Re: Poetry in motion

Rob Clewley (
Mon, 12 Oct 1998 17:06:50 +0100 (BST)

Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 17:06:50 +0100 (BST)
From: Rob Clewley <>
Subject: Re: Poetry in motion
In-Reply-To: <>


I don't mean to mess up your message (which was a welcome change to the
norm on this discussion list recently) with technical discussion. I
just have a small point...

On Wed, 7 Oct 1998, Robert G. Grimes wrote:

> One would tend to assume that the ancient Bards, priests, chieftains, etc., who
> must move their flock with words or teach them their history and rules, etc.,
> would use the "natural" methods of music and song as was done with the Bards and
> the romans


> Thus, I felt support for Mario's thesis of the Music Acquisition Device
> preceding the Language Acquisition Device which one would presume would closely
> be associated with the oral tradition and finally with written language and
> printing, etc. Right and Left hemisphere theories seem to be at least partially
> substantiated by the phenomena sometimes observed in such things as stutterers
> being able to sing or recite poetry without a stutter. Would this not tend to
> make one believe in the precedence of music, song and oral tradition prior to
> stilted and inhibited speech finally reduced to cryptic symbology?

It certainly _seems_ that way. However, as with other arguments for
genetically-determined brain modules (e.g. Chomsky's "universal grammar"
module) it is still a distinct possibility that the only genetic
predisposition we have in these regards is to the recognition and
reproduction of "structure" in our cognition. Thus it may be that any
perceptions from which we can detect structure are more easily
remembered/reproduced -- only because humans have evolved to respond
better to patterns.

For instance, temporal pattern in nature (day/night, seasons, cycles of
prey activity in local area) is obviously very "useful" information.
There are good mathematical/philosophical insights into why the use of
repeating patterns with small fluctuations is the most efficient way to
reliably transmit information. Cognitive psychologists use "schema
theory" to describe the mind's apparent organisation of information,
beliefs, perceptions, etc.

Some of those natural patterns are so basic to our biology they are
obviously hard-wired. And somewhere in the middle ground, birds clearly
make use of "music-like" patterns in their song in a more or less
"instinctive" fashion. But at the level at which humans can perceive
structures in perception and reproduce patterns in action (perhaps in
the form of relatively context-independent associative brain modules)
the power and deep-rooted use of that module may turn out to be largely
sufficient to account for our original disposition towards music and
rhyme. Cf. the almost immediate memetic factors that get involved in
those behaviours once they have originated.

No doubt modern theories of music have some of the same premises??

We may therefore be more "susceptible" (to use Dan Sperber's term) to
the memorisation of any perceptual patterns, as some form of side-effect
(no value judgement intended!). This would be helped especially by
additional factors like "motivation" as part of a particular social

So I guess there might already be a reason for what I agree appears to
be the _precedence_ of music and song prior to more cryptic patterns of

> All of this prompted in me the very organic feelings of the history of our
> species and our evolutionary and societal past. There was sort of a
> phylogenetic thread throughout the proceedings that made me feel akin to
> generations of those bards, griots, priests and parents who have historically
> sung their past histories, beliefs and aspirations to their tribe, associates
> and children. The very wholesomeness of the gatherings, the music, the tone,
> the stirring words and phrases filled us with a common feeling of joining in a
> celebration of our kind, our beauty, our ideals, our future.
> So much of our poetry represents true memetic constructs. We tingle, our
> neurotransmitters respond with timeless stimulation, our senses are in some way
> syncopated, harmonious, and transcend the banal and the orthodox. We share in
> our common past and our current being.
> I hope that you, too, feel the connection between what we do here with memetics
> and discussion and the ancient, timeless past we all share....
> Cordially,
> Bob

..... absolutely. It's nice to see some uncynical and "positive" (man)
comments on this list occasionally, as well as the heavy, critical stuff
we normally get tied up in knots with -- although I admit sometimes it's
important :).



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