Monday, September 17, 2007

On Harmonizing Oursophs with the Vespered Strains of the Song Supreme

Later in the week, when I have less time and more timelessness, I will be getting into the questing of exactly how religious language accomplices its task of speaking to us on a level that bypasses the surface ego and goes straight to the deeper aspects of our being. In this regard, it obviously shares certain characteristics of poetry, which says in words what cannot be said in words, as some old poet-all once unsaid. Like poetry, scripture can make no literal sense, and yet, evoke a powerful response. How does it do that? And what is it inside us that is responding?

Let's compare it to music. By definition, music makes no literal sense. This is a tautological statement, since music is not semantic but pure sound. In fact, it is the only form of communication that is made of pure sound. And yet, people can be moved to tears by music.

Van Morrison is one of the few popular musicians who performs music with the specific intention of evoking a spiritual response. Especially between about 1979 and 1991, he entered a deeply spiritual period when he attempted to convey and facilitate spiritual experience through music. And yet, you can be sure that few people who heard the music responded to it in the intended way. For them it was just an oldies show or an exercise in nostalgia, like seeing the Strolling Bones at the Super Bowl.

I only subscribe to a few magazines. One of them is Stereophile, which is sort of the bible of hi fi enthusiasts. One of the enduring debates in the hi fi world parallels our frequent discussions of overmental language, translogic, and the vertical dimension of being. You could say that it's between the objectivists and subjectivists, engineers and enginees, ears and equations, scientists and mystics. This is the topic of the lead essay of a recent edition of Stereophile, entitled The Mystery of Music, by Jason Serinus.

I remember when I purchased my first CD player in early 1990's. I was a holdout in the digital revolution, and continued listening to vinyl exclusively long after CDs were available. I eventually purchased a good CD player, and yet, when I brought it home I was very disappointed with the sound. To my ears the music sounded superficially accurate, but it was flat, dull, lifeless, and lacking in warmth. It had a palpably hollow and somewhat shrill metallic edge and was missing a certain dimension of depth or presence that analogue brings out. (Just try listening to one of the first generation unremastered CDs that came out in 1985 or 1987, and you'll hear what I mean. They sound horrible.)

To try to address the problem, I purchased a pair of decent aftermarket cables to connect the CD player to my amp and replace the cheap ones that came with the unit. Voila! Suddenly there was an added dimension of warmth and presence -- of life -- that was lacking before.

Now, number-crunching engineers will assure you that this is impossible, that a cable is a cable is a cable. In fact, it is the official policy of magazines like Consumer Reports that there is essentially no difference in sound quality between one CD player and another. It's scientifically impossible, you see. You may think that you're hearing something different, but science says you can't be. If it cannot be measured by an objective test, then it doesn't exist. You are fooling yourself.

Sound familiar? This is a perennial debate in psychology as well. For example, science knows that the unconscious cannot possibly exist, and that Freud's ideas about it have been thoroughly debunked. But if you lie (in both senses of the term) on ShrinkWrapped's threadbare couch and aimlessly ramble for a few moments about this and that, he claims the ability to peer into your very soul and understand all sorts of secrets that you've been keeping from yourself. Just like the music lover, he will experience another dimension to your communications which entirely escapes the methods of science. Unless, like me and my expensive aftermarket cables, he's just pulling the wool over his own ears and charging his sheep for the fleece.

Back to religion. In Serinus' essay, he asks, "Is it possible that those who claim that some of us cannot possibly hear what we are hearing themselves lack the facility to comprehend what we're hearing in the first place?" For many listeners, music apparently registers only as rhythm and sensation assaulting the monkey brain, whereas others, for example, hear subtle shadings of color, emotion, and spirit. How can something made of sound contain colors or shades of light and dark?

Similarly, is it possible that those who claim to comprehend religion are experiencing an entirely real dimension that communicates its properties to those who know how to experience it, but doesn't exist for those "without ears to hear?"

