Category Archives: music

A change to the scientific agenda

Many practitioners of science have uncritically sought to provide the view from nowhere. This, it is widely agreed, is not something that can be delivered.

An alternative and more attractive overarching ambition is to be the voice from no one.

Logos gives us the notion of an impersonal order, but never as far from us as the elements of the Grand Unified Theory sought in physics. Logos is word of law, both conventional and natural. Positivist science has failed to recognise our own involvement in its being.

Rhema is uttering. In the act, the subject arises, and the goal is to move from disjoint, local agents who bicker, towards the facilitation of joint uttering, jointly bringing into being. Rhema is an act of creation, as the appearance from nowhere of a positron and an electron. Being necessarily has a complementary character. It is not the insistence of one being over another.

And in speaking together, all the beauty of music lies before us as models.

Thinking about Perception and Action

In my current draft of “On the Origin of the Phenomenal” [A manuscript elsewhere], I am at pains to claim that the P-world of present experience arises based on a bedrock of the perception-action relation, which is heavily mediated and embedded in time through the nervous system.

Part of the supporting argumentation stems from the good offices of Ecological Psychology, in which lawfulness in the Perception/Action relation is a major concern. The paradigmatic case of diving gannets seeks to relate overt action (wing folding) to the energetic flux on the receptor surface. Similar concerns arise in the entire literature on affordance, in Turvey’s pendulum work, Bingham’s hefting, etc etc. The swaying room of Lisker and Lee is my favourite illustration.

But this claim is not going to reach many people who are not already familiar with the kind of lawfulness uncovered in such circles. The terms “Perception” and “Action” are loaded, and induce all kinds of unwanted and unwarranted associations in most readers.

“Perception” is probably being misapplied egregiously, not least by myself. We talk of perceiving when we discover events, things, and contingencies in our immediate environment. We perceive chairs, car crashes, storms, the misery and joy of others, and in talking of these remarkable feats, we label them, making use of a rich categorization scheme populated with uncontroversial categories such as chairs, car crashes, storms, misery, joy, and others. All of these are uncontroversial because they do fine service in our daily intercourse. We have language precisely because we can then use such terms efficiently, facilitating our mutual behavioral coordination, and getting on with the more pressing business of reaching our several goals. But for my purposes, in which I am considering the epistemological position of an abstract organism, O, in an abstract environment, E, we can not rely on any such categorization scheme. As argued elsewhere, we see chairs, …., others precisely because of the kind of thing we are, and not because there are chairs and others in some unobserved, objective, world.

Furthermore, the lawfulness to which I allude, is not rooted in a rich category structure like this. Rather, the lawfulness obtains between the informative flux at the sensory surfaces of an organism, and its attendant (not consequent) movement. (We will get to action in a minute.) It would be tedious to write “the physical, chemical, energetic gradients and their derivatives expressed at the sensory receptive surfaces separating the spatial domain of the organism, O, from its surrounding environment, E” all the time. This information (predicated upon the constitution, organization and capacity to act of the organism) is the “perception” end of that lawful relation that is the bedrock of experience. Without this information, there would be no perception. Calling it “sensation” does not help, but instead threatens to drag the discussion back to the 19th Century.

May that stand as a caveat for the term “Perception”. Now to “Action”.

As with perception, the term “Action” has many associations, and the word serves many functions, not all of which are required here. Although not as problematic as the previous case, there are pitfalls to be avoided. The main one lies in the presumption of intentionality, agency and goal-directedness. None of these are required. By “Action”, I mean observable movement. Even calling it “behavior” buys into a huge set of associations of plans, goals, and other mental constructs that have no place yet in the emerging vocabulary. Agency is the most problematic of these lurking assumptions, and relinquishing the notion of agency will be difficult as the discussion proceeds.

