice in order to keep other robin red-breasts away from the bit of territory that it is on. But except for singing in the morning in the shower, I have never known a human being to utter sounds for this purpose.the English mathematician Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974)
Music is nothing but unconscious arithmetic... Music is pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.the German mathematician G. W. Leibnitz (1646-1716)
Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light.MUSIC IS ONE OF OUR GREAT evolutionary puzzles. It demonstrates nicely the inadequacy of evolution by adaptation to explain some of our abilities. The anthropologists periodically suggest that musical abilities were evolved because of their usefulness, that they are an adaptation to social life, with music "soothing the savage breast," or some such explanation.the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
I'd concede some effect, especially since the chimpanzee "rain dance" has been shown to play a role in dominance displays (though that typically leads to sexual selection, not natural selection) -- but I cannot imagine how four-part harmony evolved, nor the abilities to weave the elaborate counter-melodies of Bach that seem to echo in my head. Maybe my imagination is simply inadequate to the task, but I'll bet that music is going to turn out to be a secondary use of some neural structure selected for its usefulness in some serial-timing task like language or throwing -- and used in the off-hours for music.
If we come to understand why Bach's brain still speaks so compellingly to our brains today, we will have bridged the gap between primary evolutionary adaptations and the magnificent secondary uses that can be made of the same brain machinery. Music is an emergent property, unless someone can figure out how a lilting aria and a choral fugue and an arpeggio were shaped up by survival-sensitive adaptations. The program notes [attributed to "Senza Sordino" -- a pseudonym which turns out to be an Italian musical phrase that translates to "without muting; with the loud pedal"!] for tonight's performance of the Mass in F and the Magnificat demonstrate some of the musical features that tickle our brains:
...the final "kyrie eleison" is composed as a counterfugue -- that is, each thematic entry is answered by its inversion. In the further course of the movement, Bach makes use of the contrapuntal techniques of stretto, parallel voice-leading, and mirror inversions of themes.
As the fugal chorus builds to a climax, each voice enters one note higher than its predecessor; and the repetition of this device gives the impression of an endless succession of voices....
The phrase mente cordis sui calls forth an astounding harmonic progression, suggesting, in the course of some nine measures, D-major, F-sharp-minor, F-sharp-major, B-minor, D-minor, and, finally, D-major, the first trumpet bringing everyone back to the home key with a descending scale passage and trill that haunts the dreams of every trumpeter.
Though musical tastes vary with the culture in which one is raised (and I am sure that some enterprising student will eventually do a Ph.D. dissertation on how a culture's musical structure is related to its language's grammatical structure), it seems likely that there will be a "deep structure" of music with a biological basis in the brain, just as a brain basis has been inferred for the deep grammar of languages. What is it about our brains that so disposes them to the minor third and to complex musical patterns, despite the lack of evolutionary adaptations for such musical patterns?
Though this question is seldom asked, I am sure that the standard answer would be the tie with language: Both music and language are sequences of sounds where recognizing patterns is all-important. Chords are simultaneous notes just as phonemes are; tunes are chains of chords just as words and sentences are chains of phonemes. And so natural selection for language abilities would, pari passu, gain us musical abilities as a secondary use of the same neural machinery. Maybe so. But the notion of stochastic sequencing on many parallel tracks as the key element of "get set" in ballistic movements suggests that both language and music are potentially secondary uses of the neural machinery for ballistic skills, that music might have more to do with modern-day baseball than modern-day prose.
The program notes end with:Gloria Patri, gloria Filio, gloria et Spiritui sancto! Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper in saecula. Amen. ("Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.")There are many aspects of human brains that would vie for a trilogy if anyone tried to pick the three focal aspects of our humanity. Surely if one's criteria were traits whose improvements would help us survive the next century, the mental attitudes controlling cooperation, conflict resolution, and family size (all likely to be strongly shared with our primate cousins) would surely rank high.
The Latin translator adds to Mary's "hymn" the traditional invocation of the Trinity. (It does not occur in St. Luke). Bach cannot resist the musical symbolism of triplets in the three invocations, to represent the tripartite nature of the Trinity, and a return of the opening music at the end, taking his cue from, "As it was in the beginning...". But the musical return serves aesthetics as well as theology, making a perfectly satisfying close to one of the most perfect and satisfying works of the choral literature.
But if one focuses on the primary traits via which we differ from the apes in an order-of-magnitude way, you can wind up with a curious trio: language, scenario-spinning consciousness, and music -- three aspects of sequential patterns in our brains. Their beginnings are still dimly seen, but in their elaboration may lie the higher humanity.We are evidently unique among species in our symbolic ability, and we are certainly unique in our modest ability to control the conditions of our existence by using these symbols. Our ability to represent and simulate reality implies that we can approximate the order of existence and bring it to serve human purposes. A good simulation, be it a religious myth or scientific theory, gives us a sense of mastery over our experience. To represent something symbolically, as we do when we speak or write, is somehow to capture it, thus making it one's own. But with this approximation comes the realization that we have denied the immediacy of reality and that in creating a substitute we have but spun another thread in the web of our grand illusion.the American physicist Heinz Pagels, 1988
Out of the great Heraclitean flux of evolutionary process, certain eddies and backwaters of the stream have been picked out for special attention. As a result, the two great stochastic processes [gene shuffling in reproduction and random trial and error in thought] have been partly ignored. Even professional biologists have not seen that in the larger view, evolution is as value-free and as beautiful as the dance of Shiva, where all of beauty and ugliness, creation and destruction, are expressed or compressed into one complex symmetrical pathway.the American anthropologist Gregory Bateson, 1979
|The Cerebral Symphony (Bantam 1989) is my book on animal and human consciousness, using the setting of the Marine Biological Labs and Cape Cod.||AVAILABILITY is limited.