Saturday, October 04, 2008

Oliver Sacks and Music

A few days ago, I was thinking about Connectivism (the theory of life, the universe, and everything) and was trying to think about how such a theory would account for music: nothing huge, a simple theme from the aria in the Goldberg Variations, for instance. I am not talking about anything complex - something that any child could pick out on the recorder. There isn't anything in my experience of music that suggests a linear, sequential, experience of music that could be plugged in successfully to a concept map. What I mean by successfully is that it would account, even partially, for the experience. I experience music with my whole body and mind (are they really separate?) emotionally, intellectually, and with some music, even a simple tune, to the deepest psychological core of my being. I don't know if I can really account for all of that. Maybe a Buddhist monk has the awareness, time, and focus. I am fully ready to admit my intellectual short-comings. How much of this kind of exercise is an attempt to lift one's self up with one's bootstraps? How does the knower know the knower or the act of knowing? Why are we reading materials that name-drop philosophers and their theories like so many baseball cards? I do not believe that anyone can "simply read modern epistemology" and find anything evident (not with a simple reading). Our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us is much too dynamic for that anyway.

Okay, so in a not impossible but highly improbable coincidence, I turn on the radio and there is Oliver Sacks talking about some of the same issues. He was talking about what our experience of music tells us about the human brain. He talked about what the brain experiences when we experience music. He says that MRIs show that there is no one place in the brain that is active when we are listening to music. There are 20 to 30 places in the brain that show activity: auditory, analytical, temporal, etc. and what is more interesting is that he says that it is never then same areas in any one person. My point about this, and I have made it before, is that the human brain may be too complex to be reduced to a neuron+neuron=learning formula. That a two dimensional, or three dimensional representation can at best only be a metaphor and not a wiring diagram of the mind. But what is wrong with admitting that it is a metaphor? The one of the messages of some of the sutras (and some western philosophers) is that we are metaphors for Being-Itself.

For me, Connectivism answers questions about networked relationships, how learning occurs between conscious beings in a network, how technology is changing the way we learn and think. Those are huge concerns. I think the idea that it is going to account for psychology, semiotics, and epistemology is a little ambitious - especially for a single class! I am not here to "influence" (unless it means to annoy the credulous, then yes) or to be a nay-sayer. I think that before we say something is the Ultimate Answer, we had better be clear about the questions we are asking and answering. You also don't get to pick and choose what questions are in or out of the realm of Connectivism's concern - that is too convenient. If it is a theory of knowledge, then it has to account for all the ways that we know things.

No comments:

Post a Comment