Lettera di Stephen Golberg
Thank for alerting me to your website and your most interesting research into archetypes in understanding the meaning of music, and your analysis of Dvorak. While I read through the material once, I plan to do so again to be sure I do not miss anything and look forward to your completed book (in English; my Italian is not so good).
If I understand what you are saying, the complex emotions and moods of music can be dissected into what you refer to as archetypes, more simple elements that can convey such things as sobbing, weeping, sadness, inescapability, gentleness, doubt, calm, anxiety, terror, and strength. Together, in different combinations, they can elicit the complex feelings which we associate with musical appreciation.
The archetypes may arise partly from heredity, partly from information received by the brain after birth either from the internal environment of the body (e.g. heartbeat) or from the external environment as the senses perceive events outside the body. Your work is of great interest to me, since I am considering something similar, not for music in particular, but for all the senses. The archetypes that you give examples of can be described in terms of differences in space and time (e.g. time representing the sequence of notes and rests, space representing the different heights, or pitches, of the sounds). I have been working with the idea that all the senses as sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, may also be dissected into primitive elements consisting of combinations of space and time. For instance, when one looks at a ball, we assume that the ball in its visual fullness is out there in the environment.
But is this an illusion? A person who was blind since birth can appreciate the spatial dimensions of a ball through touch; when he conceives of a “ball” it is not in visual terms and in fact he may experience difficulty in recognizing a ball initially if his vision is restored later in life. While the mathematical geometry of a ball may be conveyed through sight and touch, perhaps there is no true “sight” or “touch” in the outside world any more than there is an aroma in the outside world in the molecules that stimulate smell. What we call the visual experience of the ball may consist of the geometric information about the ball conveyed either through the visual or touch systems plus other, as you might call them, “archetypes”. So vision of ball may consist of the geometry of a sphere, the archetype of “the eyes” as conveyed by the body’s map since birth of the anatomical position of the eyes and the ability to sense things through it depending on whether the eyes are opened or closed, and the archetypes of “not the ears, not the nose, etc.,” all combined with the mathematical information of what a sphere is.
When considering a color, e.g. red, does it in itself consist of more primitive archetypes? Our first impression may be that it does not, since we have difficulty in breaking down “red” into more primitive elements. However, in the history of science the tendency has been to find simpler elements that constitute wholes. For instance, the numerous kinds of molecules have been found to consist of a limited number of kinds of atoms, which in turn consist of very few primitive elements, electrons, protons, neutrons. Electricity and magnetism have been fused into a simpler electromagnetism, Time and space have been fused into spacetime. There is thought that all forms of energy may eventually find a common origin in a much simpler form.
If that is the case, the question then arises as to how the sensations such as sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell arose? Are they all primary elements, or do they in themselves consist of archetypes in common (perhaps archetypes consisting of space and time, as in your musical analysis), which in the right combination produce the various senses? Perhaps we can experience “red” but not be capable of experiencing the primitive archetypes which constitute red; they remain in the subconscious, while only the sensation of “red” emerges, the whole being more of the sum of its parts and appearing much different from what the archetypes might be. Although I have just used the term “subconscious,” in my books I suggest that a better term would be “Jonah-mind.”
That is I think that there is no such thing as something that is subconscious. Even the so-called “subconscious” is conscious, but hidden, like a Jonah-in-the-whale: In the story the whale swallows Jonah. Both the whale and Jonah may be independently conscious. Just because the whale is not conscious of Jonah’s thoughts does not mean that Jonah himself is not conscious; he just cannot relay his thoughts to the whale. Similarly in the human brain: There may be underlying conscious neuronal activities that we cannot relay to the outside world. We should not rush to call them “unconscious” just because we cannot describe them. I won’t go into the details of why I have proposed this, which are in my previous books on the subject and which I am in the process of expanding upon now, but it does raise a question regarding your ideas about music and archetypes.
Namely, is it possible that it is difficult to find some of the archetypes because they are buried in the brain, like Jonah-minds? I think it fascinating, though, that you have succeeded in identifying some of the archetypes and are in the process of researching more of them. What you find may have significance to the overall field of consciousness. Other questions:
Why is it that only certain harmonic combinations of sound frequencies elicit pleasure whereas nonharmonic ones elicit the unpleasantness of noise?
Why should the mathematical symmetry of harmonics create such an effect on the nervous system?
It is true that the information that the nervous system receives is largely in the form of specific frequencies, e.g. the frequency of light waves, the frequency of sound waves, and there is the general characteristic of nerve firing patterns of all the senses wherein information is transmitted in different frequencies to the brain.
Perhaps the setup of the nervous system with communication via frequencies is a reason why frequencies are so important in the transmission of music to the brain. I don’t know. In your analysis of Dvorak, I was impressed by the great detail in which you describe the intent of each phrase. Is the interpretation something that Dvorak concurred with; is it your own interpretation; or is it an interpretation that many observers would agree with? In order to confirm that a particular combination of archetypes produces a given effect, it would appear important that a number of observers confirm the same experience. Otherwise, the archetypes may just be acting as triggers to unique areas in one person’s brain, but not in another’s.
An arrow that flies through the air and strikes a person’s brain in the auditory area may stimulate that area to hear a particular sound or even a particular complex phrase of music. (Electrode stimulations of the brain during neurosurgery have confirmed this phenomenon,) This does not mean that the arrow contains the information for the musical selection; the arrow is only acting as a trigger that stimulates the brain, where the real information as to the music resides. To what extent does the music that we hear contain the actual elements of music and to what extent does it simply act as triggers to the brain, which already contains the means of acting on the trigger to have the musical experience?
The archetypes of the notes on the page may have the spatiotemporal relations, but does it contain anything that says “music” or even “sound” (just as the vision of the ball contains the geometric information about the ball, but not necessarily the visual aspect of the ball)? â€¢ There is a phenomenon in neurology called synesthesia, an interesting condition where the senses become confused, so a person looking at a particular number or letter may always see that number as a particular color. There are people who experience taste as a particular shape. And there are people who experience music as a particular color. For example, Scriabin saw C major as “red,” G major and “orange-rose” and other keys as particular colors. Rimsky-Korsakov saw C major as “white” and G major as “rich gold.” (John Harrison; Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing; Oxford Univ Press, 2001. Simon Baron-Cohen and John E. Harrison; Synaesthesia; Blackwell Publishers; 1997)
Such color associations tend to remain for the lifetime of the individual, but typically differ between individuals who have the condition. It is believed to result from a cross-wiring of nerve pathways in the brain, such that the nerve pathways that convey sound from the ear somehow end up partly in the visual system. Since there is no common concurrence among synesthetics as to what the particular aberrant color of the letter, number, or music should be, is it not likely that archetypes of the color exist within the letters, numbers or notes themselves.
There is the question as to whether synesthesia may be far more common than one might realize, including the emotional reaction to music. In one individual the nerve pathways that are stimulated by the incoming musical information may elicit an emotional reaction far different from another person. The archetypes on the musical scoreboard may be the same, but the effect is different due to the different wiring of the brain in different individuals. In such cases, it may be difficult to find a particular archetype by examining the written music. The archetype may reside in the brain, using the music as a trigger, and the same trigger may stimulate different forms of musical experience in different people. Perhaps this is why certain kinds of music or art are popular among the general population whereas others are not.
The popular ones trigger similar reactions in the nervous systems of most people, where the unpopular ones selectively affect only a few. These are as yet incomplete ideas, and I look forward to any further thoughts you may have and to follow the progress of your work.
Sincerely, Stephen Goldberg