Let's go back to the Freudian unconscious. Strictly speaking it does not "exist," if we take the word exist in its literal sense of "standing out from" (ex-ist), like an object in space. Nor does God ex-ist. But this doesn't mean that God or the unconscious aren't real.

For one thing, God is not found in space, because space is in God. Likewise, the unconscious -- or O -- is not strictly speaking in us -- ultimately, we are in it (more on this later in the week).

When we say that something is "real," are we talking about the atoms and molecules of which it is composed? Or the physical form that we perceive with the senses? Or the thought that is able to register and comprehend the perception? If only the subatomic or the physical are real, then there is no valid knowledge at all, for there is no knowledge at the level of the senses.

God is not that which "stands out," but That from which things stand out. Thus, "exist" is not the right word for God or for the unconscious. "In-sist," perhaps. That is, higher and more subtle realities do not stand out except to those who stand in them. How do you stand in a higher world? It has no physical existence, and yet, it can only manifest in the physical.

But only if you co-upperate. If you help bring it into being. If you make it present. If you act as midwife and give birth to the Word and the Melody. Which most people can do unless they unhappyn to be a hyper-rational soul in a midwife crisis.

Robert Frost once commented that the purpose of poetry was to help the reader "trip headlong into the boundless." Somehow, poetry jolts us out of the horizontal and into a vertical inscape. What can I say? I'm not a leuny poet. So you don't have to remand me. But I do my loveall best to be a hummin' being, and trip heartlong into the rhythm of the infinite. I prefer it to standing headwrong in the finite.


Lisa said...

The Word and The Tune: I can dig it!

Reminds me of the Who song...

See me, feel me,
Touch me, heal me
See me, feel me,
Touch me, heal me

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet.

Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory,
From you, I get opinions,
From you, I get the story.

Gagdad Bob said...


There once was a note, pure and easy,
Playing so free like a breath rippling by.
The note is eternal, I hear it, it sees me,
Forever we blend it, forever we die.

Robin Starfish said...

diatonic sax
blowing the vanlose stairway
rave rave on john donne

tsebring said...

"For many listeners, music apparently registers only as rhythm and sensation assaulting the monkey brain, whereas others, for example, hear subtle shadings of color, emotion, and spirit. How can something made of sound contain colors or shades of light and dark?"
Kind of reminds me of some folks who have a certain neurological condition known as Synesthesia, who can apparently hear colors, see sounds, feel smells, etc. Could it be that, like folks who take LSD, that these people have an unintended window into the vertical realm, being able to perceive a unity of perceptions that the rest of us cannot? The folks who have Synesthesia would not call themselves sufferers; the few I have heard interviewed take it as a great blessing, albeit a difficult thing to communicate to fellow humans. We humans certainly don't have a monopoly on sensory abilities. Dogs and pigs have smell hundreds of times better than ours; birds of prey have sight many times better; bats have better hearing; elephants can hear infrasonic; dogs can hear ultrasonic; sharks can sense electrical impulses; many insects can see ultraviolet. Of course we enjoy the advantage of having the best brains to process and integrate what we can sense; the point is that there is so much just in the horizontal world that we are "blind" to. Imagine how "blind" we are to what exists in the verical realm. Yet our unique spiritual faculty enables us to sense just enough to "know", in a vague and yet very real way, that the vertical exists. But it is the subtlety and vagueness of that sensing that unfortunately makes it easy for the materialist to deny its existence, since it does not grab our attention that same way our physical senses and intellect do. The bible calls it "a still small voice", and to "be still, and know that I am God". One of the most important disciplines I have learned as a believer and seeker is to occasionally still those outer senses and attempt to listen to the inner ones (MUCH more difficult than it sounds).

Lisa, those Townsend lyrics have often reminded me of Christ, as do these by Paul Simon:

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

Van said...

