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Biology, Cognition, Music and Religion A bio-cognitive approach to musically afforded behavioural patterns in religious ritual.

By: Ole Grøndahl Jørgensen Thesis supervisor: Jeppe Sinding Jensen University of Aarhus 2009


Table of Contents Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 4 Problem ....................................................................................................................................... 4 Limitations and definitions.......................................................................................................... 4 Chapter summary ........................................................................................................................ 9 Chapter 1: Interaction ................................................................................................................ 14 1.1 A bio-cognitive approach to human social systems ............................................................ 15 1.2 Behaviour ............................................................................................................................ 18 1.3 Social systems and communication..................................................................................... 21 1.3.1 Social systems............................................................................................................... 22 1.3.2 Communication ............................................................................................................ 23 1.4 Developmental systems theory............................................................................................ 24 1.5 Embodiment of knowledge in religious ritual ..................................................................... 27 Chapter 2: Entrainment ............................................................................................................. 31 2.1 I synch, therefore I am......................................................................................................... 31 2.3 We act, therefore we synch ................................................................................................. 34 2.4 Entrainment to music .......................................................................................................... 36 Chapter 3: Culture ...................................................................................................................... 40 3.1 Evolutionary interlude ......................................................................................................... 41 3.2 Cognitive overlaps in language and musical perception ..................................................... 43 3.2.1 Infant directed speech ................................................................................................... 44 3.2.2 Perception of rhythm and pitch .................................................................................... 45


3.3 Habitus of Listening ............................................................................................................ 48 Chapter 4: Emotional arousal through music .......................................................................... 52 4.1 Anticipation ......................................................................................................................... 53 4.2 Neural pathways .................................................................................................................. 55 Chapter 5: How music affords religious ritual ......................................................................... 59 5.1 Embodiment of knowledge ................................................................................................. 60 5.2 Altered states of consciousness ........................................................................................... 63 5.3 Manipulation of attention .................................................................................................... 65 Chapter 6: Work to be done ....................................................................................................... 66 6.1 Neuro-chemicals.................................................................................................................. 66 6.2 Further synchronicity .......................................................................................................... 69 Chapter 7: Conclusion ................................................................................................................ 70 References .................................................................................................................................... 74 Dansk resumĂŠ .............................................................................................................................. 81


Introduction Problem The role of music in religious ritual is a strangely neglected area of research within the tradition of religious studies. The communicative, social and manipulative properties of music are well known and documented1 but despite its obvious relevance this knowledge has not been implemented in studies of ritualistic performance and attendance. I want to shed light on the contribution of music regarding participation in religious rituals, described in terms of human response patterns following musical perception. This is shown by attributing our musical responsiveness to biologically and culturally dependent properties of our cognitive system.

Limitations and definitions The study of behavioural coordination afforded by music in religious ritual from a cognitive point of view constitutes a novel approach to two salient aspects of human culture, and requires a broad interdisciplinary approach. I base my approach on the biological structure of neurological processes of cognition and extend these into an analysis of sociological structures and cultural phenomena, in an attempt to couple data based knowledge from natural science with the humanistic and cultural study of religion. The primary theories involved concern; evolutionary biology, neurology, sociology, anthropology, psychology, musicology and religious studies. Merging these different theories is a major task in itself. At the same time, the purpose of this thesis is not so much a discussion of theoretical positions, as it is a synthesis of theories aiming at contributing further understanding of a human cultural phenomenon through the scope of neuroscience.

One of the problems involved in interdisciplinary studies is that they tend to appear somewhat holistic, as they try to both encompass and conform to various approaches to a subject. I see holism as an advantage, because I find the focus on one element over another in the myriad of processes involved in human life tends to narrow the scope too much. When describing human interaction in, and with an environment, there are so many parameters influencing our thoughts 1

For an updated review see Malloch & Trevarthen (eds.): Communicative musicality. Oxford, 2009.


and actions that a description of a single element in the process would lead to a discussion of a particular biological, psychological, cultural or social function rather than a perspective on human interaction as such.

I therefore prefer to advocate a broad approach, even though I am aware that I owe this privilege to my theory based approach, as a strictly empirical examination of the presented view is far beyond the scope of this thesis. It is even beyond the scope of the techniques used to measure brain activity, as these do not allow movement, thus making the study of brain activity in group behaviour a theoretical or even suggestive field of research. Therefore, some of the theories presented in the following do not rely on empirical data, as they have been coined in laboratories rather than as a contemplative analysis of observed human interaction and behaviour, which constitutes the traditional approach to religious studies2. This of course poses difficulties; such as accepting a theory based on test results concerning one primary brain function as a valid approach to a cultural phenomenon, in which a multitude of brain processes interact in order to create an individual experience of our world. Brain scanning technology has primarily been used to detect perception and behavioural malfunctions as a result of damage to the brain in an attempt to discover how our brain functions. It is only recently that these findings have proven substantial enough to be used in a description of brain activities supporting social interaction in healthy human beings.

Humans are, at the same time, both cultural and biological beings. This is a fact often left out in theories of religion, which primarily view religion as a cultural phenomenon3. Lately, the cognitive science of religion has risen to the challenge of situating cultural phenomena in human biology. Unfortunately, some of the approaches seem to be motivated by an urge to diminish religion to a mere cognitive malfunction, or a cultural parasite, in order to appease the rising


See E.B Tylor: Primitive culture (1903); J.G Frazer: The golden bough. (1911-1915); S. Freud: Totem and taboo (1913), The future of an illusion (1927); E. Durkheim: Elementary forms of religious life (1912); K. Marx: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on religion (1964); M. Eliade: Patterns in comparative religion (1949), The sacred and the profane (1957); E.E. Evans-Pritchard: Nuer Religion (1956); C. Geertz: The interpretation of cultures (1973). 3 See E.B Tylor: Primitive culture (1903); J.G Frazer: The golden bough. (1911-1915); E. Durkheim: Elementary forms of religious life (1912); M. Eliade: Patterns in comparative religion (1949), The sacred and the profane (1957); E.E. Evans-Pritchard: Nuer Religion (1956); C. Geertz: The interpretation of cultures (1973).


support for atheism4. In this thesis I place the process of cognition, not only in the brain, but also in the dynamic interaction between people in a social context and between people and their environment. This means that our cognitive skills are influenced by our relations and interactions with our environment, including cultural phenomena such as language and social relations. The concept of cognition in this thesis revolves around the acquisition of knowledge and is used to describe the emergent development of knowledge and concepts within a group or an individual, leading to both thought and action. This process can be described as a bottom-up approach to cognition, as it is based primarily on environmental input as a source of knowledge acquisition in cultural interaction. In other words, cognition is the process that facilitates our understanding of the world we live in.

A central theme in this thesis is interaction. Interactionism, as a theoretical standpoint, holds that meaning is produced through the interactions of individuals. It is a theory based on social interaction as a process consisting of actions, reactions, and mutual adaptation between two or more individuals.

The American philosopher George Herbert Mead, is considered a leader in the development of interactionism. He is also regarded as one of the founders of social psychology. Mead‟s philosophy is based upon human action and specifically communicative action, which he sees as central to the creation of meaning. He regards interaction as the means through which our sense of self is constituted, thus making the individual a product of society and social interaction. “How can an individual get outside him-self (experientially) in such a way as to become an object to himself? This is the essential psychological problem of selfhood or self-consciousness” (Mead 1997, 138). Mead‟s answer to this is that the self arises when the individual becomes an object to themselves. He argues that we are objects first to other people and, secondarily, we become objects to ourselves by taking the perspective of other people. Language enables us to talk about ourselves in the same way as we talk about other people and, thus through language, we become other to ourselves (Gillespie: 262).


See Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Penguin, 2006 and Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion. Bantam Books, 2006.


Thus interactionism is concerned with the development of the self and the objectivity of the world within the social realm by implying that "the individual mind can exist only in relation to other minds with shared meanings" (Mead cited in Miller: 5). The human ability to take the perspective of others in social interaction is what enables complex human society and subtle social coordination.

The evolution of the human species is another debated area of research with which this thesis is concerned. I follow an interactionistic approach based on biologists Huberto Maturana and Francisco Varelaâ€&#x;s theory on structural coupling in autopoietic systems. The theory describes how interaction; promotes adaption, creates knowledge and coordinates behaviour. This is a radically interactionistic perception of the evolution of human biology, as opposed to the genecentric approach originally presented by evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and George C. Williams5.

The main difference between the two approaches is that the gene-centric view advocates natural selection of genes as the primary source of human evolution and regards the process of evolution as concerning primarily the survival of genes, literally reducing humans to survival machines for genes. They also disregard behaviours beneficial to group survival as an evolutionary source for adaptation. On the other hand, the interactionist view recognizes genes as important in evolution but, simultaneously, promotes environmental interaction as a major source of adaptive behaviour and, thus, an evolutionary parameter. They also support group selective adaptations. Since the evolutionary history of music revolves around group benefits and culturally transmitted knowledge, the interactive approach underlines the nature of musical perception and participation. In his book, How the mind works, another supporter of the gene-centric view, Steven Pinker, describes music as a pure pleasure technology with no adaptive value6, this is directly opposed to the ideas presented in this thesis.


George C. Williams: Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966), Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Extended Phenotype (1982). 6 Steven Pinker, How the mind works, New York, 1997:528.


Music possesses many qualities that enhances our experiences and colour our perceptions. Equally, there are many different methods of describing these qualities. In the following, I hold a primary focus on the rhythmic aspects of music. This is because my starting point is based on repetitive interaction in human biology. I describe this principle of interaction in terms of entrainment to external stimuli of a rhythmic nature. Thus, my approach to musical perception is based on responsiveness to repetitive input. I do discuss other musical properties, such as pitch, but without going into detail in regards to how we react to specific notes or scales, harmonies, melodies or even texture and timbre. In other words, I do not engage in a discussion of what constitutes music, nor do I delve into the differences between pulse, rhythm, beat and repetition. This would lead me in the direction of a semiotic or a musicological approach which is not my intention, though it would have been useful as these musical qualities play a significant role in determining the colour of our emotions7.

Finally, the ability of music to trigger autobiographical memory will only be touched upon briefly, because this quality relates to specific songs / sounds in specific contexts and, thus, demands a more thorough analysis of the people involved and the context that triggers the memories8.

This thesis approaches the influences of music on human cognition in a more general way. I shall discuss how music induces emotions and facilitates movements, but I will not go into a discussion of which emotions are induced when, or the colour of the emotions etc. Instead of discussing the exact colour of the emotions induced, I focus on the adjustment of the listeners behavioural patterns as a consequence of musical input. This is in line with the biological theory where behaviour is seen as a change of state in the internal structure of the interacting agent. This change of state could be an emotion induced through musical perception, as the emotional change impacts our experience and our reactions to the perceived events.

When an individual is able to adjust his/her behavioural patterns according to the contextual consensus regarding which behaviour is to be displayed, he/she not only embodies knowledge 7 8

See Brown & Volgsten 2006, Huron 2006, LangkjĂŚr 1996, Patel 2008, Sloboda & Juslin 2001. See Janata et al. 2007.


regarding this specific event, he/she is also able to participate in the shared experience of the event. This is referred to as appropriate behaviour and follows sociologist Emile Durkheimâ€&#x;s notion of collective effervescence as laid out in his book Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Here he describes how members of a group experience a feeling of a loss of individuality, which is replaced by a feeling of unity with the gods and according to Durkheim, thus with the group. In this sense, musically afforded behavioural patterns, enters the domain of normative cognition. I do not investigate specific normative responses, but rather, discuss how this process takes place.

Chapter summary Firstly, the basics of cognition have to be established. This is done through a discussion of how our cognitive skills evolved from and depend on basic biological structures; this involves biology and philosophy of biology. Then, the connection between our cognitive abilities and music has to be established. How do we perceive music and what does listening to / practicing music do to us at a cognitive level? How do we understand music? All of this needs to be examined from a cognitive point of view. This requires neuroscience, musicology and psychology and leads to a discussion of how emotions are aroused through musical engagement and how this influences the perception of our situated context. This is highly dependent on cultural belonging, which is best acknowledged through an anthropological, sociological and ethno-musicological approach. Lastly, I need to situate the process of human musical perception in a context of religious ritual. This, of course, is based on studies of religion.

The argument takes its beginning at a biological level in Chapter 1. I find it both natural and useful to start at a basic biological level, because the evolutionary perspective allows a discussion of human culture in terms of biology. Chapter 1 discusses the internal organization and structure of human physiology and how the development of our biological system is based on recurrent interaction and various degrees of synchrony between the oscillatory properties of our neurons, nerves and muscles. Among other things, this ensures system stability and achieves efficient motor actions. This assumption is based on an interactionistic approach to human biological evolution coined during the 80â€&#x;s by biologists; Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Lately, a consensus regarding interaction and genes as being equally important factors in


human evolution seems to emerge from the field of philosophy of biology. This consensus is labelled; Developing Systems Theory (DST), and views evolution as interplay between genetics and environmental factors, not favouring one over the other. At the same time DST emphasises that what is inherited across generations is so much more than genes, thus making cultural belonging central to evolution.

DST is, as philosopher of biology; Kim Sterelny, points out, primarily concerned with human evolution, where Maturana and Varela discuss biological evolution as such. I use these two complimentary theories to discuss our biological foundation for embodiment of knowledge through repetitive interaction and as a basis for understanding why synchrony between interacting individuals is a natural phenomenon relating to our biological organization that helps us form social bonds which lead to social groups, societies and culture. Following psychologist; Lawrence Barsalou, I briefly discuss how religious knowledge is embedded during ritual. This is done in order to show how the biological approach can be implemented in the study of cultural phenomena. The establishment of human cognition thus relies on repetitive interaction with our environment, which can also be described in various degrees of synchronicity between oscillatory parameters, such as interaction with other people.

Accordingly, it seems humans have a natural propensity to react and relate to rhythmic patterns both within themselves, as well as between individual and environment, and that we establish meaning and knowledge through repetitive interactions. When it comes to explaining the power music seems to hold over human beings, this responsiveness to interaction is an important property of human biology, because the interactionistic approach allows recurrent interaction to be described in terms of entrainment.

The principle of entrainment describes how different oscillating processes interact, and how this interaction influences the rhythmic properties of their oscillatory nature, thereby, temporarily locking their interaction in a degree of synchronisation or interdependent relationship. Entrainment is not a question of exact synchronicity, but rather a course of rhythmic oscillatory processes triggering, maintaining and influencing each otherâ€&#x;s pulse or reoccurrence. By this I


mean everything from clapping your hands, where your arm movements have to act in synchrony (which means that your nervous system and motor action system are also entrained to the rhythmic pulse of you clapping), to communicational gestures in conversation (where you adjust your speech rhythm and body language to the person(s) you engage in conversation) and other forms of goal directed corporative actions performed between two or more people. The principle is evident in several processes of human cognition.

In Chapter 2 I discuss how entrainment works on an individual level, meaning internal processes of cognition. This is based on the findings of biologist; Gerald Edelman, and shows that our brain functions can be described in terms of neuronal entrainment. Following the argument made by cognitive psychologist; Mari Reiss Jones, I then move on to discuss entrainment and rhythm perception on a social level. This is an important step in bridging the gap between neurobiological data and social science, as social entrainment underlines how our biological organisation encourages interpersonal bonding, and, at the same time, describes the inherent human ability to react to periodic stimuli from our environment. Chapter 2 finishes with a discussion of these phenomena.

