Music and Dance on the Mind

There is rhythmic entrainment that is orchestrated rapport, contributing to what some refer to as a hive mind. Taken together, this is collective identity and experience, collective thought and perception in sync with collective behavior. Most of us modern Westerners never experience it, with our obsession with individual identity and activity. But in earlier societies it would have been much more common.

Over at Ribbonfarm, Sarah Perry has written about this and similar things. Her focus is on the varieties and necessities of human consciousness. The article is “Ritual and the Consciousness Monoculture“. It’s a longer piece and packed full of ideas, including an early mention of Jaynesian bicameralism.

The author doesn’t get around to discussing the above topics until about halfway into the piece. It’s in a section titled, “Hiving and Rhythmic Entrainment”. The hiving refers to Jonathan Haidt’s hive hypothesis. It doesn’t seem all that original of an understanding, but still it’s an important idea. This is an area where I’d agree with Haidt, despite my other disagreements elsewhere. In that section, Perry writes that:

Donald Brown’s celebrated list of human universals, a list of characteristics proposed to be common to all human groups ever studied, includes many entries on music, including “music related in part to dance” and “music related in part to religion.” The Pirahã use several kinds of language, including regular speech, a whistling language, and a musical, sung language. The musical language, importantly, is used for dancing and contacting spirits. The Pirahã, Everett says, often dance for three days at a time without stopping. They achieve a different consciousness by performing rituals calibrated to evoke mental states that must remain opaque to those not affected.

Musical language is the type of evidence that seems to bridge different aspects of human experience. It has been argued that language developed along with human tendencies of singing, dance, ritual movement, communal mimicry, group bonding, and other social behaviors. Stephen Mithen has an interesting theory about the singing of early hominids (The Singing Neanderthal).

That brings to mind Lynne Kelly’s book on preliterate mnemonic practices, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. Kelly goes into great detail about the practices of the Australian Aborigines with their songlines, which always reminds me of the English and Welsh beating of the bounds. A modern example of the power of music is choral singing, which research has shown to create non-conscious mimicry, physical synchrony, and self-other merging.

Eric Mankin, in the comment section of Perry’s article, mentions a book: Keeping Together in Time by  William H. McNeill. It’s about the history of coordinated rhythmic movement as collective ritual, from dances to drills. McNeill argues the important role this has played for groups, communities, and societies. He calls it “muscular bonding” because of the viscerality of the experience, as if the individuals involved physically expand into a larger sense of group-self and fellow-feeling.

It really gets me thinking. If Julian Jaynes was onto something with his bicameral mind, such things as group-oriented vocal and physical entrainment could explain how it could be possible. Not just vocalizations but voice-hearing as well might at times have had a group-oriented aspect, something hard for us to imagine.

One of the perplexing things is how could the early civilizations, lacking in much advanced technology and knowledge, have been able to build vast pyramids. Even today, it would require the most powerful cranes in the world to move the largest blocks of stone that were somehow moved into place in building those ancient structures. Obviously, there were some brilliant minds to help accomplish this, but there also must have been immense organized labor of a kind we never see in the modern world.

Strangest of all, this labor appears not to have been slavery, with no bureaucratic centralized government organizing it all or obvious physical infrastructure to make it possible. There was some kind of social commitment and obligation that compelled large numbers of people to take group action involving back-breaking, life-threatening labor toward a goal that required multiple generations to achieve.

Jaynes brings up one possibility in his book,

Another advantage of schizophrenia, perhaps evolutionary, is tirelessness. While a few schizophrenics complain of generalized fatigue, particularly in the early stages of the illness, most patients do not. In fact, they show less fatigue than normal persons and are capable of tremendous feats of endurance. They are not fatigued by examinations lasting many hours. They may move about day and night, or work endlessly without any sign of being tired. Catatonics may hold an awkward position for days that the reader could not hold for more than a few minutes. This suggests that much fatigue is a product of the subjective conscious mind, and that bicameral man, building the pyramids of Egypt, the ziggurats of Sumer, or the gigantic temples at Teotihuacan with only hand labor, could do so far more easily than could conscious self-reflective men.

If the impairment or lessening of “the subjective conscious mind” allows for impressive physical feats and stamina (along with higher pain threshold), that could explain some of the power unleashed by group rhythmic movements and vocalization. McNeill quotes A. R. Radcliffe about the Andaman islanders: “As the dancer loses himself in the dance, as he becomes absorbed in the unified community, he reaches a state of elation in which he feels himself filled with energy or force immediately beyond his ordinary state, and so finds himself able to perform prodigies of exertion” (Kindle Locations 125-126).

This is why armies can march long distances with little rest in a way that isn’t normally possible for an individual walking alone. As armies have their chants, the oarsmen on boats had their sea chanties and to similar ends. The songs of field laborers, slave or otherwise, would have served the same purpose as well. The individual, no matter how tired, is buoyed up by entrainment to a group activity.