"The folks who have Synesthesia would not call themselves sufferers; the few I have heard interviewed take it as a great blessing, albeit a difficult thing to communicate to fellow humans."

If I remember rightly, Physicist Richard Feynman 'suffered' from it also, seeing colors with numbers, which he said helped him securely grasp mathematical calculations.

"God is not that which "stands out," but That from which things stand out. Thus, "exist" is not the right word for God or for the unconscious." and "Somehow, poetry jolts us out of the horizontal and into a vertical inscape."

I think so. Back when I was armed with an amplified Bass, I used to like to find the note that the room or hall we were in, resonated to - the one note that, even if played relatively softly, would set the shelves vibrating, eventually building into feedback. I think good Poetry does something similar to that - it plucks the concepts and their associations at just the right pitch to resonate with 'that from which you stand out from', and you feel the sensation of feeback.


River Cocytus said...

Van: I do the same with restrooms. Having a baritone voice means you can reach the resonance of most of the fiberglass stuff.

Anonymous said...

"God is not found in space, because space is in God.”

How The Word Became Non-Trivial Flesh:

All of us find it practical to use words for which we have little appreciation of consistent meaning. For example, were we really able to define “causation,” we could “have tea with God.”

After all, what does “causation” mean? Does it imply belief that everything is predetermined? Currently, quantum mechanics would hold such belief not fashionable.
So, as each particular quantum leap occurs, what is its source of causation? Currently, we “balance” by following our pea search to equally fuzzy shells, such as “random,” “indifferent,” “parallel realities,” uncertain violations of either conservation or the arrow of time, or “virtual particles.”

Many intuit that Something caused “the Big Bang,” but some punt to believe that everything thereafter, at ultimate levels of quanta, is “random,” perhaps within indifferent parameters. They notice how it is often quite workable to consider each quantum event as if it were a random occurrence, even if there may “really” be a cause.

Likewise, it works quite well to consider that “virtual particles” may violate either the arrow of time or the natural conservation of matter and energy, even if “not really.”

In the faith of some, science will eventually resolve all such things, whereupon we shall see that quantum leaps are not really random and that virtual particles do not really violate either conservation or the arrow of time.

Thus, may we really expect to provide a complete, consistent, coherent, and convertible definition of “causation”?

Some scientists may suppose that such a definition will eventually clarify how every event, after all, is predetermined. If so, the Deity for them may be considered not only to have sparked the Big Bang, but to have done so in a way whereby everything about us, even now, is pre-directed.

This seems eerily reminiscent of Plato’s shadows in caves. But, would it be mere hubris or “science,” for a particular mortal perspective to believe it can “know” that its entire universe is “really” set upon a predetermined path in space-time?

Alternatively, we may punt to a notion that events are not predetermined, but are under a state of ongoing, causal determination in respect of some sort of unifying force or synchronizing array of logarithms and formulas.

If so, how do we consider such force or common array of formulas to be guided, each time it pulses to express a “change of mind” from a course that otherwise should be predetermined?

Another basic concept we have difficulty defining is “time.” In respect of each pulsing instant that changes our direction, how should we define “time”? Do we resort to a hodge podge of definitions, depending upon whatever may be our practical purpose for the moment?

Is time continuous, in discrete series, illusory, or incompletely defined as a concept? Is it only gravity, under general relativity, by which time may be defined? Or, must the other three fundamental forces sometimes affect our perspective of time and/or space-time?

Is it in respect of such other forces that time can be expressed to allow virtual particles that temporarily or ambiguously violate either conservation or the arrow of time? Instead of only “space-time,” should we also consider “perspective-time”?

If mortal perspective cannot clearly define even one thing, then why suppose we may ever comprehend any definition well enough to permit us to attach a grand, unifying, mathematical explanation to any of our incompletely defined variables?

Bottom line: Define one concept (or even one noun) in a way that is complete, consistent, coherent, and convertible (relatively relational), and we will “have tea with God.”