Chapter 3 deals with the situated nature of human cognition. We live in a cultural world. Everything we do is coloured by the culture we live in. I use anthropologist; Clifford Geertzâ€&#x; definition of culture, as he emphasises culture as something we do, which entails interaction, and as a semiotic system, which underlines the importance of perception and interpretive skills in humans. The chapter starts out with an evolutionary interlude, which briefly discusses a possible scenario for the evolution of music and language as communicative skills. This follows cognitive neuroscientist; Merlin Donaldâ€&#x;s description of the three major transitions in the emergence of our cognitive skills, and is included because I find that an evolutionary approach eases the transition between human biological theory and anthropological theory. Both approaches share an interest in the development of human culture as a consequence of the development of human cognitive skills, and how this influences our behavioural patterns and, thus, our ability to adapt.


It is only in the rise of various brain-scanning techniques that language and music have become connected on a neuronal level. Previously, it was believed that music and language were separate cognitive systems. This was based on comparative research done on people who suffer from amusia (inability to recognize or reproduce musical tones or rhythms) or aphasia (deficiencies in language comprehension and production). Oscar Marin and David Perry (1999) found that people suffering from one disability did not suffer from the other, and, so, concluded that music and language do not share common neural substrates. This view has since been challenged, and the discussion now concerns the reasons behind the entanglement of music and language in the light of the evolutionary development of human culture9.

The evolutionary interlude is followed by a discussion on how these two human cultural fundamentals contribute to our creation and distribution of knowledge. This is done because language and music have a lot in common regarding structure, perception and communicative abilities. I shall use neurobiologist; Aniruddh Patel, as the primary source here, as he is also concerned with the entanglement of language and music in an evolutionary perspective. We live in a world saturated by culture and this influences our cognitive abilities strongly in several ways. In this context, the two most important influences are: 1). How cultural belonging influences our ability to interpret perceptions and act appropriately and: 2). The amount of knowledge we embed in cultural artefacts, symbols and actions, and how this knowledge is transferred across generations through interaction and perception. The purpose of the final section, in Chapter 3, is to discuss these factors. For this I use ethnomusicologist; Judith Beckerâ€&#x;s description of habitus of listening, which follows Pierre Bourdieuâ€&#x;s notion of habitus, but focuses on musical perception.

Chapter 4 is divided into two sections. The first returns to neuroscience in order to explain how music triggers emotions in humans. This is primarily done in two ways. The first deals with everyday emotions such as fear, happiness, sadness etc. and is based on cognitive musicologist; David Huronâ€&#x;s model of anticipation as a source for emotional reaction in musical perception. This model is supported by the research presented in both Chapter 1 and 2, as it involves our 9

See Patel 2008, Mithen 2006, Sloboda 2005, Huron 2001.


ability to predict and entrain with rhythmic stimuli from our environment. The second way music induces emotions in humans revolves around responses induced by the direct connection in our nervous system between auditory input (the ear) and the brain stem, which, among other things, controls our motor skills. This section is based on several brain scanning experiments conducted by neuroscientists Anne Blood, Robert Zatorre and John Sloboda coupled with anthropological research on altered states of consciousness, such as trance, done by Judith Becker.

According to neuroscientist; Antonio Damasio, emotions can be viewed as inputs to the brain at the same level as other perception based inputs, like sound and sight. This means that music influences the human experience of musically based rituals in two ways. Firstly, it provides a rhythmic structure to the event. Secondly, it evokes emotions relevant to displaying appropriate behaviour in the context of the event. This will be the focus of Chapter 5, where I shall discuss the results presented in the previous chapters in order to emphasize the influence of music as a regulator of human behaviour in religious rituals.

Finally, in Chapter 6, I shall point out two areas of interest that need further research in order to provide certainty regarding their actual function in musical perception. These areas include; brain chemistry and interbrain synchronicity. They are both briefly mentioned in the previous chapters as perspectives to relevant approaches.

In summary: I build the argument concerning human reactions to music, on the notion that human cognition is embedded in the environment (culture) and embodied in our biology (body). I believe interaction to be fundamental to the development of any human cognitive ability. I shall argue that this dependency on interaction has led us to evolve into exceptional respondents to repetitive or rhythmic behaviour and input. In other words; I believe that we (our bodies, including brains) respond well to repetition. It enables us to learn and remember. It also eases our interaction with the world by making many repetitive actions more or less subconscious i.e. walking. I argue that our responsiveness to rhythm, in concert with our cultural belonging, is the basic source of our emotional responses to music, and that our biological organisation greatly facilitates both emotional as well as motor action responses to musical stimuli. The influence of


these response patterns on human perception and understanding of environment are then discussed in relation to the context of religious ritual.

Chapter 1: Interaction We are what we do

The focal point of this chapter is to determine interaction as a fundamental premise for all organisms. Later, I shall show that this interaction can be described in terms of entrainment or various degrees of synchrony between different processes, which consist of oscillatory parameters. The principles from biology will help extend the principle of entrainment to a macro level. In other words, I will move from a molecular level to a social level, because I believe that our biological structure determines the range of possible interactions between us and our environment. This is the fundamental premise for the interactionistic approach to human cognition and culture which I will promote.

I also include a discussion of Developmental Systems Theory (DST) as presented by philosopher of biology, Kim Sterelny, as I find this supplement the idea of structural coupling in a way that is useful when it comes to describing the development of human cognition. Finally, this chapter contains a general introduction to the idea of embodied cognition as this is a major consequence of the interactionistic approach. This will primarily be based on the findings of psychologist Lawrence Barsalou. Maturana and Varelaâ€&#x;s theory on structural coupling in autopoietic systems establishes humans and human cognition in particular, as very context dependant. Though this theory is a bit dated (1985) seen in the light of all that has happened to cognitive science in terms of technology in the last 20 years, the thought of interacting with an environment as the source of human cognition is still strongly supported today10. The theory establishes humans as essentially social in nature, in need of social interaction in order to develop cognitive skills. This is especially true with regard


See: Kim Sterelny, 2007; Lawrence Barsalou, 2005; Andy Clark, 2003; Michael Tomasello, 1999.


to communicative skills such as language. It also means that the cognitive skills we do develop are coloured by the context in which they are acquired thus giving rise to cultural diversity and communicative difficulties. The basic concept of entrainment is “a process whereby two rhythmic processes interact with each other in such a way that they adjust towards and eventually „lock in‟ to a common phase and/or periodicity” (Clayton et al.: 3). The process of entrainment between two independent oscillating entities is based on the same principles as structural coupling in autopoietic organization. I only ask that you bear this in mind while reading the following.

1.1 A bio-cognitive approach to human social systems The human ability to create social systems through interaction is at the core of cultural development. One of the reasons for this is that we accumulate knowledge within ourselves through interaction. This is known as embodied knowledge and consists of routines, habits, conventions, rules etc. regarding interaction with our world. The degree of embodied knowledge plays a significant role in our ability to fluently participate in social and cultural relations which require a certain degree of appropriate behaviour. Because of the reciprocal nature of structural coupling, knowledge is also accumulated at an interpersonal level, thereby strengthening group identity and leading to the development of group behaviour, society and, ultimately, culture.

According to Maturana and Varela, living beings are characterized by their autopoietic organization11. They define autopoietic organisation as follows: "An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: 1). through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and 2). constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network" (Maturana & Varela, 1980: 78). The prototypical autopoietic system is a single cell organism, but multi cellular organisms share these properties. In other words, living beings are organized in a way that 11

Organization denotes those relations that must exist among the components of a system for it to be a member of a specific class (Maturana, Varela, 1980:43).


remains stable for long periods of time, despite matter and energy continuously flowing through them.

An autopoietic system is autonomous and operationally closed, in the sense that every process within it directly helps maintaining the whole organism. Organisms belonging to the same species differ from each other in their structure12, but they are alike in their organization. The autopoietic system is well adapted to, and thoroughly dependent on, interaction with its surroundings, that being environment (nature, culture) or other autopoietic systems. The dependency on interaction with its environment is so strong, that the actions of an autopoietic unity are inseparable from its existence and this is their specific mode of organization (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 49). The recurrent interactions between unit and environment consist of reciprocal perturbations. The structure of the environment only triggers structural change in the autopoietic unity, it does not specify or direct them and vice versa. The changes brought about by perturbations are only triggered by the disturbing agent, but they are determined by the structure of the disturbed system (ibid: 96).

Structural change occurs all the time either, as change triggered by interactions (i.e. bacteria) or, as a result of the internal dynamics of the unit (i.e. cell division). This means that the ontogeny of every living being occurs and is dependent on an environment. The ontogeny thus becomes “a history of structural change within a unity, without the loss of organization or adaption in that unity� (ibid: 74). Interaction with certain environments or other autopoietic units occurs at different intervals. Recurring interaction leads to structural coupling between the interacting agents (ibid: 75). We can describe an agent as an independently oscillating entity that, through recurring interactions, establishes a certain rhythm based relationship with another agent. This means that autopoietic units establish connections between themselves in a process of entrainment, due to their specific mode of organization. Thus, entrainment can be used to describe basic properties of human biology.


Structure denotes the components and relations that actually constitute a particular unity and make its organization real (Maturana, Varela, 1980:43).


Knowledge is seen as “the continuous dynamics of interaction that lead to structural coupling� (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 99), in the sense that knowledge is seen as a structural drift within the organization of the autopoietic unity triggered by interaction. Structural coupling triggers changes of state within the interacting agents, as long as the interaction is non-destructive and the perturbations are mutual (ibid: 99). Knowledge is not dependent on a brain for storage; knowledge becomes strictly embodied as the whole system (to various degrees) is affected by the continuous structural drift that occurs as a result of interactions with an environment13. In this sense, every ontogenic variation results in different ways of being in the world, because it is the structure of the unity that determines its interactions with the world it lives in (ibid: 86). The degree of structural and environmental variation determines the level of difference between these ways of being in the world.

We can observe this at many different levels of biology. At a cellular level we see cell membranes interacting with the constant flow of ions that surround them but, because of the structural couplings of the individual cell, they only integrate the ones they need (often calcium or sodium). On a multi-cellular level, the life cycle of the fungus Physarrum is determined by whether its environment is dry or humid resulting in respectively, the growth of a flagellum and a motile development in humid conditions, and development of an amoebic life form in dry conditions (ibid: 76-77).

In humans the ontogenic variation is most clearly seen on a cultural level. Our way of being in the world is strongly determined by our cultural background. We have a tendency to share behavioural and cognitive patterns with people who share our immediate environment over longer periods of time. The degree of shared tendencies will increase in proportion with the amount of interaction in shared environment. See fig. 1. We are so dependent on social interaction in our upbringing that, lack thereof, such as children growing up with no human interaction14, leaves individuals with little if any chance of becoming properly integrated in society with regard to both physical and cognitive abilities.

13 14

I will elaborate on this view in the section regarding behaviour. See Charles MacLean: The wolf children, Harmondsworth, 1979.


Fig.1 serves as a general and very simple illustration of the shared ways of being between individuals in a group, groups within a community, communities within a society, and so forth. Each ring represents an individual, group, community, society etc.

I have now established that living organisms are dependent on recurrent interaction with their environment in order to evolve both, as an individual, and as a group. I have also shown how knowledge is not necessarily stored within the brain of an organism. Rather, knowledge is embodied through interaction with an environment including other biological organisms. What is of importance here are the consequences this view on biology has on the development of human behaviour, cognitive skills, and ultimately, culture. In the following section I shall argue that human behaviour is governed by our nervous system, as our nervous system determines the input and output of our interacting organism.

1.2 Behaviour In the following section I shall discuss how structural coupling through interaction is a major factor in the creation of our behavioural patterns and in our knowledge acquisition. According to Maturana and Varela, behaviour is: “a description an observer makes of the changes of state in a system with respect to an environment with which that system interacts� (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 163). In turn, behaviour triggers changes in our surroundings, making the circle complete; an ever ongoing structural drift making behaviour a result of interaction and dependent on the structure of the unity involved. Consequently, every time there is behaviour, there is embodiment of knowledge which, when accumulated, brings about adaption. All these changes can be seen as structural drifts within our organization as biological beings. In regard to human behaviour, we


are dependent on our perceptual abilities as well as on our motor skills, in combination with our cognitive and nervous systems, to behave in accordance to our surroundings (ibid.: 163). Our nervous system plays a significant role as it expands our ranges of behaviour by: “increasing the field of possible sensor-motor correlations of the organism” (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 163). In addition, it opens new dimensions of structural coupling for the organism. This happens because the nervous system enables an organism to associate many different internal states with the different interactions in which the organism is involved. Humans therefore, with our large nervous system, have a large and flexible scope of behaviour and behavioural changes. The reason our nervous system is the base of our behavioural patterns is its ability to continuously transform itself in line with the transformations of the environment as a result of how each interaction affects it (ibid: 175). This is described as structural drifts within the organization and can be viewed as a result of the embodiment of knowledge that occurs in the process of interacting.

Maturana and Varela do not only present an embodied view on human knowledge and behaviour, they also give a phenomenological description of life from the viewpoint of a living organism. They do, however, recognize the problem of describing subjective experiences as generalizations. Therefore, they distinguish between an observer‟s viewpoint and a purely physiological description of interaction. They go on to describe that: “to an observer, an organism seems to be moving proportionally in a changing environment; the structural changes that occur in the nervous system appear to correspond to the circumstances of the interactions of the organism. Seen from the nervous system however, there is only an ongoing structural drift that follows the course in which each instant, the structural coupling (adaption) of the organism to its medium of interaction is conserved” (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 171). This means that all behaviour is a relational phenomenon that we, as observers, can see happening between organism and environment. At the same time an organism‟s range of behaviour depends on its structure, as this structure specifies its modes of interaction with the environment (ibid: 171). This interaction is what


Maturana and Varela refer to as cognition. They hold that; any attempt to explain cognition, as if it were the result of computations made by the nervous system on the information that the sensors obtain through perception of an external world, is doomed to fail. This is so, because whatever happens to or in a living system is determined by the structure of the system, which again is defined by its structural dynamics. Hence there is no computation, only perturbation and reaction. Maturana and Varela do not mention that this is the reaction pattern for embodied knowledge. While a lot of our behaviour is governed by immediate responses, a part of human nature is to also reflect upon our choices, maybe not in the heat of action, but, at least, afterwards. This reflection may also result in embodied knowledge.

The degree of knowledge involved in interaction, is an assessment made by an observer who sees the organism shifting what it does as it changes in coherence with its medium. We should thus describe knowledge as: “the dynamic structure that allows [a living organism] to operate in dynamic structural congruence in the medium or circumstances in which it happens to live” (Maturana, online text). We are usually not aware of this situation, even though in daily life we ascribe knowledge to any living being, human or not, when we see it operating in a manner that we consider adequate for the environment in which we observe it.

We can differentiate between two ways of acquiring the dynamic structure (knowledge) required to behave adequately in an environment: learned or instinctive. Learned knowledge is acquired through the course of an individual history of interaction with an environment, while instinctive knowledge stems from the development of the living system as a kind, and is not dependent on the developmental history of the individual. In other words, the origin of instinctive knowledge is phylogenic, and the origin of learned knowledge is ontogenic. “Therefore, I claim that the process which gives rise to the operational congruence between an organism and its niche, the process that we distinguish in daily life either as learned or as instinctive knowing, is structural coupling” (Maturana, online text).

