Tuesday 26 April 2011


Waves as oscillations and harmonic motion are fundamental to the world. But the use of the word 'wave' covers a range of phenomena, and not just from physics. I'm particularly interested in "waves of emotion", and the extent to which a "wave of emotion" relates to waves of the sea, or transverse waves in a slinky spring. But the real point about this is that we are not 'digital'. Human experience is not really an on-off thing; it is a 'flowing' thing. But if our experience is flowing within us, how does an increasingly on-off, switch-driven world affect us?

Music is the stuff of 'flow' and waves. The phrasing of music is the most obvious example of an 'emotional wave'. Equally however, we might discuss the wave-like sensations of smell or taste, or those sensations that build up to orgasm or the other experiences relating to love and sensuality. I think music is 'easier' (less embarrassing) to talk about, and also it might be easier to study since it's representation as notation and performance is well-established.

What is the wave of emotion that moves through a person on hearing a musical phrase or gazing into a lover's eyes? Thinking cybernetically, I might be tempted to say that the wave passes through our internal regulating mechanisms. All of those mechanisms are connected in some way (as indicated perhaps by Beer's Viable System Model), so what starts in one mechanism will have knock-on effects on the other mechanisms. Each effect, as a change to the state of a person, will have a consequent experience associated with it, and each state will therefore tend to move to another state. In moments of intense emotional experience, like bursting into tears, the physical effects of this rushing through us have real physical side-effects which in turn will effect the wave-motion. This may be a more precise way of the idea that Bataille expressed with regard to erotic experience - that it was "assenting to life, even in death": the wave sweeps towards death but we know it is part of life. And any wave motion through ourselves has a sort of resonance, where one wave is echoed: in states of shock, the moment of shock keeps on passing through us - to the point that it is an uncontrollable resonating loop.

There are questions here about instinct. Not that it's an 'explanatory principle' (as Bateson says), but that what we 'instinctively' do may well relate to this passing through of waves within our regulating mechanisms (so that's just a more detailed explanatory principle!). Sexual behaviour is the most obvious example, but I think there are deeper questions which concern living things other than humans. What does the bee see in the flower that it is moved towards it? How does the flower 'know' how to appear for the bee to be attracted? If the bee experiences a 'wave of emotion', that might mean that it too is subject to the same regulating mechanisms that we might identify in ourselves. Does the bee experience a sweep of emotion towards death? Is it 'aware' of its mortality? Is it this that drives it towards the flower? But then again, why restrict this idea to sentient existence?

What about "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower"?

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