Re: Poetry in motion

Robert G. Grimes (
Tue, 13 Oct 1998 14:48:01 -0400

Date: Tue, 13 Oct 1998 14:48:01 -0400
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
To:, Robert Clewley <>
Subject: Re: Poetry in motion

Rob Clewley wrote:

> Bob,
> 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...
> Snip

> 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.

Even if "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. " this is the reason I would have no
problem with calling the apparatus that recognizes pattern and/or structure as
something resembling the phylogenetic evidence of a "language acquisition device," as,
regardless of the terminology, it is the same in the end. An evolved ability to
automatically parse sounds into word structures (regardless of language) on the part
of children so as to enable them to quickly learn and reproduce language sans certain
errors of construction that would occur if they were simply mimicking others. The
"creative" portion where they can assemble separately learned symbology into new,
never previously heard, creations of language, both making "sense," etc., and
construction of original nature, as noted by Chomsky, is similar.

So, what ever it is, that is what I have reference to, our language biological
heritage. Whether one takes Jaynes' view about the "Origin of Consciousness with the
Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," or Chomsky's apparatus enabling us to form
syntactical constructs, it is still apparently the evolutionary development of Homo

I have been listening recently to the Norton Lectures (Harvard) of Leonard Bernstein
where he compares the syntax of music and language and relates theory between language
and music. He develops fascinating similarities and bases much of his work on Chomsky
as do many other linguists. However, because of the clash of such concepts with the
behavioral schools, he comedically inserted one sample of speech and music entitled
"Chomsky loves Skinner!" The audience roared with laughter.

The relationship between poetry, music and the right hemisphere (with right handed
people) is fairly consistent and my mentioning of the concept that the "right brain
doesn't stutter" is not the first time that strange anomally has been noticed or

I don't like to restrict my intuitive senses about these developments to any hard and
fast theoretical rules as I don't think we are close enough to know what we are
talking about. For example, I heard the other day about an example where someone was
"proving acupuncture meridians" with the use of acupuncture needles and a Pet Scan
instrument. He was supposedly showing the connection between the ball of the foot and
the visual centers according to some strange alternate medicine theory and
demonstrating it with his Pet Scan. Well, it turned out that when ever the words
"sight" or "vision" were pronounced out loud, the visual centers would light up in the
Pet Scan by the visual centers of the brain! There was a connection all right, a
semantic one with the semantic symbology causing activities in the visual centers when
appropriate words were heard relating to vision, light, etc.

So, we are moving closer to understanding the functionality if not the mechanisms of
such associations, apparently. I do feel that we are on the verge of discovering some
very fundamental things about the neuronal activities, perhaps similar to Dr. Calvin's
conjectural work at Washington University. Calvin discusses the competitive nature of
the meme and the neurotransmitters which reminds me of my own concepts of the "rush of
the meme" with associated neurotransmitter activity which I believe contributes to the
degree of potency or rate of spread of innovation of the memetic symbology. Music and
its physical nature (natural harmonics, overtones, etc.) would tend to make the
combination of words in a musical construct, poetry, etc., a very strong memetic

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

> 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
> symbols.

This is consistent with Bernstein's very scholarly work in the Norton Lectures on
Music, Poetry and Language. I didn't know that he was so well educated in the
theoretical concerns of such until I heard these lectures so I guess he was truly a
genius after all.

> Snip

> .... 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 :).
> Cheers!
> Rob.

Thanks, as we do need to remind ourselves of the enjoyment of our work and interests
ever so often.

Under separate cover I'm sending you a copy of a letter I just wrote about an
experience I enjoyed this weekend relating to music, language and history here



Bob Grimes Jacksonville, Florida

Man is not in control, but the man who knows he is not in control is more in control...

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore....."

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