This notion opens up for a description of knowledge, behaviour and interaction as a consequence of entrainment on a biological level in humans. It also points to the importance of experience as


the main subject of cognition. As Maturana himself puts it “In my view the central theme of cognition is the explanation of experience, not reality because reality is an explanatory notion invented to explain experience” (Maturana, Online text).

I have now shown how human interaction depends on our nervous system rather than the stereotypic representations we use in categorizations of our environment. These representations are a part of the knowledge that interaction build within each one of us. Thus, they are individual and determined by the ontogeny through which they have been created. The point is that our behaviour primarily depends on our nervous system, our abilities of perception if you will, but our modes of interaction, and thereby behaviour are at the same time, limited by the structure of our cognitive skills, including representations. This means that, provided we have lived and learned in a certain environment long enough for strong structural coupling to occur, we are able to interact with that environment more or less subconsciously.

As an example, it is very natural for me to drive on the right side of the road, while this would cause problems when I go to England. As observers, we would say that the organism has adapted to the dominating culture of the specific environment. For modern humans, this involves, among other things, socialization into groups and the acquisition of language in order to communicate within the group. These properties of human cognition will be described below, with the purpose of showing how structural coupling works at an interpersonal level of human interaction.

1.3 Social systems and communication The main point of this section is to discuss how human biology promotes interpersonal bonding and the development of social structures, and how communication facilitates this process. The focus is on the application of autopoietic theory as a conceptual description of living systems beyond the borders of traditional biology, theoretically, extending autopoietic theory into the analysis of social systems. This idea is also promoted by the German sociologist, Niklas Luhman, in his description of social systems theory. I shall comment on his ideas at the end of this section. Communication is a necessity for social relations. Therefore, I will also present Maturana and Varela‟s approach to communicative action.


1.3.1 Social systems To create a social environment we need what Maturana and Varela call “third order structural coupling15” (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 180). When the interactions of multi cellular organisms take on a recurrent nature, they also join in structural coupling with each other. This phenomenon is third order couplings and manifests as groups, societies, culture etc. “We call social phenomenon those phenomenon that arise in the spontaneous construction of third order couplings and social systems the third order unities that are thus constituted” (ibid: 193). The third order couplings generate a special internal phenomenology because they consist of individual ontogenies which have a special way of communicating socially; they imitate each other. Through individuals structural coupling they become part of a network of co-ontogenies.

Because of the mimicking nature of human behaviour, third order couplings share the ontogenetic growth of one individual with the whole society (Bausch: 43). This means that the construction of a social system entrails the actual co-ontogeny of all its components. It also means that the reciprocal structural coupling of all the components is needed to maintain the social system and, that an organism is only a member of this system as long as this reciprocal structural coupling is maintained (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 193). Maturana and Varela describe cultural behaviour as; “the trans-generational stability of behavioural patterns ontogenetically acquired in the communicative dynamics of a social environment” (ibid: 201). They remark, the peculiarity in the fact that culture arises as a consequence of social living over generations despite its members being replaced (ibid: 201). Thereby, culture resembles the basic autopoietic system described in the beginning of this chapter.

This notion is picked up by Niklas Luhman, who also uses the idea of autopoietic systems to describe social systems. But Luhman does not see society as third order autopoietic systems as Maturana and Varela do. Rather, he argues that these systems are not structural couplings of 15

First and second order structural coupling refer to single cell and meta-cellular systems respectively.


individuals, they are independent autopoietic systems constituted by communication. This makes society a first order autopoietic system (Bausch: 340). The advantage of this view is that it allows a closer look at the mechanisms that shape a society, which is Luhman‟s project. The disadvantage is that it removes real people and material interactions from society. Even though I utilize sociological theory, I find Maturana and Varela‟s approach more suitable to my project, which is to describe the biological basis for human interactions within social or cultural domains. The point I want to make is that, human interaction with our environment, and the consequent embodiment of knowledge, is a necessity for social systems to constitute meaningful scaffolds for human cognition. I propose that individuals and societies are coconstituted and co-dependent, and since structural coupling is the basic process for creating human social systems, entrainment is also part of what constitutes and maintains social relations and, as we now shall see, communication.

1.3.2 Communication In order to maintain a social system, co-ordination of behaviour is required. This is done through communication. Maturana and Varela hold that: “behaviour which occurs in social coupling is communicative and the behavioural coordination it results in is communication” (Maturana & Varela, 1998: 195). Communication can, thus, only take place within the domain of social behaviour and does so every time there is behavioural coordination in the realm of structural coupling. We can, therefore, treat communication as perturbations within structural coupling. According to Maturana and Varela the phenomenon of communication is not dependent on what is transmitted, but on what happens to the person who receives it (ibid: 195). This emphasises emotional responses as a source of knowledge and as a basis for cognition and understanding. It is also useful because it offers an approach to language that can explain some of the illogical (to outsiders) descriptions that occur in (religious) language.

Finally, this view on communication further strengthen the connection between language and music as the communicative perturbations possessed by both of these phenomena can be viewed as stripped of intentional meaning and strictly as triggers of structural drift within an autopoietic system. That is; triggering of emotion, accumulation of knowledge and coordination of


behaviour. This “nonsensical” description of language also enhances the role of entrainment in communication as it allows either a physical or an emotional description of communicative action. It is apparent that the lack of similarity between a particular linguistic behaviour and the action it coordinates is consistent with the underlying structural coupling. What is relevant is the coordination of action it brings about, not the form it adopts! (ibid: 208). E.g. there is no similarity between the word “table” and what we do to distinguish a table.

In other words, language can be viewed as somewhat arbitrary labels that assist us in triggering desired changes in the perceiver of our communicative action. Because linguistic domains arise as a cultural drift in a social system, with no pre-established design, we do not always understand each other, or the change in the perceiver is not what was intended by the communicator. This is also true for the concept of music, as a description of the act of making music is dependent on the linguistic domain dominating the cultural context in which the music takes place. As the ethnomusicologist, Bruno Nettl, notices: “some languages lack words to describe what we in the western culture label music. Instead they have words for specific types of musical activities: religious song, secular song, dance and playing instruments” (Nettl: 24). This cultural variability of the concept of music and what this means for our perception of it, is the subject of Chapter 3.2: Habitus of listening.

We now move from a more general biological description of interaction to a theory more specific to the evolution of human behaviour. This also entails a shift in the theoretical approach, from biology to evolutionary psychology.

1.4 Developmental systems theory Philosopher of biology, Kim Sterelny, describes an approach to evolutionary psychology that embraces the view that, biological explanations need to include more elements than genes and natural selection. This approach is labelled Developmental Systems Theory (DST) and offers an alternative to the gene-centric synthesis by focusing on interaction and culturally transmitted knowledge rather than genes and selection as the driving force behind evolution. I include a summary of the theory here because DST, in line with Maturana and Varela, disagrees with the


widespread assumptions that one can, legitimately, connect certain genes with specific physical features or, that adaptation consists of evolution shaping the more or less passive species, as opposed to adaptation consisting of organisms actively selecting, defining, shaping and often creating their niches16. DST, therefore, adds to the theory presented above by specifying the strong connections between human biological evolution, interaction and the establishment of social and cultural systems. Sterelny notes that: “DST is more plausible as a view of human evolution, than as a general theory of biological evolution as such� (Sterelny: 180). This is exactly the point. I am interested in biological evolution because it describes the foundation of human life. But, human evolution seems to operate somewhat differently with regards to social, communicative and cultural skills, than even our closest genetic relatives. We share 96% of our genes with the chimpanzee17; nonetheless, we have developed into something significantly different. This could be because genes are not accountable for everything, and interaction with our environment through our well developed nervous system allows us to gain significant knowledge about our environment (including other people) through structural coupling with the world we live in, thus endowing us with the adaptive advantage of society and culture.

The transfer of behavioural and cultural adaptations between humans and their offspring is a central point in DST. What, and how do we inherit? In DST the flow of genes from parent to offspring is not the most fundamental nor the only means of cross generational (parent – offspring) similarities. Genes are rather seen as a part of the matrix of interacting resources that contribute to cross generational similarities (ibid: 178). The matrix consists of these primary categories: 1. Genes. 2. Cellular structures that regulate and modulate expression. 3.

Scaffolded and protected developmental environments (nests).

4. Culturally transmitted information. 5. Sometimes symbiotic microorganisms. 16 17

See Lewontin, 2000 and Edelman, 1992. (2005).


The causal influences in categories 2-5 do not accumulate into evolutionary changes. However, a wide range of these cross generationally causal influences do sustain intergenerational similarities18 (ibid: 179). They do this because of the human dependency on interaction with others, and with an environment, in the development of cognitive skills. Genes are still very important, but must be seen as one element in the developmental matrix whose interactions over time produce an adult culturally integrated human being.

DST is radically interactionistic in terms of human development. It emphasizes the organism in organism/environmental interaction, but still stresses that physical characteristics must not be split up in: either; “a) development under influence of internal sources or; b) development under control of environmental factors. Rather, it is the interaction of these two orders that is development� (ibid: 179). This is the same picture Maturana and Varela describe when they state that perturbations that lead to structural coupling are of a reciprocal nature. With regard to selection, DST does not describe lineages as passively accommodated to the demand of their environment. Instead, the argument is that organisms, in part, construct their own world, as well as adapt to it.

Termites are a good example, as they are clearly adapted to their environment, but, at the same time, they also use and shape it to their benefit. Humans do the same thing. We use fire, cooking, shelters, clothes, tools, weapons, agriculture and later language as ways of changing our environments as well as adapting to them. These advances, and more, have all modified the selective forces acting on human populations (ibid: 180).

Human evolutionary response is thus a response to a world we have partly created. The genecentric view presupposes that selection shapes organisms to fit their niche. The relation between lineage and environment described by them can, therefore, be seen as asymmetrical. This is deeply implausible when it comes to relations between humans and environment. We modify and reconstruct our world; each human generation inherits a world that its predecessors have changed 18

See Jablonka and Lamb, 2005.


(ibid: 181). This is becoming increasingly relevant and true as humans advance further in technology, science etc. at the expense of natural recourses. The increased globalization causes the effect to be felt by everyone as cultural and technological influences are easily transmitted around the globe.

In environments that change over a few generations, selection favours social learning and many aspects of human environments do change at rates that should select social learning (ibid: 182). This sets up a feedback loop, where accurate social learning has enabled humans to accumulate a cognitive capital. This increases the human skill base which, in turn, increases the human capacity to change our environment. This is what Michael Tomasello labels: “the ratchet effect� (Tomasello: 5). It is no surprise then that one generation resembles the previous generation, in part because of the culturally transmitted flow of information from one to the other.

The main point here is that the interactive nature of human biological organization has endowed us with the capacity to create culture. And, not only a socially based culture as you see in other mammals, but a knowledge based culture, where the transmission of knowledge across generations enables us to develop and share cognitive skills at an almost exponential rate through the use of cultural scaffolding of knowledge. The following section will elaborate on how embodied knowledge plays a role in religious rituals.

1.5 Embodiment of knowledge in religious ritual Lawrence Barsalouâ€&#x;s argument for embodied knowledge in religious ritual is useful for three reasons. The first being, that the idea of embodied knowledge has only been briefly discussed, and, since it is an important consequence of the biological approach presented above in regards to acquiring human cognitive skills, I feel the need to explain it further. The second reason is, that embodied knowledge is important when it comes to explaining our reactions to music, especially when it is perceived in a context as rich in symbolic action and cultural knowledge, such as a religious ritual. The final reason is, that it is about time I elaborate on what this approach means for the subject of religious studies.


In general, people have the ability to focus on components of experience and to then establish categorical mundane knowledge about these components (Barsalou: 15). Although categorical mundane knowledge is extracted out of the situations in which it occurs, it nevertheless retains information about these situations. This is described above as structural coupling. In the process of extracting mundane knowledge about an object, people do not simply represent information about that object in isolation. Instead, they also represent the settings, events and mental states that occurred in these situations, given that this information is central to interacting with that object. Further interaction increases the amount of mundane knowledge extracted from the object. “Thus, mundane knowledge is typically situated in relevant background knowledge” (Barsalou: 16).

Mundane knowledge is used in a variety of ways in our cognitive abilities. Besides supporting online cognition (i.e. interacting with the environment), and offline cognition (i.e. memory, language and thought), mundane knowledge also supports the productive construction of novel concepts. These concepts come about as the brain, in concert with the nervous system, establishes knowledge about components of experience. This conceptual system can then combine representations of these components in novel ways to represent novel entities (Ibid: 17). E.g. People can combine categorical knowledge for fire and ice and come up with the novel concepts of frozen fire or burning ice. Finally, mundane knowledge is widely recognized as central to social and cultural cognition. “Knowledge of stereotypes, traits, situations, and so forth is central to social perception, attribution and interaction” (Frith: 504). Likewise, Barsalou describes how knowledge of plants, artefacts, ritual, beliefs and so forth are central to cultural identity and practice. Religion is a central component of culture and, thus, of cultural identity and knowledge clearly enters into people‟s religious beliefs (Barsalou: 18). Barsalou‟s idea of embodied knowledge relies on a modal19 theory of conception. The modal theories use a simulation principal to explain how our experiences capture existing representations to serve a double role, not only as modality-specific representations, but also as conceptual representations. (Barsalou: 22). Thus, modality-specific accounts propose that 19

This implies that the sensory, motor, and introspective states that arise during perception and action are relevant when representing knowledge.


conceptual processing utilizes representations in the brainâ€&#x;s sensory-motor systems. As sensorymotor representations become active during perception and action, association areas capture these representations, and partially reenact them later to represent knowledge. This means that the representations that become active to represent objects, people and events in experience are later used to simulate them in their absence.

More broadly, the simulation principle belongs to a family of theories that all ground the acquisition of knowledge in a physical context20. According to these theories, knowledge depends inherently on the brains (simulation), bodies (embodiment) and environmental (situated) contexts in which it resides, rather than existing independently of them (Barsalou: 24). All three forms of physical context play central roles in the development of knowledge and cognition. Embodied and situated theories both assume that the entire physical context of cognition is central to the structure and function of cognitive systems. This theory supplements the idea of interaction presented above and stresses the importance of interaction between the individual and the environment, making embodiment of knowledge a primary attribute of structural coupling.

How can this theory help us understand behaviour in religious rituals? First of all, religious rituals typically include physical actions and are thus obvious sources of embodied knowledge. A widely obtained and robust finding is that actually performing an action while reading its description produces substantially better memory than reading it alone. The same goes for information transmitted via musical means, like singing (Panksepp: 140). Because motor action enhances memory, religious actions besides helping convey the associated spiritual idea, also help entrench these ideas in memory (Barsalou: 45).