But, if we are unable scientifically to define even such fundamental concepts as “causation” or “time,” then who are we to complain that “God” may only be appreciated beyond science?

In my intuition, the most fundamental language of God is mathematics, as formulated with units of space.

Each experience of relative perspective is derivative of God’s empathetic appreciation of mathematical forms, expressed within degrees of freedom, as bounded by formulaic, indifferent limits for units of space.

Within such bounds, we, as empathetic agents or perspectives of God, are free to do as we will.

My hope is that our shared source of empathy will translate us to preserve a kind of “civilized progress.”

I think what we search for is a set of sufficiently clear conventions to enable us to communicate from the same page or hymn. For that purpose, the fundamental, direct fact is that we all share such longing.

Such common longing is at least one common point of departure from which we can begin or reference our search.

Being inside us, such “point” is subjective, so it cannot be confined to any precise formula we can fathom. However, by looking to the God within us, we may at least be able to expand selfless, empathetic, practical appreciation, even if not an ultimate explanation.

Francis Collins refers to a similar concept of “agape.” To an extent, I agree. He considers that blind mutations would not likely lead us to a capacity for selfless love. But, I would not limit agape to humans. After all, mothers in many species routinely give their lives in defense of offspring.

Based on agape, I would not limit God’s interest merely to humans. Rather, I consider God as that common array of spiritual logarithms which expresses itself through each and every sensate and sentient perspective.

Our bodies die, but not the God-spirit that expresses us, and of which each of us expresses a holographic perspective.

BTW: Collins is more lucid and less annoying than Coulter.

Bob F. said...

Q: "Do you know how to reach God?"

A: "No, but if you'll hum a few bars, I'll see if I can fake it."

Smoov said...

I like the music/hi-fi analogy, however I'd be careful about pushing it too far since there are a lot of people who are clearly compulsive and/or neurotic in the high-end audio world. There are also some devices which are plain old-fashioned snake oil. When I was a hard-core audiophile I learned from a guru that the key to a great experience is to start with the source. So the first thing you acquired was a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable (around $5,000 in today's dollars). Next you needed a tone arm for it (~$2,000), then a cartridge ($1,500). Now you're ready to consider an amp. And so on until the whole system is put together. Skimp on the quality of the source--the turntable--and you'll never achiever sonic purity, no matter how expensive or superb the downstream components.

In today's high-end audio looniverse one enounters things like $5,000 gold-plated AC power cords (not making this up -- you can Google it). Now, it doesn't take an engineer to understand that unless there was something severely wrong with your regular power cable, there is no way on God's green earth that a gold cable can possibly make any difference whatsoever. First and foremost, that $5K cable is plugged into the $0.39 receptacle, which is wired with $0.05 per foot wiring, etc. Even if you replaced all your home wiring, you're still at the mercy of the grid. It's all simple insanity for people who have a lot of money and a shaky grasp on reality.

All that said, the overall analogy Bob makes is a very "sound" one. It absolutely is the case that some people are more attuned to musical--and sonic--subltety than others. It is also the case that digital--especially the awful early 80s stuff--has major problems. There are real engineering reasons for this, related to the fact that 16,000 sample points is not enough to capture an analog phenomenon. 32-bit audio (4 billion samples) makes huge difference, as anyone with a DVD-Audio or SACD player can attest.

While great equipment can wonderfully enhance the listening experience, I must say that I've been transported to a state approaching sheer ecstasy (ek-stasis) by Mozart's 21st piano concerto coming out of a $15 Walmart tape player. The transcendental core clearly does not require the expensive gear...

wv: dwong - sound my Klipschorn made when it blew out last year after the summer home got flooded...

Smoov said...

Note that in the above post I was talking about AC power cables, not the interconnects to which Bob referred. There are solid reasons to believe that interconnects can affect the sound. While I believe there is a lot of snake-oil in this area as well, it is not the same thing as the AC cable, which is physically incapable of affecting sound, for the simple reason that it is at the mercy of whatever is upstream from it.