Imagine an entire society organized along these lines. Imagine nearly all activities being done as a group and individuals rarely left alone.

That was what impressed me in reading about the early Roman Empire, as it seems that everything was a social experience, from going to the doctor to going to the bathroom. And the Roman Empire was many centuries following the hypothetical collapse of what Jaynes considered fully bicameral societies, even though traces of bicameralism apparently were still quite common at that time. A society dominated by the bicameral mind wouldn’t merely have been highly social but beyond social as identity itself wouldn’t have been individualistic. Bicameralism, according to theory, wasn’t about individuals relating for individual consciousness as we know it simply would have been nonexistent, not yet part of their sense of reality.

In singing with a choral group or marching in an army, we moderns come as close as we are able to this ancient mind. It’s always there within us, just normally hidden. It doesn’t take much, though, for our individuality to be submerged and something else to emerge. We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision:

[T]hat old time religion can be heard in the words and rhythm of any great speaker. Just listen to how a recorded speech of Martin Luther King jr can pull you in with its musicality. Or if you prefer a dark example, consider the persuasive power of Adolf Hitler for even some Jews admitted they got caught up listening to his speeches. This is why Plato feared the poets and banished them from his utopia of enlightened rule. Poetry would inevitably undermine and subsume the high-minded rhetoric of philosophers. “[P]oetry used to be divine knowledge,” as Guerini et al states in Echoes of Persuasion, “It was the sound and tenor of authorization and it commanded where plain prose could only ask.”

Poetry is one of the forms of musical language. Plato’s fear wasn’t merely about the aesthetic appeal of metered rhyme. Living in an oral culture, he would have intimately known the ever-threatening power and influence of the spoken word. Likewise, the sway and thrall of rhythmic movement would have been equally familiar in that world. Community life in ancient Greek city-states was almost everything that mattered, a tightly woven identity and experience.

We aren’t as different from ancient humanity as it might seem. Our societies have changed drastically, suppressing old urges and potentialities. Yet the same basic human nature still lurks within us, hidden in the underbrush along the well trod paths of the mind. The hive mind is what the human species naturally falls back upon, from millennia of collective habit. The problem we face is we’ve lost the ability to express well our natural predisposition toward group-mindedness, too easily getting locked into groupthink, a tendency easily manipulated.

Considering this, we have good reason to be wary, not knowing what we could tap into. We don’t understand our own minds and so we naively underestimate the power of humanity’s social nature. With the right conditions, hiving is easy to elicit but hard to control or shut down. The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism.

* * *

Musical Language
from Radiolab

Study: Music, language’s common evolutionary roots lie in emotion
by Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times

Speaking in Tones: Music and Language Partner in the Brain
by Diana Deutsch, Scientific American

“Music, Language, and the Brain” by Aniruddh D. Patel
by Barbara Tillmann, Psychomusicology Journal

330. Did Music Originate as a Behavioral Adaptation? — 1
(pt. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8)
by Victor Grauer, MUSIC 000001

Piraha Indians, Recursion, Phonemic Inventory Size and the Evolutionary Significance of Simplicity
by German Dziebel, Anthropogenesis

Musical protolanguage: Darwin’s theory of language evolution revisited
by Mark Liberman, Lanuguage Log

Music and the Neanderthal’s Communication
from PBS

Steven Mithen – The Singing Neanderthals
by Andreas Bick, silent listening

Steven Mithen: The Singing Neanderthals
by John Henry Calvinist, The New Humanities

The Singing Neanderthal
by Barbara J. King, Bookslut

The origins of music, part 2: Musilanguage
by Eugene Hirschfeld, Marxist Theory of Art

Synch, Song, and Society
by William L. Benzon, Human Nature Review

Survival Dance: How Humans Waltzed Through the Ice Age
by Heather Whipps, Live Science

Working in a team increases human pain threshold
by Ian Sample, The Guardian

Rhythm without the blues: how dance crazes make us feel a step closer
by Ian Sample, The Guardian

Synchrony and Cooperation
from Changing Minds

To like each other, sing and dance in synchrony
by Kaj Sotala, Less Wrong

It’s All in the Timing: Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Affiliation
Michael J. Hove & Jane L. Risen, Social Cognition Journal

Dance and Drill
by Erik Buys, Mimetic Margins

Moving images–Dance and repetition make your eye and heart sing, a book review
By Roberta Fallon, Artblog

Laban’s Movement Choirs vs. Nazi Soldier Parades and Propaganda Imagery: Spectacle or Gemeinschafstanz?
by Marjie Shrimpton, academia.edu

Moments of Geopolitical Choreography: Performance of Cultural Ideals in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Beyond
by Allison Bohman, The College at Brockport

Human Swarming and the future of Collective Intelligence
by Louis Rosenberg, Singularity

Ancient Greek Dance
by Michael Lahanas, Hellenica

Ancient Greek Dance
from Carnaval.com

War dances in Ancient Greece
from VSLM

One thought on “Music and Dance on the Mind

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s