Another factor that helps etch religious ideas into memory is location. Religious rituals are often performed in a location specific to the religion, thus making the memory and knowledge accumulated specific to this location and blocking out competing knowledge. This means that religious practices, that include music and bodily actions in unique locations, increase the


Cree & McRae, 2003; Damasio, 1989; Damasio & Damasio, 1994; Humphreys & Forde, 2001; Martin, 2001; PulvermĂźller, 1999; Simmons & Barsalou, 2003; Warrington & McCarthy, 1987.


chances that the ideas associated with the religion will be learned and remembered to a larger extent than those that do not. Ritual actions can be roughly divided into two categories or: “modes of religiosity” (Whitehouse & Laidlaw: 4). The first includes rituals that are only done once (or very seldom at least) in a lifetime. Whitehouse labels these “imagistic”. The purpose of these rituals is an attempt to change a person‟s worldview through a major impact on the person‟s cognitive system and, thereby, produce changes in that person‟s conceptual system to align with those presented by the religion. These are typically organized around infrequent dramatic and shocking events with high levels of arousal and motivation (ibid: 4).

The second type relies on repeated mundane rituals with the main purpose of establishing and maintaining (new) conceptual systems. Whitehouse calls them “doctrinal”. They anchor religious knowledge and insure affirmation of worldview, through: “frequent repetition of routinized rehearsals of details of religious doctrine, regular liturgical ceremonies with sermons, well known hymns, readings and familiar and habitual bodily movements” (Whitehouse & Laidlaw: 4). This clearly shows that religions in general utilize actions that are especially suited to embody knowledge in humans. Regular participation in religious ritual will thus lead to an endorsement of the worldview offered by that particular religion.

The central issue is that humans have a natural propensity to respond well to repetitive interaction, as this is the basic mechanism for structural coupling. We see this in the fact that practice makes better, if not perfect as the proverb would have us believe. We also see this in our tendency to embrace repetitive action as meaningful, with regard to ritualized behaviour in general and religious ritual behaviour in particular. Even our tendency to adjust our behavioural patterns in accordance with commonly acknowledged / distributed schemes for culturally accepted behaviour, stems from our biological responsiveness to repetition and interaction. We are what we do, but we also do what we are; as the reciprocal structural coupling manifests itself in society. I will now elaborate further on the impact of repetition in interaction between people and how this leads to synchronisation of minds, moods and motivations.


Chapter 2: Entrainment Synchronisation of mood and movement as a consequence of human biology As presented above the principle of entrainment is evident in basic biological processes when recurring interaction leads to structural coupling. In the following chapter I shall elaborate on this connection by looking at how our brain works. I shall also present and discuss two further areas in which entrainment occur: social and musical. On a social level, entrainment may occur as two or more people engage in any activity where coordination of movement in relation to others is involved. An example would be a conversation between people. Music is one of the most potent inducers of entrainment in humans. Perception of a beat is often linked to movement in the form of synchronisation to the beat. For many people, this synchronisation is a natural part of musical experience and requires no special effort. It may come as a surprise, then, that humans are the only species to spontaneously synchronize to the beat of music (Patel: 100). I shall discuss how music entrains us on an individual level and what this means in regards to interpersonal relations, especially in religious rituals. Before I begin, I would like to add sociologist Allen Bluedorn‟s definition of entrainment, as it further specifies the relationship between the entrained units: “Entrainment is the process in which the rhythms displayed by two or more phenomena become synchronized, with one of the rhythms often being more powerful or dominant and capturing the rhythm of the other. This does not mean, however, that the rhythmic patterns will coincide or overlap exactly; instead, it means the patterns will maintain a consistent relationship with each other” (Bluedorn: 149). In other words, it is not exactly synchrony as the involved units maintain individual oscillatory rates, but, it is more than a simple input as the units involved continuously send feedback to each other and the relationship between the entrained units is consistent.

2.1 I synch, therefore I am Biologist Gerald Edelman‟s theory on neuronal group selection describes how our brain operates in terms of groups of neurons firing together. The central thesis in Edelman‟s theory is that perceptions and actions stimulate the brain through neuronal activity that groups bundles of neurons together into an operational unit. It is not individual neurons that determine thought and


behaviour but, rather, neuronal groupings, and groups of groupings called maps. These maps are located in specific areas of the brain and become linked through past behaviour by what he calls: re-entrant processes.

This line of thought supports the modal based theory presented by Barsalou with regard to embodiment of knowledge. Separate groups or maps are massively connected by neuronal circuits and neuronal loopings (Edelman: 83-85). Through repeated behaviour (or repeated learning), certain linkages are habituated so that the stimulation of one map almost simultaneously stimulates many other maps as well. These bundles of neurons interact with other bundles of neurons, that have also become an operational unit, through groupings stimulated by perception, action or by other neural groupings. In this cumulative way, the brain develops classification couples, that is; “different groups of neurons that will tend to be activated together given the same stimulus that originally initiated their connectivity” (Edelman: 87). Clayton et al. confirms this by saying: “most brain functions can best be described as cooperative, synchronized activity of large, distributed ensembles of neurons, and a large part of this synchronized activity is of an oscillatory nature. These auto-rhythmic oscillatory properties of neurons in the central nervous system are a consequence of their electrochemical properties (Clayton et al: 5).

Edelman proposes an open ended theory in which the structure of the brain, the connections between massive bundles of neurons, are not permanently hard wired. The brain continually reconfigures its connections according to interactions with the outside world and with interactions with other parts of the brain according to its own internal needs. “Perturbations at different levels cause global mappings to rearrange, to collapse or to be replaced by another global mapping” (Edelman: 91). This makes change, adjustment and creativity basic elements of the biological structure of our brains. An important aspect of Edelman‟ theory is that re-entry, the interaction between neuronal bundles or groupings, is not just a one way interaction, but operates both ways. Groups of groups also come to be interactively connected so that a single stimulus such as a sight or a sound may


trigger multiple connections of bundles of neurons throughout the brain, resulting in what he calls a global mapping. If a particular sound or sight results in the excitation of a global mapping, the individual may be associating the sound or sight with a complex set of memories, emotions, inspirations to action, beliefs, and even the experience of another realm of being (Edelman: 89-91).

This is familiar to most of us. Listening to a specific piece of music or even a particular sound (this also holds true for smell, sight and touch) can invoke memories, thoughts or feelings that are in no way intrinsic to the sensory input itself. Edelman is proposing a theory that connects perception, emotion, cognition and action through multiple neuronal groups involved in multiple re-entries, that is: two way connections or reciprocal feedback. Following this description of neural activity, it is clear that the principle of structural coupling is applicable to brain processes and that these can be described in terms of entrainment among neurons.

Entrainment in the brain shines through on a physical level, as self entrainment is evident in physical activity in both animals and humans. Performed actions, such as a gesture by one part of the body, tend to entrain gestures by other parts of the body. For example, arm movements in walking could, in principle, be independent from leg movements, but in fact they are not. It feels much easier, is more harmonious, and less strenuous if the arms lock into the leg movements.

Even stronger than this type of internal entrainment is the human ability to entrain to an external rhythmic or oscillatory source. This does not have to be of a musical sort. We constantly entrain our attention and movements towards each other in an empathetic attempt to read other peoples intentions and goals. This is because our brains interact with the world through actions that are implemented by sensory and motor processes and perceptions, described above as reciprocal feedback. A significant part of these interactions consists of synchronized goal directed actions during social interaction between people.

When performing a task with someone else, we need to coordinate our movements and ensure that we have the same goal. This alignment in action is facilitated by covert and automatic


representations of the actions and intentions of others. If our movements are covertly imitated we will feel more friendly toward the person who is imitating us and will even feel more welldisposed toward people in general (Frith 2008: 505) The benefit of this, is that it increases “the efficiency and success of group behaviour at the expense of the individual” (Frith 2008:505).

2.3 We act, therefore we synch According to the vision of entrainment offered by cognitive psychologist Mari Riess Jones entrainment is a form of interactive attending, creating a “synchronous interplay between an attendee and an event, in which the former comes to partially share the events‟ rhythmic pattern” (Jones & Boltz: 470). Entrainment appears, therefore, to be one of the fundamental processes providing an intimate connection between individuals, others, and the world around them.

I find this concept very useful when applied to the study of music in ritual, because it offers a new approach to the understanding of music making and music perception as an integrated, embodied and interactive process, and can, therefore, shed light on many central issues regarding ritualistic behaviour such as; altered states of consciousness, socialization, bonding and interpersonal entrainment of similar emotions. Another advantage is the potential of the entrainment model to better integrate the study of physiological and psychological factors with cultural analyses.

The social entrainment model presented by psychologists McGrath and Kelly rests on five major propositions:

1. That much of human behaviour, at physiological, psychological, and interpersonal levels, is temporal in character; that is, that the behaviour is regulated by processes that are cyclical, oscillatory, or rhythmical. 2. That these are endogenous rhythms; that is, that they are inherent in the life processes of the organisms involved.


3. That sets of such rhythms, within the individual, become mutually entrained to each other, hence that they come to act in synchrony in both phase and frequency or periodicity. 4. That the temporal patterns of individuals who are in interaction become mutually entrained to one another, that is, that they get in synchrony of phase and period. 5. That temporal patterns of behaviour of individuals and sets of individuals become collectively entrained to certain powerful external pacer events and entraining cycles. The former alter the phase or onset, and the latter alter the periodicity, of those endogenous and mutually entrained rhythms (McGrath and Kelly: 83-84).

This model is useful as it sets a precedent for bridging the gap between neurological and biological studies on the one hand, and social science on the other. During a period of social interaction, the members of a social group must work out a negotiated temporal order in which they adjust their activity patterns to coordinate with each other. This is typically done by defining a common goal. Each member of the group can be viewed as an oscillator. The multiple independent cycles of activity of the members of the group become coordinated with one another into a temporally patterned system of activity that is characterized by: “a dynamic equilibrium rather than by a fixed homeostatic pattern” (McGrath and Kelly: 89-90).

This is environmental perturbations at work, causing structural coupling, knowledge, interpersonal communication and social bonding. Furthermore, there is research suggesting that neural networks supporting social cognition in general and theory of mind abilities21 in particular, might also support synchronicity between brains during voluntary coordinated actions of cooperation. “Neural activity in medial prefrontal cortex is selectively enhanced during theory of mind tasks. Specifically, these increments may reflect synchronisation of cell assemblies representing (i.e., mirroring) the coordinated behaviour between oneself and others” (Lindenberger et al.:7). In other words, it is because of our emphatic abilities in goal directed


The ability to explain and predict other people's behavior by attributing independent mental states such as beliefs, intentions, emotions, and expectations to them.


action, that our brains synchronize. The synchronicity manifests as entrained behavioural patterns that facilitate cooperation.

Cooperation is nothing without communication. Considerable evidence, from social scientific studies, points to the rhythmic organization of both verbal and gestural communication and to entrainment between the communicative rhythms of interacting individuals. This not only involves spoken language, but gesture (body language) as well. Speech and gestures are apparently so effectively coupled in adults, that when speakers stutter, the gestures tend to stop until the speech is recovered (Clayton et al.:12). The coupling between gesture and speech develops through rhythmic activity at a very early stage in human ontogeny. Later in life the arms, through gesture, gradually entrain to the activity of the vocal apparatus. Mutual activation increases as vocal communication through words and phrases becomes more practised, leading to strong synchronisation of speech and manual gestures for communicative purposes in adults (ibid: 13). The important role of rhythm in group behaviour suggests that we can view these rhythmic aspects of communication as essentially social in nature; a system that binds individuals together into effective groups and links groups into communities (Lomax: 149-150).

The concept of entrainment thus describes a shared tendency of a wide range of physical and biological systems, including human cognition and physiology. This tendency allows us to act in unison, greatly increasing our efficiency in cooperative tasks. At the same time, synchrony between interacting people serves as verification of common goal orientated action initiated by our emphatic ability to ascribe independent mental states to our fellow man.

2.4 Entrainment to music Entrainment to music occurs in two primary areas: movement and emotion. The influence on movement is something we all experience when we dance, tap our feet to a beat or sing a song in a group. When we entrain to music, we still rely on the processes described above, but instead of synchronizing to the oscillatory nature of another person, we fall into synchrony with the steady


pulse of (most) musical rhythm22 which is a much more accessible oscillator than that provided by human interaction. The human ability to keep time and move rhythmically is unparalleled in nature, but what is truly special is our ability to entrain our movements to an external rhythm, such as a beating drum (Brown et al.: 12)

Perceptual research on humans using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) indicates that rhythms that have a regular beat are associated with increased activity in the basal ganglia. This deep brain structure is known to be an essential part of the distributed circuit (cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and thalamus) involved in interval timing or musical beat perception. Importantly, the basal ganglia is also involved in motor control and sequencing. This means that one of the brain structures involved in perceptually keeping a beat is also involved in the coordination of patterned movement (Patel: 419). No wonder we tap our feet to the rhythm.

Yet non human animals do not synchronize to a beat, despite the fact that the same brain structures control the same abilities in a wide range of species (Buhusi and Mech: 756). This suggests that a major factor in human evolution modified the basal ganglia in a way that created a nerve coupling between auditory input and motor output. A plausible candidate for this evolutionary factor is vocal learning. Though this is yet to be tested, it does seem to point in the direction of a strong overlap between music and language abilities in humans.

Music has the power to change the very structure of our brains, enlarging certain areas due to motor or perceived experience23. However music is not unique in this respect. The brain has a remarkable capacity to change due to experience. Motor and perceptual experience can change the relative size and organisation of specific brain areas (Huttenlocher, 2002). Thus, the human process of invention, internalization and transformation can change the very organ that makes this process possible (Clark, 2003).


I realize that not all music relies on steady beats, and that the perception of what a steady beat is, relies very much on cultural belonging. 23 See M端nte et al 2002; Pascal-leone, 2003.


As I have just shown, there is a strong coupling between speech and gesture which places specific demands on the nervous system. Thus, it seems our ability to synchronize our movements to an external pulse has its evolutionary roots in the development of our (musically based) communicative skills, such as prosodic utterances24. This appears reasonable as they are both primary in the development of interpersonal relations and formation of groups, but it is a field that requires further investigation.

Besides making us move physically, music has a tendency to coordinate at least the shape of the rise and fall of emotional response in a body of people. “We are all likely to feel most strongly at the same point, even if the precise colours of our feelings differ” (Sloboda 2005: 358). Perceived rhythms will be interpreted according to learned knowledge embedded in culture (Clayton et al.:16). For this reason, varying rhythmic contexts, stages of ontogenic development, as well as physiological and psychological factors, will cause people to have “different temporal experiences of the same event” (Jones and Boltz: 471). Because of the individual nature of their structural couplings, people will have different entrainment experiences even though they may be participating in the same musical performance. Jones‟ work shows entrainment to be a flexible process that can adapt and accommodate many ranges of rhythmic complexity and coherence found in the world. Such a model of entrainment allows for a better understanding of music as a communicative and socially interactive process. Attention, arousal and contextual knowledge play a significant part in fully achieving a synchronized experience while participating in an event. This is relevant to high arousal religious rituals, which are often loaded with symbolism and require a certain amount of attention and a great deal of contextual knowledge in order for us to display appropriate behaviour and, thus, participate correctly in accordance with religious prescription. These rituals often also involve some sort of musical participation; singing, clapping, dancing etc. Even though our temporal experiences might be different, music‟s ability to synchronize the rise and fall of different moods of many individuals in a larger group is undeniable. The individual 24

In chapter 3.1: Evolutionary interlude, I discuss the interconnectedness of music and language in human evolution and the consequences this has on our perceptual abilities of both.


singers in a gospel choir and their audience might have different personal experiences of the performance, but they still move in synchrony, sing in unison, and most likely, experience peak emotional arousal within a short time frame of each other25. The driving of an external rhythm plays a role in linking people by providing a common framework of identification. Rhythmic patterns facilitate the co-activity of groups and aid their members in coordinating energies and resources. Thus, music plays an important role in ritual by “raising arousal and synchronizing individual moods to serve the larger goal of the group� (Huron 2001:17). Cognitive psychologists like Mari Reiss Jones hold that perception, attention, and expectation are all rhythmic processes subject to entrainment. This means that, even when a person is not speaking or performing music, but is only listening, their perceptions and expectations will be coordinated by their entrainment to what they hear. Entrainment is fundamental then, not just to coordinate with others, but even to perceive, react to, and enjoy music. The role of expectation and anticipation in music perception will be further discussed in Chapter 4.1: Music and emotion.