Van said...

River Cocytus said..."Van: I do the same with restrooms. Having a baritone voice means you can reach the resonance of most of the fiberglass stuff."

One imagines Gagdad in that (com)mode last Fri... must have sounded like a veritable Gregorian chant.


wv:hxxrecka - certainly had the potential

jwm said...

I'll relate an odd musical experience here, and hope that I don't alienate everyone.
I went through the 'big stereo' phase in the mid seventies. I spent a thousand bucks (seventies bucks) on a record player. I had no receiver, no changer, no tape; just a turntable, amp, and two speakers.
I liked Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and a lot of obscure stuff from the renaissance, onward. I am familiar with the ex stasis experience: Gratias Agimus Tibi chorus, from Bach's Mass in B minor. I still get all misty. But my taste for classical did not come naturally to me. It took a lot of effort to retrain my ear from AM pop radio to the Berlin Philharmonic. It was to work to get the ears to hear it. But it paid off huge with Beethoven's string quartet #14.
Years later I rediscovered rock n roll. And then I found bluegrass, blues, Irish, old time, and a lot of oldies, and pop that I didn't used to like...
But for the life of me I've never been able to warm up to jazz. And yes, I have tried. I was having coffee with my wife the other day while we were waiting to see a movie. The coffee house had an FM jazz station on. I don't know what was playing, but I could recognize a really hot session with world class musicians just gettin' it on. Nonetheless, I found the music so grating that sitting in that place had a discomfort level approaching the dentist's chair. It felt like someone was scraping my nerves across a rusty tin can. I could acknowledge that I was hearing a quality performance, but I was deaf to the music.
I have a feeling that my experience with jazz is analagous to what a lot of folks (and most of our trolls) have experienced with religion.
Let those who have ears...


Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of music, our babysitter, who sings in a Christian rock group, just lost her rhythm guitarist. Any readers who are interested are encouraged to apply for the job! They've recently completed a CD. A sampling of their music can be found here.

Smoov said...


Very interesting...

Bob has told us he doesn't get the feelings from classical music that many of us here do. (I can only describe it as something like a "spiritual orgasm" -- sorry if that offends.)

I also have trouble with Jazz more than any other major form. Opera I love! Choral, blues, R & B, even hip hop and bubblegum pop. As much as I know that Jazz is a serious and highly beautiful form, it rarely ever "does it" for me, and certainly never, ever remotely in the manner that An Die Freude does (nor does any popular music of any kind).

Could it be that some people are "jazz people", while others are "classical people"? What does this mean?

will said...

>>But only if you co-upperate. If you help bring it into being<<

Ah hah, yes yes yes. This, I think, is the essence of the divine commission, our co-Creating with God. Through higher awareness, prayer, meditation, we "actualize" Creation even as we actualize ourselves. In a very real sense, we can bring things into being.

This is similar to the Kabbalistic idea of "raising of the holy sparks" by which even the mundane aspects of life can be imbued with a holy awareness. The most simple, mundane act - cooking, taking out the garbage, feeding the dog/cat - can become contemplative, ceremonial devotions.

Here's what gives me the thrill/chills - that if a certain number of people are engaged in the raising of the holy sparks, ie., releasing the world from its material imprisonment, then the entire world can become divinized, re-Edenizied, in effect.

Voltron said...

I have a friend who is quite the audiophile. He has MANY thousands of dollars invested in equipment. Much of it is high end enough that he gets a good trade in value, and he updates whenever something new comes out.

Whenever he does get something new, I have to come over and listen to it.

When he points something out, I go "yeah cool!". Truth is, the AC delco unit that came with my car sounds equally good to me.

Is there any hope?....

On seeing colors,

Interesting that in reality we only see the colors that are not there...
(we only see reflected light. And each particular color absorbs it's own wavelength, so that the only color that gets reflected is the one not present)

debass said...