But one can not remain divorced from every day usage for ever. Somehow, it is necessary to build bridges back to our terms of convention, and our familiar situation. As we consider more complex explanation of more complex organisms, with nervous systems embedded in time, we will find it increasingly seductive to think of sensory information as input, and behavior as output. No matter how much we may be convinced that this is suspect, it is ingrained in our language. And as we do, the story being told will morph gradually until the organism seems to acquire goals, plans, and a stubborn independence of will. With that, the separation of organism from nature is complete, and we have reconstructed the duality we set out to banish. But hopefully we will remain conscious of the imitations of any account couched in such terms.

One of my main goals is to illustrate how to conceive of man as inseparable from his world. Our conventional linguistic habits introduce the tragic separation, even in consideration of the simplest of animals.

The lunatics are in the house

Most psychotics are harmless.  Lucky people get to be psychotic without harm.  Musicians do. Music is psychosis without the pain.  Best really listened to alone. But there is a serious point to this.  If there is continuity between the suffering psychotic and the happy psychotic, and both rest on an altered equilibrium between the endogenous dynamic and the exogenous one, then we could learn more by studying the felicitous ones.  Are there mirrors there when they are enjoying themselves?  Do advertisements inhibit enjoyment? What role do the various visible evidences of other similarly constituted dynamics give? It is a huge imaginative step to try to imagine a P-world that is not subjected to the influence of endogenous and exogenous dynamics.  It can’t really be done.  But recognizing this boundary does not rob the individual of autonomy.  Because there is no I in a P-world.  There, there is a boundary that marks the subject-object divide.  It has to do with nervous systems.  It is the mediation between perception and action.   Perhaps here is a way to reconcile personal and public.  The altered equilibrium referred to above is morally neutral. By studying the interface in the happy and the sad lunatics, we will learn more.  The word lunatic is about to get a new definition.  p.s. I now feel silly for thinking badly of people who listen to music in the background while they work.  There is no background.  No foreground either.  Experience is a shape shifter.  This was written along with some excellent Russian modern classical tones.

Addendum, over a year later, I stumble upon this in Charles McCreery’s work:


Found here.

Bring on armageddon!

The Church of the Stone Pharisee demands belief in the rationality of the lunatic.  The ‘delusions’ are none such, but result from a specific relationship between the P-world of an individual and those around him.  They often are being controlled by the ideas.  In hearing voices, they are merely being aware of some of the stuff going on in nervous systems (that annoying repetitive tune: do you own it?).  No wonder its confusing, and the stories come out peculiarly.  Therein lies the lack of the self: the P-world has lost some of its autonomy.

In this regard, I am highly amused to see that that gloriously batty compser, Alexander Scriabin, described Stravinsky as “Apostle” to the “Latin reactionaries”.  I have no ideas who these Latin reactionaries are, and I suspect that they do not constitute a natural kind. Scriabin was entirely incoherent, and that is interesting, because he was standing at an interesting point. He was immersed in a sea of cultural currents, and he dreamed of multimedia performance (Scriabin was a VJ long before there were VJs).  He was probably also a synaesthetic. He had tics as a child and was known for not sitting still (Children, pay heed!).

Before he died, runour has it that he was working on a big light and music job, to be played in the Himalays.  Once played, in the right setting, it would bring on Armageddon.  Anybody fancying having a go?  I’d love to try it out.


Gibson thought the world of ‘resonance’, but he never cared to define it, nor could he have. It is intuitively appealing. A dynamic, resonant character to … experience. But it bears thinking of a little more literally. The graveyard of fools, I am well aware. A tune that resonates. Popcorn. Who owns it? I can objectify it, but it is still within this weird privileged world of subjective experience. Things in there typically ‘are’ me. They are not objectifiable.

But hold on. I can objectify that tune.  In fact, my difficulty in stopping it at will is proof (!) that I can objectifiy it.  It is not part of me.  But it is unquestionably an activity, a behavior, of my nervous system.  A resonance.  A real phenomenon, transmitted between P-worlds.  A part of subjective experience that is not really so personal, but has a shared quality.  A repeating echo, faltering from one repetition to the next, but always playing out in real unreal time.