When discussing the act of making and listening to music in terms of entrainment, one can describe the changes that occur in individuals and groups of individuals as having evolved over time through a historic process of structural coupling. Structural changes that occur within the organism are a result of interactions with other organisms and a world. These changes become new domains of knowledge, knowledge gained through interactive behaviour.

Groups of people who are focused on a common event and who share a common history, and thus knowledge, of that event, tend to act, react, and to some extent feel in concert without sacrificing their personal identity. The advantage of this view is that it enables us to look at the event as a whole instead of what takes place inside a particular brain. We can describe the whole event as a performance by a particular group of persons, who continually restructure each other and subsequent events. Both musician and attendant are in a relationship in which the actions of 25

This is unverified by scientific data. A synchronicity study of gospel choirs would therefore make a relevant and much needed study.


one part direct the subsequent actions of the other. They are linked in a continuous, evolving event in which each directly conditions the next move of the other (Becker: 121). This will be the subject of Chapter 5: How music affords religious ritual.

The fundamental biological processes have now been discussed and connected with sociological and psychological theories. The next step is to connect the insights of the above with the context in which it takes place, namely human culture.

Chapter 3: Culture This chapter has been divided into three parts. The first part is an evolutionary interlude, which deals with the evolution of music and language as cultural phenomena. In order to understand the role of music and language as culturally embedded systems of knowledge, with the capability to induce emotions in humans, we must start at the beginning. Music and language have such a strong evolutionary connection that it is impossible to discuss one without the other. This discussion also serves the purpose of underlining the importance of culture as a human evolutionary adaption that is not gene specific, yet it shapes the way we live and, in some cases, ensures our survival.

Following the evolutionary interlude, I will elaborate further on the shared evolutionary development of language and music in order to discuss why music is able to communicate emotional states to individuals and entrain them across groups of people. Since being part of culture is inescapable as a human and that our cultural belonging conditions our view and understanding of the world we live in, a discussion of how cultural belonging effects our perception of music is needed. This is the subject of the last part of the chapter and draws on research done by Judith Becker, professor of ethnomusicology at Michigan University, for a discussion of situated listening.

The biological basis has now been established and it is time to move into the realm of culture. When speaking of culture I am entering the field of anthropology and I will therefore use


anthropologist Clifford Geertz‟ definition of culture: ”A historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions, expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men can communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life” (Geertz: 89). Geertz goes on to suggest that the transmission of behavioural patterns through symbolic means is fundamental to human social life. This entails communication in form of language, gesture or music and follows the ideas presented here with regard to seeing communication as a primary source of interpersonal bonding and, thus, social life.

Geertz holds that cultural patterns are public, as they can be accessed through social interaction, but, at the same time, they are conventional, as they are conditioned by context and history. He, therefore, sees culture as a semiotic system which functions as an external control system for human action and interaction. This is supported by Maturana and Varela who hold that, since communication is essential for human social relations: “we exist in language and the domains of discourse that we generate become part of our domain of existence and constitute part of the environment in which we conserve identity and adaption” (Maturana & Varela 1998: 234). There is one point in Geertz‟ definition they would disagree with, and that is the idea that meaning is embedded in symbols. As previously discussed, communicative actions give rise to meaning within the perceiver. Meaning can thus not be embedded in a symbol, it only manifests in the behavioural change of the perceiver. I will not discuss this disagreement here. Simply put, we can see that through the dynamic development of social life, certain rules of conduct and meaning are established. These rules materialize as culture and cultural artefacts, and help maintain group cohesion through behavioural regulation and by creating individual feelings of belonging.

3.1 Evolutionary interlude As a beginning, I am going to add a brief presentation of the evolutionary connections between music, language and culture. This is done because I find it to be a relevant way to connect the human biological properties described in the previous chapters with the ideas presented in the


following, concerning culturally situated listening and the intertwined nature of music and language. As described in his book; A mind so rare, psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald holds that there have been three major transitions in the emergence of our cognitive skills: Mimetic, Mythic and Theoretic. The first two are of importance here but I will comment, briefly, on all three of them.

Donald describes how the close connection between brain and culture has accelerated the rate of human evolution; as bonding into social groups and eventually culture is an extremely efficient way to share and accumulate knowledge. The first transition of evolution revolves around the ability to use mimetic skills. This means the use of body language, precise imitation, and gesture, which enabled the early humanoids to act in unison within groups and create and confirm social bonds (Donald: 260). This early example of the unique humanoid ability to synchronize to an external source of rhythmic interaction makes Ellen Dissanayake propose that; “the human capacity for temporal synchronisation to an external pulse, not known to exist in other mammals or other primates, derived from a capacity that evolved in ancestral mother-infant interactions and then developed further in proto-music, whether in Neanderthals or even earlier in H. Heidelbergensis” (Dissanayake: 378).

The capacity to produce (proto) music at a stage in human evolution revolving around social bonding seems probable. David Huron speculates that “music might have originated as an adaptation for social bonding; more particularly, as a way of synchronizing the mood of many individuals in a larger group” (Huron 2001: 15).

The proto-music of early humanoids would be focused around communicating emotional states and intentions between individuals or within a group. It is believed that the early humanoids were capable of producing intentional vocal sounds. These include deliberately raising and lowering the voice and imitating emotional sounds (Donald: 261). The prosodic nature of this early communicative ability has a strong resemblance with what we see in infant directed speech today, which has some resemblance to singing. At least it connects our present ability to react to music with the emerging communicative abilities of our ancestors.


Neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp, suggests that; “our brains‟ ability to resonate emotionally with music may have a deep multidimensional evolutionary history, including issues related to the emergence of intersubjective communication, mate selection strategies, and the emergence of regulatory processes for other social dynamics such as those entailed in group cohesion and activity coordination” (Panksepp: 139). During the second transition in Donald‟s theory of cognitive evolution, humans developed the ability to create a large variety of objects including tools, boats, complex dwellings and simple musical instruments. Their primary achievement was the implementation of language as a means of communication. This led them to be able to dominate the world and was their main advantage over rivals and predecessors. Oral culture was the universal form of culture until about forty thousand years ago, where the third transition took place. This transition involved the development of powerful external symbolic devices, such as written language, to store and retrieve cultural knowledge, thus leading to the abstract reflective culture of today (Donald: 262).

It is certainly reasonable to hypothesize that music was built upon the prosodic mechanisms of the brain that allow us affective emotional communications through vocal intonations. The possibility that rhythmic body movement, and the rhythm generators within the brain, may have been pre-adaptation for the emergence of music is also plausible (Panksepp: 136) It seems that music co-evolved with the human ability to create and maintain social bonds, which led to the establishment of culture. Within culture the need to communicate beyond immediate emotional and intentional states emerged, giving rise to language. Music is still able to communicate, especially emotional states, in a way that seems outside of the scope of language. We have all experienced how a song or even a simple melody perfectly describes our state of mind; a state that would not be describable in words.

3.2 Cognitive overlaps in language and musical perception A possible evolutionary role of music and language in culture has now been introduced, though the intertwined evolutionary development of language and music is subject to much debate26. 26

Patel 2008, Mithen 2006, Sloboda 2005, Huron 2001.


However, there seems to be a general agreement on the idea that we perceive music as if it was language, because we learn language through the same mechanisms we use to produce music. This is most likely because, as I discussed above, language developed from music. The human potential for language acquisition is closely linked, not only to our ability to create music, but more importantly to our ability to react to sound/music on a physical, mental and emotional level.

Humans are unparalleled in their ability to make sense out of sound. Researchers in many other areas of our experience (e.g. visual perception, touch) learn much from studying the behaviour and brains of different animals because our experience is not that different from theirs. When it comes to language and music, however, our species is unique (Patel: 3). As discussed above, both our musical and our language abilities seem to stem from the prosodic communicative abilities of our ancestors. Even though our language capabilities are now well developed, we still rely on basic prosodic means in order to communicate emotions in our language. The same pattern can be seen in emotional responses to music.

Language is a part of culture and cultural belonging influences our understanding of music. This entangled nature of music and language may, in part, be due to their shared origin in infant directed speech. The main properties of infant directed speech, are rhythm and pitch variations. To properly understand our ability to perceive rhythm and pitch and how this seems to entrain emotions at an interpersonal level of interaction, I will briefly introduce the basics of infant directed speech.

3.2.1 Infant directed speech The general character of Infant Directed Speech (IDS) is well known to all: a higher overall pitch, a wider range of pitch, hyper articulated vowels and pauses, shorter phrases and greater repetition than found in speech directed to older children and adults (Mithen: 69). From four to seven weeks of age, if not before, infants are highly responsive to the richly intoned sounds of IDS, preferring those to the more muted tones of adult-directed speech (ADS). Professor of child psychology, Sandra Trehub, holds that both IDS and singing as forms of communication


between mother and infant are widely spread, both within and across cultures. Both types of communication share distinctive vocal stylizations such as: high pitch, slow tempo, and other indices of heightened expressiveness or emotionality (Trehub & Nakata: 456). In general, emotional intentions are thought to be more emotionally transparent in IDS than in ADS, which may contribute to successful emotional communication between mother and infant. The consequences of maternal speech and singing are presumed to be similar as regards enhancing infant attention, averting distress, and fostering interpersonal bonds (Trehub & Nakata: 457).

If the exaggerated prosody of IDS is only a language learning device, one would expect to find the IDS of peoples speaking; Xhosa, Chinese, Japanese to be quite different from that of those speaking; English, German or Italian. This seems not to be the case, (Mithen: 74) and, thus, the argument that;” mother-infant interaction was the source for musicality” (Dissanayake: 378) as well as that of the universal ability of pitch and rhythm to induce emotion, seem strengthened. Language and music share the ability to entrain emotion and motor action at an interpersonal level with IDS because of their similar use of rhythm and pitch as their means of communication. In the next section I will delve deeper into these two phenomena and their impact on our abilities of perception with regard to music and language.

3.2.2 Perception of rhythm and pitch Research in music cognition has revealed several interesting facts about beat perception, which I will now discuss. Simply put; if the rhythm of a sentence or a piece of music is slow, we perceive it as calm and even soothing as in the case of IDS, but, if the rhythm is fast, we perceive it as either exalted or agitated. This indicates that rhythm relates to arousal (Juslin & Västfjäll: 566). Neurobiologist, Aniruddh Patel, conducted experiments, where subjects27 had to tap their finger at the pace they found most comfortable and where they were capable of keeping a steady rhythm over longer period of time (1-2 min). This showed that the preferred tempo range was between 500ms and 700ms. In this tempo range people are also most accurate in making duration judgments as well as judging slight differences in tempo. It is interesting to note that in


The subjects all came from English speaking countries.


languages with stressed and unstressed syllables, the intervals between these syllables lie within this range. E.g. English, Russian, Arabic (Patel: 100).

A perceived beat can encounter a good deal of counter evidence in the form of accented events at nonbeat locations and absent or weak events at beat locations, in other words, syncopation. Patel et al. (2005) have shown that participants tapping to various syncopated rhythms, typically preceded the beat by a small amount. This indicates that beat perception is anticipatory rather than reactive (Patel: 102). The fact that we are most accurate in making predictions at a tempo range similar to that found in our spoken language, and that our beat perception is anticipatory, supports David Huron‟s theory on anticipation as a main source of emotion in perception. I shall discuss this in Chapter 4: Emotional arousal through music.

Part of following a conversation is the unconscious process of predicting the next word or even syllable in the stream of words perceived. We anticipate a continuous stream of words, following the same rhythmic pattern and pitch flow. If any of these are varied significantly, we would either not understand what was being said, or, at least, not take it serious. This is part of Huron‟s theory on anticipation, where he explains how our ability to predict stimulus induces a positive response when the stimulus comes as expected and a negative response if the stimulus is unexpected (Huron 2006: 13). This is, of course, the immediate response; further reflection is needed to validate what is actually being said. A good example of this is if a sentence were simply to end. Prematurely28. The suggestion is that we more easily follow a stream of information if it lies within our preferred tempo range of perception. In this way “experience with speech, shapes non-linguistic rhythm cognition at a very basic level” (Patel: 173). There is also cultural variability in beat perception. This indicates that beat perception is not simply a passive response of the auditory system to the physical periodicity in sound. Cultural influences are involved, that may relate to knowledge of musical structure and indicates the influence of cultural belonging on listening (Patel: 101). This correlates well with


This example works better in spoken language, but the effect is still noticeable in writing.


the fact that different languages have different rhythmic structures and, that different cultures have different rhythmic standards for musical expression.

While rhythm, generally speaking, is connected to arousal, pitch is connected to emotion. Juslin and Västfjäll claim that listeners implicitly recognize a basic emotion in music (such as sadness) from speech-like cues to affect (e.g. low tempo, pitch level, intensity, and pitch variability) (Juslin & Västfjäll: 565). Patel finds this idea intriguing because “cues to vocal affect include musical aspects of speech, such as pitch, tempo, loudness, and timbre, and because the patterning of these cues in emotionally expressive speech and music shows striking commonalities” (Patel in Juslin & Västfjäll: 589).

In other words, we utilize the same mechanisms to extract emotional information from both language and music, while, at the same time, we use the same affective means to express emotion in both music and language: we code and decode music and language by the same means. This means that our use of tonality in speech is directly translated into emotional affect in music and vice versa. Whether this is because language developed from music or, because language and music both rely on sound as a means of communicating emotion, is yet to be answered.

At the same time, both language and music depend very much on entrainment. When we have a conversation; body posture, gesticulation and speech rhythm are very dependent on the person we interact with. We synchronize our language and bodily movements to our partner in conversation, this is known as the chameleon effect (Frith: 505). This adds information regarding our emotional state and it can be used to signal the importance or direction of our utterances. This way of synchronizing our different communicative signals in conversation is a fundamental and universal feature of language use and has an evident link with communal music making (Mithen: 12).

Typical movements during conversation will have a degree of fluidity, with the occasional abrupt movement to emphasise a point. They will not follow the rhythm of speech tightly, but, rather,


interweave with the basic rhythm of speech; much as polyrhythms in music. Studies have shown that, when musicians tap the main pulse in a polymetric context an area associated with higher processing of language, known as; Brodmann area 47, is activated. “This suggests that the processing of metric elements of music relies on brain areas also involved in language comprehension” (Vuust et al.: 832). The presence of a regular beat in music may facilitate the coordination of emotion between mother and infant, just as it promotes coordinated movement and feelings in group music-making and listening (Trehub & Nakata: 461). Brown (2003) portrays music as “the ideal synchronisation device,” which may have evolved “to coordinate action and promote cohesion at the group level” (Brown 2003: 16. Quoted in Trehub & Nakata: 461). This brings us back to the evolutionary advantages of having the ability to communicate through music and how this has supported social bonding and the formation of culture.