I play jazz every weekend, but I understand. Many people don't like jazz. There are some forms of jazz that I don't like. I have tried. I went to hear Anthony Braxton live. He is a free form jazz artist. I just don't get it. It has to swing and groove for me. Maybe I'm just too old school. I could never get to like Ornette Coleman either. I know. I'm being blasphemous to those who like these guys, but it just makes me break out in a sweat and want to leave the room.

When Coltrane plays My Favorite Things, he sounds like he is so happy. I don't know why I hear it that way. Do you get that feeling also?

Gagdad Bob said...


Happy? Possibly. I never exactly thought of it that way. I'm more aware of the build-up of sustained exploratory dynamic tension in the lengthy modal vamps -- I'm sure there's a technical term -- followed by the soaring release in the chorus. But come to think if it, it is very happy and light. I have many versions, but the best is Newport '63.

Susannah said...

I think I might be among the audio-challenged.

Blues...I usually get into the first two numbers, then it just seems like the same guitar & bass repeated over and over and over.

Jazz...I'm right there with you JWM. I can listen to Dixieland and anything melodic for a little while. Anything tuneless is grating. it in small doses.

Classical...I do love and appreciate, but could stand to expand my knowledge. I love the classical station here. It's unpretentious and I enjoy everything they play.

I seem to gravitate to bluegrass, celtic, folk music most often. Also, have a few favorite singer/songwriters (often Christian) that I never, never get tired of. Lyrics are very important to me. I have to be sympatico with where the musician is coming from. Mark Heard: I always totally "got" his songs.

Van Morrison: Listened to "Tupelo Honey" several times this weekend. :) Heard it once at the end of a movie and it just stayed in my soul. An unforgettable song!

I loved this part:

"God is not that which 'stands out,' but That from which things stand out. Thus, 'exist' is not the right word for God or for the unconscious. 'In-sist,' perhaps."

It just reminds me of some of my favorite bits of scripture.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."


"For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

Ricky Raccoon said...

Smoov said,
“I must say that I've been transported to a state approaching sheer …coming out of a $15 Walmart tape player”

Same here and I swear it’s like that optic nerve gap. Once it’s been filled in or the gap’s been crossed you don’t need much more to keep it going. Like a bad or very old recording, after awhile you don’t hear the hiss and popping any more. You’re in the room now. Or as great writing, prose, poetry, is using the best words we have but they can’t compare to the pictures they make in your head. They can’t compare, but they can send you.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Will said,
“which even the mundane aspects of life can be imbued with a holy awareness.”
I’ve mentioned that cutting the grass, out on the big rectangle, does this lately. I know, I’m a broken record :-) Seems to be an awful lot more to it now than just making the place look nice. With the dry summer we’ve had here, that can’t be it. I’m a fool out there in the dusty wind. I’ve been bringing a pad and pencil with me now which makes for more stopping for scribbles and longer sessions...I mean work.

Robin Starfish said...

Joanofargghh has the absolute last word in the audio department - here. Beat that. Double-dog dare ya.

River Cocytus said...

Hmm, well, to be honest, freeform jazz does little for me as well. Once they lose the 'tone' - the underlying suggestion of key/keys for too long the song is effectively gone and it becomes noise.

Jazz is intellectual, so you have to use your imagination while listening. A couple things help, maybe. One, imagine that the instrument soloing is not in fact the instrument that it is, but a voice. Some musicians phrase their playing like that.

It is a challenging kind of music, though, like the old classical stuff.

Hard for me to explain. I do make a hard distinction between what I would call 'real' jazz and 'freeform' jazz which is less of music and more experimentation with it. Every once in awhile I hear one I like, but I think I'm the only one...

Part of the appeal to me comes as a musician. And so does part of the understanding. Hard to explain, like I said.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Double-dog dared?