I will now go on to discuss the significance of cultural belonging with regards to music perception. This covers a discussion of perceiving meaning in music both as a situated and embedded property of context, and also, as a consequence of the correlations between the way we produce emotional affect in both language and music.

3.3 Habitus of Listening What you know about what you hear, changes the way you hear it In order to describe what culture and context mean with regard to our perception of music I will introduce the concept of habitus of listening as coined by Judith Becker. The idea builds upon the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu‟s notion of habitus, which can be understood as a set of acquired patterns of thought and behaviour. These patterns, or dispositions, as Bourdieu calls them, are the result of internalization of culture or objective social structures through the experience of an individual or group. Becker uses the idea to focus on the forces that shape our responses and understanding of music, thus the term; habitus of listening.

This notion will help in the analysis of music and music perception as a culturally dependent mechanism. The main point of this chapter is to describe how our cultural background influences our musical perception, thereby connecting the previous chapters with the coming by introducing


the ideas from biology into studies of culture and adding music to the equation. I will continuously discuss the problem of music and meaning throughout the chapter. Bourdieu defines habitus as; “a system of dispositions”, which can be seen as; lasting schemes of perception acquired through thought and (inter)action. He then goes on to define dispositions as; “the result of an organizing action, with a meaning close to that of words such as structure; it also designates a way of being, a habitual state (especially of the body) and, in particular, a predisposition, tendency, propensity, or inclination (Bourdieu: 214). The individual agent develops these dispositions in response to conditions and interactions over the course of a life time. Even though Maturana and Varela does not use the word habitus, the idea that structural coupling accumulates knowledge within each interacting agent, which determines that agents reactions and correlates behavioural patterns accordingly, appears to supply a biological foundation to Bourdieu‟s notion.

When connecting the idea of habitus with perception of music, the underlining notion is that our perceptions operate within a set of habits gradually established throughout our lives, as described in the previous chapters. The process begins at birth and is universal: “Throughout the world, newborns prefer song to speech” (Trehub 2001: 3). During childhood, these innate musical preferences and capacities are channelled and elaborated into specific cultural forms. By age 6, children readily employ both tempo and mode in the music of their cultures to identify basic emotions of; happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. By age 10, they are able to identify and neurologically respond to syntactic irregularities in the music of their culture (Trehub 2001: 6)

Judith Becker goes on to describe habitus of listening as a disposition to listen with a particular kind of focus, expect certain experiences, stylized gestures and emotional responses (Becker: 71). Our disposition towards music is strongly coloured by our cultural background. Even though some of us enjoy listening to music with strong cultural ties other than our own, does not mean that we are able to understand the music in the same way we understand what is happening in music from our own cultural tradition. As mentioned above, this is especially true with regards to


religious music, where context and a strong disposition to react in specific ways are important aspects to master if one wants to display appropriate behaviour in the musical context.

When talking about appropriate behaviour, I mean the cultural or contextual consensus regarding which behavioural patterns are appropriate to display when perceiving music in the context it belongs. If you listen to, or sing, Western funeral music at home, you are welcome to sing and dance at the same time, but, when participating in a funeral ritual in modern western societies, you must follow the slow rhythm and sombre mood of the ritual, and that is often dictated by the music.

Habitus can be described as an embodied pattern of action and reaction in which we are not fully conscious of why we do what we do; not totally determined, but having a tendency to behave in a certain way. “The stance of the listener is not a given, not natural, but necessarily influenced by place, time, the shared context of culture, and the intricate and irreproducible details of one‟s personal biography” (Becker 71). This notion reaches back to the reciprocal process of structural coupling as a process which entrails the co-ontogeny of all its members within a society, making each culture (slightly) different with regard to reaction and interpretation of perceptions. A clear example is provided by Claude Levi-Strauss: “In Australia, the Warramunga prescribe noise before death and silence afterwards; in South America, a Bororo rite concerning the ancestors requires silence first, then noise” (Levi-Strauss: 334). It is also noteworthy that in some traditional cultures, a distinction between music and dance is not made: for example, the Igbo (African) term „nkwa‟ denotes „singing, playing instruments, and dancing‟, and there is, apparently, no concept in that culture of „music‟ being solely based on sound (Panksepp: 141).

As we have seen, musical entrainment implies a profound association between different people at a physiological level and a shared tendency to behave in the same way at a biological level. The implications of this view for studies of socialization and identification are obvious. This brings into focus the process of enculturation and what this means in terms of perceptual understanding with regards to music. “Someone‟s ability to respond appropriately to a given musical stimulus


can, since it is a learned application of a basic biological tendency, be a marker of the degree to which an individual 'belongs' in a particular social group” (Clayton et al.: 22). In other words; in order to understand the meaning29 of a particular piece of music, a certain degree of cultural knowledge and experience is necessary. By cultural experience, I mean that; the music has to be experienced within its context of belonging. This is especially true with regards to music with a significant cultural connection, such as religious music, where the meaning contained within the music is often specific to certain actions, locations or symbols pertaining to the religious setting. You can of course still enjoy listening to recorded versions of this type of music and gain a personal relationship which induces specific feelings and reactions in you, but these reactions may not be appropriate or correct with regards to the original context of the music.

We can choose what to do with music, but for most of us, the choices are limited by culture, background, social context and the way the music has been designed. (Sloboda 2005: 347) Thus, a study of musical perception is a study of cultural belonging. Every hearing is dependent upon the individual‟s ontogeny, specifically in terms of cultural knowledge and belonging; hence, what you know about what you hear changes the way you hear it. This is not a conscious process, but an integrated part of your listening experience. Only when confronted with an alternative kind of listening are we likely to reflect on our own, conventionalized, mode of listening (Becker: 69).

You presuppose certain: gestures / movement / non movement, when hearing music. This is all part of the culturally learned appropriate behaviour. e.g. It would be inappropriate to head-bang at the Royal Philharmonics playing Mozart, while you might have a hard time sitting still, enjoying each instruments‟ role in the composition in front of the stage at a heavy metal concert by Slayer. Modes of listening vary to the kind of music being played or heard, and encompass the expectations of the musical tradition and situation, as well as the kind of subjectivity that a


When talking about music, the term “meaning” is only relevant with regards to displaying appropriate behaviour as a sign of having understood the culturally embedded meaning of the particular piece of music. I still follow Maturana and Varela in their description of nonsensical communication, which means that the meaning contained in music depends on the effects it has on the listener.


particular kind of culture has fostered in relation to musical events. This involves not only structures of knowledge and beliefs but also intimate notions of personhood and identity.

The experimental studies on music and emotion conducted by western scholars and scientists nearly always presume a particular image of the listener; silent, still listening, paying close attention to a piece of music about which they name the type of emotion evoked. This is usable to distinguish affective responses in a de-contextualized performance, where participants focus on their own emotional reactions, rather than those of a group. This is a typical listening situation in a concert hall where western classical music is performed. Silent, still and focused listening is also the habit of other musical traditions, notably the north Indian Hindustani tradition of ragas, where introspective listening is encouraged. This way of listening to music may also reflect the habit of many current western listeners, as much, modern, musical listening takes place through headphones rather than at a live performance (Becker: 68). But, if the intention is to describe something more general about the relationship between musical event and musical affect, this approach is inadequate. Becker suggests that the notion of listening habitus should be combined with the clinical results. “It is possible to encompass the facts derived from clinical studies and apply them to an analysis of the individual in a cultural, social context� (Becker: 69). I will discuss emotional responses to music measured in clinical settings, and how these might be used to describe actions in a social context, in the following chapter.

Chapter 4: Emotional arousal through music I will now turn to neuroscience, in order to discover how music induces emotions. This has been divided into two different approaches. The first deals with musicâ€&#x;s ability to induce everyday emotions, such as: happiness, sadness, anger, fear etc. This is based on an analysis of our ability to anticipate events in music and rhythm, coined by cognitive musicologist; David Huron. The second approach deals with the fact that the nervous system associated with our auditory input is wired directly into our brain stem before it reaches our auditory cortex, where it is evaluated. Nerve connections from the main part of the brain to the motor and sensory systems in the body pass through the brain stem, which also plays an important role in the regulation of cardiac and


respiratory functions. This means that auditory input may trigger motor responses as well as affect the respiration system at a subconscious level. This section is based on various experiments regarding immediate emotional responses to music as well as anthropological research. In his book, Descartesâ€&#x; error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio describes how emotions, which are based on the internal environment of the body, act as inputs into the brain, just as visual or auditory information is an input to the brain from the external environment. The brain is primarily a centre which collects and collates feedback on body states, including emotions, and acts to maintain constancy of the internal milieu. This line of thought is similar to that of autopoietic systems and underlines how structural coupling permeates all aspects of human biology. This concept also clarifies the role and nature of emotions, and allows them to be studied using the full force of integrated modern neuroscience. But how do emotions come about? And how do we measure them? I will discuss different approaches to these questions in the following.

4.1 Anticipation David Huron developed his theory of anticipation with music in mind, but I believe that it can also be applied to language in order to describe the basic principles behind our emotional responses to general perceptions in our world, as the theory works on all timescales. I have already mentioned this in Chapter 3.1: Evolutionary interlude. We live in an uncertain environment and the best way to prepare for a future with untold possibilities is to try and predict what will happen next: to anticipate. Huron supplies the example of the slamming door: “even if we can see the door is about to slam shut, it is difficult to suppress the impending startle or defence reflex. We know the door poses no danger to us, but the sound of the slamming door provokes a powerful bodily response anyway. This is because nature knows best; it is better to respond to a thousand false alarms, than to miss a single genuine dangerous situation� (Huron 2006: 6). Minds are wired for expectation. Neuroscientists have identified several brain


structures that appear essential for prediction and anticipation30 (Huron 2006: 7). Huron proposes that the emotions evoked by expectation involve five functionally distinct physiological systems:

Imagination. Some outcomes are both uncertain and beyond control, but imagining them allows us to anticipate and, thus, prepare for them. An imagination response is a principal mechanism in behavioural motivation, as it allows us to feel immediate pleasure in order to feel greater pleasure later. We can, of course, also imagine displeasure (and try to avoid it), but, if it comes true, we will feel some pleasure because we made a correct prediction. We do not just think the future, we feel it as well.

Tension. Preparing for an expected event typically involves both motor preparation (arousal) and perceptual preparation (attention). The goal is to match arousal and attention to the expected outcome and synchronize the appropriate arousal and attention levels so they are reached just in time for the onset of the event (timing). This is a strong part of the entrainment process, especially in rapidly reoccurring events.

Prediction. When a stimulus is expected the emotional response is positively valenced, but when the stimulus is unexpected the response is negatively valenced. This immediate response may be reversed during appraisal. Since accurate predictions are of real benefit to an organism, it would be reasonable for psychological reward systems to initiate as a response to the accuracy of the expectation.

Reaction. Once an outcome is known, our emotions reflect some sort of assessment of the new state – fear, sadness, joy etc. There is a fast response which represents an assessment of the situation followed by an immediate bodily response; this can be either a reflex (as when you burn your hand and withdraw it) or a culturally learned response (as when you shake your head when you disagree).


These include the substantia nigra, the ventral tegmental area, the anterior cingulated cortex and the lateral prefrontal cortial areas.


Appraisal. This is actually a second reaction response, but it represents a more thoughtful assessment of the situation. A response that takes into consideration the situated context and other relevant factors through conscious thought.

Each of these systems can evoke feelings, both good and bad, independently from each other. Huron divides them into two periods. Pre outcome (Imagination and Tension) are feelings that occur prior to an expected or anticipated event. Post outcome (Prediction, Reaction and Appraisal) are feelings that occur after an expected or anticipated event. In general, positive and negative emotions act as behavioural reinforcements. Positive emotions encourage us to seek states that increase our adaptive fitness. Negative emotions encourage us to avoid maladaptive behaviour (Huron 2006: 7-15).


Event onset


Reaction Tension


Time Fig.2 Huronâ€&#x;s model of anticipation.

4.2 Neural pathways Another way to explain emotions induced through music is the evolutionary linkage between music and language. There is an important aspect of this connection that I have not yet discussed: the likelihood that many of the dynamic aspects of music gain access to human emotional systems quite directly without having to be processed propositionally (Panksepp: 139). This is supported by psychologist; Stefan Koelsch and neuro-scientist; Walter Siebel, who describes the neuronal pathway of auditory input as follows: “Acoustic information is translated into neural activity in the cochlea, and progressively transformed in the auditory brainstem, as indicated by different neural response properties for pitch, timbre, roughness, intensity and interaural disparities in the superior olivary complex and the inferior colliculus. This preprocessing enables the registration of auditory signals of danger as early as at the level of the


superior colliculus and the thalamus. From the thalamus, information is projected mainly into the (primary) auditory cortex. The thalamus is also directly connected with the amygdala and medial orbitofrontal cortex, structures implicated in emotion and control of emotional behaviour� (Koelsch & Siebel: 578). The pathway can be seen in fig. 3.

Fig. 3 A diagram of the auditory pathway showing how sound input reaches areas of motor control (brain stem), before it reaches areas of evaluation (auditory cortex).

Judith Becker believes that the physiological ability to respond to musical stimuli with strong deep-brain emotional responses is one of the determining pre-conditions for the propulsion into an ecstatic consciousness. “I am talking about emotions that originate in the lower part of the brain, in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that are not generally under conscious control� (Becker: 52). The ability of music to stir our emotions rather directly is a compelling line of


evidence for the notion that cognitive attributions in humans may not be absolutely essential for arousing emotional processes within the brain (Panksepp: 137). This notion somewhat overrides Huron‟s model of anticipation (but not quite, as I will discuss below), as these emotional states are induced through a direct connection between our auditory system and our nervous system, more particularly the brain stem. Though small, the brain stem is an extremely important part of the brain as the nerve connections of the motor and sensory systems from the main part of the brain to the rest of the body pass through here. This pre-processing enables the registration of auditory signals of danger as early as at the level of the thalamus (Koelsch & Siebel: 578). Because of this strong auditory ability to catch our attention, music is able to make certain actions, gestures, objects, symbols or persons seem more salient, provided the timing is right.

When dealing with reactions to music in the brain, evaluative reactions involve far too many cognitive processes to be measured efficiently. On the other hand, the reactions that happen as a consequence of the direct connection between auditory input and ANS are much easier to register using various brain scanning techniques. Consider, for example, the physiological response, known as: “chills” or: “shivers down the spine”, which many people have experienced when listening to music (Patel: 317). Psychologist; John Sloboda, conducted a survey of 63 listeners examining the occurrence of chills and other physiological responses to music(Sloboda1991). Sloboda was able to show that there was a relationship between musical structure and physiological response. Chills, for example, were often associated with sudden changes in harmony, which can be regarded as a violation of expectancy. Huron‟s model still predicts there would be a reaction when expectations are violated, but, rather than a negative response or an emotion you can rationalize afterwards, your immediate physical response is beyond your control, without any adaptive value; just a pure physical reaction. In this context chills are interesting because they are clearly an emotional response, but they do not resemble everyday emotions. Chills can, perhaps, be interpreted as a transient increase in arousal, but they do not seem to have any intrinsic valence (They occur with “happy” or “sad” music independently) (Patel: 318).


Neuropsychologists; Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre, also conducted a neural study of chills. The brain regions where activity was positively correlated with chills included deep brain structures associated with reward and motivation, including the ventral striatum and dorsal midbrain. These same areas are known to be active in response to other biologically rewarding stimuli, including food and sex. This means that music can engage evolutionary ancient brain structures normally involved in biologically vital functions (Patel: 318). Unfortunately, Blood and Zatorre did not also measure brain responses to everyday emotions induced by music and, so, there is no direct comparison of brain areas associated with chills versus everyday emotions currently available. The presented ideas can be summed up in the following diagram (fig. 4) coined by Koelsch and Siebel.

Fig 4. This is a display of the neural pathway of our auditory input, the response time of various evaluative processes and their interconnectedness (Koelsch & Siebel: 579).

It is an obvious fact that music serves as a magnet for human social activities. This is not a trivial observation, for it may highlight one of the major adaptive functions of music in human evolution; the ability of music to promote social interactions. This is an evident aspect of the use of music in all societies. As already mentioned, this dimension is also a salient aspect of IDS, the tendency of parents, or others, to engage babies with melodious singing like communications.


From such social perspectives, we might anticipate that music would have some clear effects on brain neuro-chemical systems that help mediate social processes. Unfortunately, not much work has been done with regards to the connection between music perception, the release of neurochemicals and social bonding. I will discuss some of the speculations concerning the release of oxytocin and dopamine in Chapter 6: Work to be done. Both hormones are believed to be released during music perception and participation and both play a part in the neuro-chemical process of social interaction and bonding.

Next, I will take the findings presented above and introduce them into the cultural context of religious ritual.

Chapter 5: How music affords religious ritual I have now discussed how music is able to induce emotions in individuals as well as entrain them across groups of people. I have also shown how cultural belonging and embodied knowledge play a significant part in the emotional arousal of participants and how this influences their ability to extract meaning from the musical experience. Music, song and dance are universal phenomena of religious ritual. It may be just coincidence that many rites are conducted at night or in dim light, although this could also be in order to enhance the relative importance and sensitivity of the ear. Of all physical stimuli sound is an ideal marker; it is pervasive and farreaching, yet capable of infinite variation. By contrast, sight is more limited and less variable, less able to denote subtle changes. A noteworthy fact is that a deaf ritual specialist is an anomaly whereas a blind one is common enough.

This chapter seeks to merge the data derived from studies in neuroscience with anthropological observations, in order to create a synthesis that seeks to explain the role of music in religious rituals. I will focus on how music facilitates the transition of religious knowledge, entrains emotional reactions and social belonging in groups of people and enables them to experience a divine presence and an altered state of consciousness.


5.1 Embodiment of knowledge As discussed in Chapter 1, we embody knowledge through our interactions with our environment. Especially repetitive or musically driven actions, such as singing, facilitate lasting knowledge and memories of the context in which the actions have transpired. A reason for this can be found in Edelmanâ€&#x;s theory of global mappings within the brain, which enables a multitude of associations to be linked together without necessarily being intrinsic to the perceived input. It also relates to the process of enculturation that occurs when newcomers participate in cultural events. In a historical perspective much of the ancestral knowledge in our species has been handed down through ritualized chanting and dance movements, as it still is in some of the more traditional societies around the world. These chants and movements display essential knowledge concerning how complex procedures needed to be carried out. Presumably, “the abilities that allowed humans to utilize ritual performances for cultural ends were related to the capacity of emotions to be expressed in rhythmic body movementsâ€? (Panksepp: 140).

This is important in relation to religious rituals that utilize dancing and singing as their major form of communication and participation as these actions strongly endow the participant with embodied knowledge from the culture they live in. Body movements, such as kneeling or folding your hands when praying, also help in the process of anchoring religious knowledge and customs in the body of the participants. This is obvious in Muslim prayer, where the entire mosque bow in synchrony during prayer recital. Though the recital is not characterized as singing, as music is not allowed in Islam, it still follows a formalized pattern and utilizes pitch and rhythm to construct a verbal expression different from mere speech.

The overriding premise is that, although all our musical preferences are ultimately culturally conditioned, our minds have been prepared, through the evolution of the brain, to resonate with certain affective features of music; embodying knowledge, triggering memories and various motor action responses which in turn induce emotional responses. As previously pointed out, Antonio Damasio holds that emotions can be viewed as inputs to the brain at the same level as


other perception based inputs, like sound and sight. This means that the emotions induced by music influence our experience of the context in which we perceive the music.

At the same time, music acts as an external source of rhythm, which, according to Mari Reiss Jones, entrains the listeners, accommodating a shared framework of rhythm as discussed in Chapter 2. Thus, music influences the human experience of musically based rituals by providing a rhythmic structure to the event, and by evoking emotions relevant to induce behaviour appropriate to the event. In summary: music sets the stage by inducing an emotional state relevant to the ritual, be it slow organ music or fast pounding drums. The emotional state influences our perception of the event in a way that enhances experiences relevant to the extraction of the knowledge embedded in the context of the event, thus enabling the transference of cultural knowledge between people and across generations.

An example of how music and sound helps structure a religious event can be found in the liturgy of a communion service in the Lutheran church31.




1. Organ Prelude

6. Reading from the Old Testament

15. Final Collect

2. Opening Prayer

7. Hymn

16. Blessing

3. Opening Hymn

8. Reading from the New Testament

17. Closing Hymn

4. Introductory Greeting

9. The Creed

18. Closing Prayer

5. Introductory Collect

10. Hymn

19. Organ Postlude

11. Gospel Reading 12. Sermon 13. Prayer of the Church 14. Hymn

A service begins with the church bells ringing, thereby drawing attention to the church making it salient in comparison to surrounding buildings. Including the church bell, the first four actions pertaining to the church service, three of them are based on music or sound. The following 31


events are structured around singing hymns as the diagram above shows. The organ sets the mood upon entering as well as while leaving the church, thereby marking the beginning and the end of the ritual.

As I have discussed in Chapter 4, music can evoke everyday emotions. These everyday emotions facilitate an individual emotional construct towards the ritual which is coloured by the mood of the individual. This mood is, in a sense, guided by the musical context into what can be described as the listeners‟ active use of music in a process of emotional construction. In other words, “in creating an emotional stance that helps define their attitude toward aspects of their own life” (Patel: 317). This emotional construction helps create individual feelings of belonging in participants. But, because music and singing enhances the embodiment of knowledge, the emotional stance is coloured by the music used to endow it. If the music has religious connotations, the emotional stance will most likely also carry a validation of the religious thoughts expressed in the music, thus strengthening individual belief and belonging.

Another facet of emotional responses to music, that is important in relation to religious ritual, is the entrainment of emotional responses described in Chapter 2.4. In this scope music enhances the communicative and social properties of an event by allowing its participants a shared experience in terms of timing the emotional arousal to peak within a narrow timeframe. This allows participants to, synchronically, share strong feelings. The raising of arousal and synchronization of moods of the individual members of a group strengthen the internal structure of the group in terms of enhancing social bonds and feelings of belonging.

This notion follows the ideas of Durkheim, who describes how religion functions to stabilize society and bring together a sense of unity and identity between the members of the community. In Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Durkheim uses religion as a source to show how societies are stabilized and cohered. This occurs in the reenacting of rituals, which creates intense emotions and bonding between the participants. Facilitating this process is what Durkheim calls effervescence: “if collective life awakens religious thought when it rises to a certain intensity, that is so because it brings about a state of effervescence that alters the


conditions of the psychic activity. The vital energies become hyper-excited, the passions more intense, the sensations more powerful; there are indeed some that are produced at this moment. Man does not recognize himself; he feels somehow transformed and in consequence transforms his surroundings� (Durkheim: 424).

Thus, singing and dancing together should be a part of every religious practice as it strongly enhances feelings of belonging, facilitates enculturation and strengthens the faith of the individual members as well as the whole society.

5.2 Altered states of consciousness As discussed in Chapter 4.2 the nervous system conveying auditory input to the brain taps directly into the brainstem which, among other things, control our motor skills and helps in our orientation in the world by providing a sense of direction to the sounds we perceive. This connection can be manipulated through perception of music with strong rhythmic patterns, such as drumming. Rhythmic drumming has specific neuro-physiological effects including the ability to elicit temporary changes in brain wave activity and, thereby, facilitate imagery and possible entry into an altered state of consciousness (Maxfield: 1). Drumming in general, and rhythmic drumming in particular, often induces imagery that is ceremonial and ritualistic in content and is an effective tool for entering into a non-ordinary or altered state of consciousness even when it is extracted from cultural ritual, ceremony, and intent (Maxfield: 2). Clayton backs this up by saying; “music, as an external oscillator entraining our internal oscillators, has the potential to affect not only our sense of time but also our sense of being in the world� (Clayton et al.:15).

The use of the drum by indigenous cultures in ritual and ceremony and, especially the shamanic rites which focus heavily on entering alternative states of mind as a way of communicating with the spirit world (Eliade: 471), indicate that the power of rhythm is well known and used throughout religious practice. The alternative states of mind induced by music may not necessarily be as radical as the ones pursued by the shamans. Judith Becker describes how


Pentecostals32 use a variety of musical expressions to build strong emotional states within the participants of the sermon. This includes loud singing of simple songs, often just one or two lines which are repeated, hand clapping and foot stomping accompanied by occasional shouts: “amen” or “hallelujah”. The music often starts slow and quiet only to gain in both volume and tempo as the participants gets excited (Becker: 98).

Becker also draws attention to the use of music to construct (vs. express) self identity. In this view, listening to music is not simply a matter of experiencing one‟s everyday emotions or the world view one already has; “it is a way of changing one‟s psychological space, and an opportunity to temporarily be another kind of person than one‟s everyday self” (Becker 2001: 142). This is in the same line of thought as expressed above regarding emotional constructs that help define an attitude towards life. This emotional construct might be the outcome of having temporarily acted out an alternate version of one self. You see this in religions that involve trancelike states or the use of glossolalia, where people act in ways they would never do outside the context of their religious practice.

In his book Religion Explained, anthropologist Pascal Boyer describes how religions ideas are based on counterintuitive models of explanation (Boyer: 58ff). These counterintuitive models are basically used in the establishment of other worlds in which questions pertaining to the real world are explained through the use of symbolic and counterintuitive narratives, actions and events, such as the inducement of alternative states of mind. In this view, religion is based on the creation of these other worlds, which act as parallel worlds of explanation regarding to the real world. At the same time these other worlds constituted by religious faith, actions and institutions, are actually extensions of the individuals real world because they are based on the intuitive ontology of the individual. It seems music strongly supports the creation of these counterintuitive states, by actually altering our experience of the real world.


“Modern-day descendents of eighteenth century evangelism who seek a direct, unmediated, personal, and deeply emotional experience with the divine” (Becker: 97).


5.3 Manipulation of attention In Chapter 3 I introduced the interconnected development of language and music in an evolutionary perspective. The formal structure of music and its similarities to speech (sequential and unfolding over time) suggest that it is communicating something to us, or pointing our attention to something. These two qualities play a role in religious ritual.

Firstly, sound creates emotion and draws our attention towards elements of ritual that can not necessarily be read from the visual experience alone. “Listening addresses interiors; listening accesses what is hidden from sight” (Becker: 70). This means that music has the ability to “amplify and symbolically abstract the component elements of ritual, thereby providing a transformative mechanism for triggering and entraining specific emotional responses across groups of individuals” (Alcorta et al. in Juslin et al.: 19).

This means that, music colours our perception of the world by manipulating the direction of our attention and is capable of entraining this effect across groups of people. As an example Wagner‟s characteristic Here comes the bride, not only accompanies the bride and groom up the aisle, it also entrains them into walking together in time and effectively draws everybody‟s attention to the walking couple.

Secondly, in religious contexts the interconnectedness of music and language play a significant role, as listening to music enlists the same areas in the brain as conversation does33. When we communicate in a religious context we usually communicate with some kind of deity or metaphysical agent. Music may sooth our path towards such other-worldly communication by simulating a situation in which we sense we are being spoken to, thus sharpening our attentiveness accordingly. We have a tendency to try and find meaning when listening to music, in the same way we do as when spoken to. Since music is not actually saying anything34 (in a strict linguistic sense) it draws our attention towards our inner feelings and encourages us to consider them as significant. We listen to ourselves, our emotions, our surroundings, our gods. 33

See Patel 2008, Vuust 2006, Sloboda 2005. Some music contains lyrics, some music is solely based on vocals, but when lyrics are sung rather than spoken, the use of rhythm and pitch (among others) are applied, thus entering the domain of music. 34


Where worship seems to be afforded a particularly strong foothold is precisely at the boundaries of what can be said. “Music brings us particularly effectively into an awareness of the ineffable, and thus into a core attribute of worship� (Sloboda 2005: 355).

As a parenthetical note I would like to add that Uffe Schøjdt et al. have done research involving scanning the brains of people engaged in prayer. They conclude that prayer can be regarded as an inner conversation, as it activates brain regions central to language production. This means that there are overlaps in brain regions activated when listening to music and when praying. They also provide evidence which indicates that neuro-chemical rewards pertaining to musically induced emotions correlate with rewards induced by prayer35. This might be because listening to music at times involves an inner conversation and, thus, activates the same centres for dialog as seen during prayer. However, this is purely speculative, but the neural overlaps between listening to music in a religious context and praying would make an interesting study in the further investigation of how music affords religious cognition.

Chapter 6: Work to be done In this chapter I will introduce some of the approaches to the different phenomena pertaining to human reactions to music I found to be of interest as regards to the above presentation. This discussion will serve as suggestions for further research that will contribute to the understanding of human reactions to music as well as to the communicative origins of music. This is all relevant to the study of religion because music is a significant part of religious practice. I will focus on two different theories: brain chemistry and interbrain synchronicity.

6.1 Neuro-chemicals The first area that is in need of further research is the proposed link between music and the release of neuro-chemicals. I touched upon this subject when I discussed emotional responses to music in Chapter 4.2. As subjects of further research, I particularly stress oxytocin and dopamine


In particular the release of dopamine in the brain. I will discuss this further in chapter 6: work to be done.


as they both play major roles in cognitive processes relevant to participation in religious rituals involving music. I will start with oxytocin.

In non-human mammals, the neuropeptide oxytocin is a key mediator of complex emotional and social behaviours, including attachment, social recognition, and aggression. In humans, oxytocin is released during child birth, as it alleviates pain and facilitates the process of milk production in women (Kosfeld: 675). Recently, neurophysiological research has shown that oxytocin also acts as a sort of eraser that wipes away previous memories and, simultaneously, facilitates the storage of new memories. When linked with significant life events, oxytocin is the cement that binds new memories. Oxytocin is released in males and females following sexual orgasm where it may significantly facilitate pair bonding. This is also the case with oxytocin release following childbirth, which is believed to facilitate mother-child bonding. Major increases in human oxytocin levels are often associated with trauma or ecstasy (Huron 2001: 18). This makes it interesting with regards to religious rituals, especially the ones involving ecstatic dancing and traumatic experiences, even if it turns out that music has no part in the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin administration in humans has shown that; “intranasal administration of oxytocin causes a substantial increase in trust among humans, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions” (Kosfeld et al.: 675). Kosfeld et al. also found that oxytocin specifically affects a person‟s willingness to engage in social risks involved in interpersonal interaction, which lead them to suggest an essential role for oxytocin as a; “biological basis of prosocial behaviour” (Kosfeld et al.: 673).

In his book, Societies of Brains, Walter Freeman suggests that oxytocin is released during trance and, while listening to music. If this turns out to be correct it will have important repercussions for instances of group bonding and social identity. It would also provide neurophysiological reasons for lovers to enjoy music while courting, for union members to sing while on the picket line and for religious groups to engage in collective music-making (Huron 2001: 18).

In spring 2008 Gary Hill et al. initiated an investigation of the correlation between music perception and oxytocin release in the brain. He proposes that oxytocin may induce some of the


effects attributed to music perception. This seems plausible because the effects of oxytocin described above; binding new memories, creating social bonds and increasing trust among groups peers all seem to correlate with the effects of musical engagement. This makes the role of oxytocin in humans far more significant than previously thought. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attain the results of their research, despite several attempts, though they were to be announced late 2008. I have been able to find one study which somewhat supports Freeman‟s suggestions. Grape et al. conducted a study on singers during a singing lesson to determine the effects of singing on the immune system. Besides finding that singing does increase your immediate immune system, they also noted that; “serum oxytocin was the only endocrinological variable that showed a significant main effect in the after/ before analysis” (Grape et al.:72). Because they were not interested in the correlation between music and oxytocin, they do not elaborate further, but it seems to me that Freeman might be on the right track, but this needs to be examined further.

The other important neuro-chemical is the neuro-transmitter dopamine, which is associated with the brain‟s reward system. Dopamine neurons display a short-latency, phasic reward signal indicating the difference between actual and predicted rewards. These responses occur at the onset of a conditioned stimulus after repeated pairings with the reward. Therefore, the response is useful for enhancing neuronal processing when learning behavioural reactions. Further, restriction of the dopamine neurons occurs when the expected reward is omitted. Thus, “dopamine neurons seem to encode the prediction error of rewarding outcomes” (Redgrave: 967). In nature, we learn to repeat behaviours that lead to maximized rewards. Dopamine is therefore believed to provide a teaching signal to parts of the brain responsible for acquiring new behaviour. Recent views also describe the role of dopamine in movements, goal-directed behaviour, cognition, attention, and reward (Schultz: 241).

Dopamine may also have a role in the salience of perceived objects and events. This means that important stimuli, such as rewarding things or things that might pose a threat, will seem more noticeable in the environment. “This hypothesis argues that dopamine assists decision-making by


influencing the priority, or level of desire, of such stimuli to the person concerned� (Schultz: 258). When it comes to musical perception and participation it is likely that the rewarding and reinforcing aspects of listening to music are mediated by increased dopamine levels (Levitin: 182). Peter Vuust and the team36 at the Center of Functionally Integrated Neuroscience ( are presently examining if this could be a possible explanation for the euphoria that many people experience during musical performances. An interesting study would be to examine the effects of dopamine release in connection with musical performance and perception in religious rituals. This could contribute knowledge regarding the aspect of salience in ritual, acquisition of embodied knowledge and behavioural reactions.

6.2 Further synchronicity My second proposal for further studies concerns interbrain synchronicity as discussed in connection with Chapter 2.3. Considerable research indicates that synchronized neuronal activity in perception and action, as well as oscillatory couplings between cortical and muscle activities during voluntary movement, are among the mechanisms supporting human interactions between brain and environment. A substantial part of these interactions consists of synchronized goaldirected actions involving two or more individuals. Thus, coherent oscillations between brains may support interpersonally coordinated behaviour through reciprocal sensory and motor feedbacks (Lindenberger et al.: 10).

In everyday life, people often need to coordinate their actions with that of others. Some common examples are; walking with someone at a set pace, playing collective sports or fighting, dancing, singing and a wide range of social bonding behaviours. It would be interesting to combine the study of interbrain synchronicity, or entrainment, with the study of religious ritual, because there is a lot of synchronized behaviour and goal directed action involved in religious ritual, and a study could help with the explanation of how social bonding, embodied knowledge and musically induced emotions entrain among participants.


Music in the brain (


Besides coordinating voluntary movements among adults, interbrain oscillatory couplings may also serve important functions in early social development (e.g., mother-child interaction and bonding), and for capabilities pertaining to the human abilities to explain and predict other people's behaviour by attributing to them independent mental states such as beliefs, intentions, emotions, and expectations (abilities pertaining to theory of mind). “Furthermore, we conjecture that neural networks supporting social cognition, in general, and theory of mind abilities, in particular, might also support interbrain couplings during interpersonally coordinated voluntary actions� (Lindenberger et al.: 17). However, the present research does not provide a firm answer to the question, whether interbrain synchronisation is causally linked to mechanisms of interpersonal action coordination, or whether it just reflects the similarities in the perceptions and movements of the interacting persons. Future research needs to closely examine whether between-brain oscillatory couplings play a causal role in initiating and maintaining interpersonal action coordination.

Chapter 7: Conclusion Music may at times seem magical. It has the means to induce strong emotional responses in humans, as well as, the ability to manipulate our sense of self and our perception of our surroundings. At the same time, music is universal. It is found everywhere on the planet. There is no place on earth, inhabited by humans, which do not resonate with music. We use it in many different ways: to relax, focus, celebrate, arouse and come together. Music is a very effect full social agent, as it supplies an easy perceivable temporal and emotional framework for human interaction. This is one of the reasons why music is present in many social contexts; it helps us modify our behavioural patterns in accordance with the social context and thereby acts as a normative cognitive and behavioural agent. This is important with regards to experiences in religious rituals, which often revolve around shared emotional states, or shared states of arousal.

In order to explore these various musical properties, this thesis has discussed aspects of human biology central to our perception of music. This, not only, involves our auditory system, but also the very basic nature of our biological systems and our cultural belonging. In this thesis I have


thus established a biological base for knowledge acquisition through recurrent interactions, thereby placing interaction at the centre of modern human evolution by linking it with the development of interpersonal relations, social structures, communication and, ultimately, culture.

I have shown how the human biological structure is primed for repetitive interaction, as this facilitates the embodiment of knowledge in biological structures through the process, described by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, as; structural coupling. This knowledge helps automate our interactions, by making them sub-conscious. I have further connected the process of structural coupling with the principle of entrainment. Accordingly, human cognitive processes can be described as various degrees of synchronization between processes of an oscillatory nature. These can be found at an individual level; both within our brain, as investigated by Gerald Edelman, and within our body, as described by Mari Reiss Jones.

Entrainment also occurs at a social level; as interpersonal synchronisation of brain, body and communication, as shown by Peter Vuust et al. I have further discussed how humans entrain to each other in goal directed actions as well as in musical perception/ interaction. I have demonstrated how this triggers synchronized actions between people who engage in common activities, and that musical entrainment has the ability to induce synchronous emotional states in groups of people. Their emotions might differ but the timing will follow the structure of the music. This is important with regard to emotional states induced in religious ritual, because the emotional state is often reflected in a state of arousal. Synchronized arousal play a major part in the embedding of (religious) knowledge in the participants of the ritual. As Lawrence Barsalou argues, this is because strong arousal more easily binds mundane knowledge to objects and actions in the process of embedding knowledge.

Our emotional and behavioural responses to music are also affected by our cultural heritage. In order to show this I presented a short discussion on the evolution of music as a form of communication used by early humans in the process of creating interpersonal bonds, societies and eventually culture. This pointed to mother –infant relations as a source of musical communication in the form of prosodic utterances. This connection was then elaborated through


a discussion of the intertwined nature of music and language, which showed that music most likely came before language in human communicative development. The overlapping nature of music and language plays a significant role in the emotional effects musical perception has on us. We tend to regard musical perception as conversation. This has the effect that we open up to other sources of information, internal feelings, and interpersonal relations.

Another cultural aspect, besides language, that influences our emotional responses to music is our cultural knowledge. The cultural knowledge embedded in us, as part of our ontogeny, dictates our idea of appropriate behaviour when interacting with music. It also sets the boundaries of our emotional responses; as with language we have to be able to understand the music correctly in order to respond in an appropriate fashion. This does not mean that we cannot react to or have emotional responses to music foreign to us. We tend to use our own cultural knowledge to interpret the music we hear in order to make sense of it. This usually works. But when music is integrated in a cultural context, as religious rituals are, the cultural knowledge required to interpret the music correctly has to be situated in the cultural context in which the performance takes place. Even though I would enjoy the music at an Indian wedding, I would not be able to follow the musical cues in the ritual, because I am not that well versed in Indian culture. This problem has been discussed based on the theory of Judith Becker, whose notion of “habitus of listening”, is based on Pierre Bourdieu‟s idea of habitus.

After having established the most important influences on our abilities of musical perception and interpretation, I moved on to discuss how music induces emotions. Two approaches were presented. The first follows David Huron‟s theory on anticipation and the second is based on experiments conducted by Anne Blood, Robert Zatorre and John Sloboda on our auditory systems neural pathways. These two approaches overlap to a large extent, but there are some differences. The primary being that music seems to have the ability to induce emotions, such as chills, which are not a consequence of our anticipated response to the musical performance but, rather, a direct input from our nervous system to the brain stem. I then moved on to discuss what this means as regards to understanding the role of music and musically induced and entrained emotion in religious rituals.


Finally, I proposed two growing areas of interest within the neuro-scientific community research, which will improve our understanding of music and its communicative abilities. These include brain plasticity, neuro-chemicals and interbrain synchronicity. All three of these areas hold promising new information on why humans are the only species to display strong emotional and behavioural responses to musical activity. This will eventually help explain the universal presence of music in connection with religious rituals as well as further our understanding of the human need and means to communicate cultural knowledge.

In conclusion: the different ways in which music induces feelings, manipulate and partially synchronize both emotion and behavior of participants, seem to afford religious ritual in several ways. The three most important being: 1. Musicâ€&#x;s ability to supply a temporal structure to rituals. This promotes a common experience. 2. The synchronous experience of emotional arousal reinforces the sense of community among participants and enhances participants' sense of belonging. 3. Music facilitates the embodiment of religious knowledge which strengthens belief and thus also increases the sense of belonging among individuals. Music thus plays a major role in our perception of, and participation in, religious rituals.


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Dansk resumé Specialet undersøger musikkens rolle i religiøse ritualer med særligt blik på musikkens evne til at farve følelser, samt manipulere og delvist synkronisere deltagernes adfærdsmønstre. Dette oversete felt inden for studiet af religiøse ritualer kan bidrage med væsentlig viden om religiøse tilhørsforhold, internalisering af religiøse ideer og handlinger, samt bidrage til vores forståelse af udviklingen af sociale strukturer og interpersonelle relationer. I specialet argumenteres der for, at den menneskelige kognition opstår i samspillet mellem vores biologiske struktur (kroppen, herunder hjernen) og miljø (kultur). Interaktion mellem mennesker og miljø ses dermed som grundlæggende for udviklingen af menneskets kognitive evner. Denne grundlæggende præmis er baseret på en interaktionistisk tilgang til biologi og kognition, som fremhæver gentagende interaktion som grundlæggende for udviklingen af menneskets kognitive egenskaber. Denne proces beskrives af biologerne Humberto Maturana og Fransisco Varela, som structural coupling. Nødvendigheden af interaktion i menneskets evolutionshistorie har fået os til at udvikle os til ekstraordinære respondenter på gentagelser og rytmisk adfærd. Dette gør sig gældende i udviklingen af sociale relationer såvel som i vores kommunikative handlinger, idet repetitioner fremmer internalisering af viden. Denne internalisering letter vores interaktion med verden ved at automatisere mange basale handlingsmønstre, som for eksempel at gå. Dette følger psykologen Lawrence Barsalous teori om embodiment of knowledge. Repetitiv interaktion uddybes ved at forbinde det med princippet entrainment. Entrainment princippet beskriver, hvordan interaktionen mellem flere oscillerende processer influerer den enkelte proces, som derved indgår i et delvist synkroniseret afhængighedsforhold med andre processer. Dette gør sig gældende i interne fysiologiske processer hos mennesker - fra nervebaner til netværk af neuroner i hjernen, som beskrevet af biologen Gerald Edelman, såvel som i sociale processer som kommunikation og samarbejde mellem individer. Entrainment i sociale sammenhænge er baseret på psykologen Mari Reiss Jones‟ arbejde. I specialet beskrives videre hvordan denne evne til at reagere på gentagelser, i samspil med vores kulturelle viden, er


den grundlæggende kilde til de følelsesmæssige reaktionsmønstre, der opstår i perceptionen af musik. Den kulturelle indflydelse på individets reaktionsmønstre i forbindelse med musikalsk engagement beskrives via en evolutionshistorisk gennemgang af forholdet mellem sprog og musik. Dette aktualiseres qua sammenhængen mellem de kommunikative egenskaber som både sproget og musikkens rummer. Overlappet mellem sprog og musik ses tydeligt i kommunikationen mellem forældre og spædbørn i såkaldt Infant Directed Speech, som beskrevet af psykolog Sandra Truhub. Her findes en af grundende til musikkens kommunikative egenskaber; vi perciperer musik som om det er sprog. Ikke blot fordi de begge består af lydbølger og dermed opfattes af øret. Musikkens brug af sproglige virkemidler som rytme og tonehøjde aktiverer de samme centre i hjernen som bruges til at bearbejde sproglige input. Dette afsnit er baseret på neuro-biolog Aniruddh Patels arbejde med perception af musik. Vores kulturelle tilhørsforhold påvirker vores opfattelse af musik samt vores reaktioner på det, vi hører. Med andre ord: Det vi ved, om det vi hører, ændrer den måde, vi opfatter det på. Etnomusikologen Judith Beckers beskrivelser af habitus of listening danner grundlag for dette afsnit. Musikkens indflydelse på menneskers opfattelse og forståelse af kontekst bliver derefter drøftet i sammenhæng med religiøse ritualer. Der argumenteres for, hvordan musikken på forskellig vis inducerer følelser, samt manipulerer og delvist synkroniserer både følelser og adfærdsmønstre hos deltagere i religiøse ritualer. Det er dermed specialets konklusion, at musik spiller en væsentlig rolle i religiøse ritualer, hvor musik bl.a. bruges til at strukturere ritualer temporalt, hvilket fremmer en fælles oplevelse hos ritualets deltagere. Desuden er samtidige oplevelser af følelsesmæssig opstemthed med til at forstærke fællesskabsfølelsen hos deltagerne. Musikken faciliterer dermed indlejringen af religiøse budskaber og skærper deltagernes tilhørsforhold og indbyrdes sociale fællesskab.

Biology, Cognition, Muisc and Religion  

My thesis: A bio-cognitive approach to musically afforded behavioural patterns in religious ritual.

Biology, Cognition, Muisc and Religion  

My thesis: A bio-cognitive approach to musically afforded behavioural patterns in religious ritual.