pure theses: research ideas for the intelligently unemotional

illustration of the the seven chakras, from a Yoga manuscipt in Braj Bhasa languageWhat's long and hot and spurts life? If you're a transpersonal psychologist you might say the kundalini. If you're not a transpersonal psychologist, don't despair: there are many other fields of study where if you can't get in the door, you can still get innuendo...

[Of course it's unlikely you'd enter a field through a window. Unless you were being thrown out of a barn, maybe?]

No matter what the field of study, scientific research tends to be pretty technical. That's OK. Technical's good, in its context. But big picture's more interesting, at least to me. Below are a number of low-hanging research fruit ideas ripe for the picking.

Questions I want answers to.

a big dollop of general disgruntlement In the Western musical tradition, music in a minor key makes you feel sad. Music in a major key played to a particular rhythm makes you feel patriotic and gives you a nice warm feeling of being part of something. Music in a blues key makes you feel blue (not quite the same as "sad", "blue" has a big dollop of general disgruntlement re the Universe). The question is: Do the same/similar connections between emotion and music apply irrespective of culture and musical tradition?

zombies vs ghosts Is the number of people alive at any moment in time the same as, less than or greater than the number of people who have ever died? This question is relevant to whether reincarnation is theoretically possible, assuming that:

  • a body can't be occupied by more than one soul at a time
  • every body is occupied by a soul
  • a soul can't occupy more than one body at a time
  • "people" means members of the species homo sapiens sapiens.

the golden scene The mathematical relationship referred to as the "golden mean" or "golden ratio" is frequently used by visual artists because it is believed to be "pleasing to the eye". Are there fields of Art other than visual to which the golden mean does or could apply?

Would music, for example, incorporating the golden mean sound more pleasing to the ear? In theory, the golden mean could be applied to melody in terms of the time intervals between notes. And to harmony, in terms of the extent to which notes are pitched higher or lower than each other.

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (of Pythagoras's theorem fame) is believed to have discovered the relationship between the length of a string or wire and the pitch of the note formed when the string is plucked, hammered, scraped or otherwise abused.

Also attributed to Pythagoras is the concept of the "harmony of the spheres". Pythagoras and his followers believed the planets and stars move according to mathematical equations corresponding to musical notes and thus produce a cosmic symphony [to paraphrase Wikipedia]. Bode's Law -- which was believed to apply to the intervals between the orbits of the planets in the solar system -- is of possible interest here.

faraway death I read recently that a supposed aesthetic preference for deep perspectives and open landscapes can be traced back to those ancient days when we needed to see predators and other humans coming for us from a long way away on the African plains. There's a lot of work to be done in identifying and analysing the evolutionary advantages of specific bits of human behaviour and culture. It goes without saying that you'd want to be selective, naturally. ;-) It's a big field, evolutionary aesthetics. Survival of the prettiest you might say.

A related question is whether there is any adaptive advantage, per evolutionary theory, in human preference for symmetry vs non-symmetry. People find people beautiful who have facial features organised symmetrically, eg both eyes exactly the same size and positioned at exactly the same distance away from the main vertical of the nose. Less than one standard deviation, you'd have to say.

horny artists Is there a connection between artistic creativity and sexual desire, libido? Or to put it another way, are artists hornier than other people? From personal experience I know that when the creative mood falls upon me --- whether it's painting, drawing, playing the guitar or writing poetry --- my libido spikes up as high and as sharp as a mutant porcupine on Viagra. At those times the temptation is to put the art to one side and go and get laid, or masturbate if no willing partner is available. To resist the temptation and continue creating the artwork in my own case seems to invest the work with much greater energy, vitality, life.

raw and crude In similar vein the medieval alchemists sought to refine base metals into gold using techniques such as "sublimation" still used by modern chemists to purify compounds. The sublimation process involves refining raw and crude "stuff" that is all messed up and mixed up (undifferentiated) into stuff that is more subtle, refined and well-defined --- and thereby capable of carrying greater meaning and significance by virtue of being sharp not blurry, focused not vague, specific not general.

[To digress momentarily: for some people an orgasm is sublime but it probably doesn't belong in the same category as achieving enlightenment, for example, or world peace. Tantric sex springs to mind, but let's not digress too far].

arise, arise: the serpentine fire Another interesting parallel is that between Alchemy and Hindu philosophy, specifically the concept in yoga of "raising the kundalini" -- a process that is believed to sublimate the raw, crude energies of sexual desire into purer, more subtle, more refined energies. The process is believed to channel the raging hot fires of the libido through seven "chakras" -- nodes of force -- starting with the Base Chakra and moving higher and higher up the spine through the Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat, Brow and Crown chakras in turn.

In modern interpretations of Alchemy, the kundalini is referred to as "the Serpentine Fire". Freud and other headshrinkers have noted the subconscious, archetypal (Jungian) connections between serpent and penis. The word "kundalini" itself means "the coiled power" --- the energy believed to lie in non-material, snake-like coils at the base of the spine. "The progress of kundalini through the different chakras leads to different levels of awakening and mystical experience, until the kundalini finally reaches the top of the head ... producing an extremely profound mystical experience." (Wikipaedia)


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Karen said...

PS "faeces".

mgeorge said...

In a hot climate, one praises a cool day, and associates clouds and rain with fertility, while in a temperate land, one hopes for a "bright sunny day". Similarly, tones, colours, etc. can have cultural settings. If our blue sky had been associated with intense UV throughout our evolution, cloudy/grey would have been good.

Those most urgently requiring reincarnation (for their own good or because they are saviours) can be sent to the head of the queue, regardless of those waiting in cold storage. However, drastic advances in gerontology could upset the spiritual applecart, the comic order, or whatever. BTW, there is an epic science fiction series (The Neutronium Alchemist series by Peter F. Hamilton) on the undead muscling their way back in body by living body, and taking over the show.

Talk of reincarnaton seems to exist only in association with (a) Hindu/Buddhist/Jain culture, or (b) in the case of Westerners, also in association with a romanticised ancient Egyptian and Greeek culture (though I doubt the last 2 civilizations entertained this idea). Similarly, we hear the earnest testimonies of those who "saw the light" during near-death experiences, but the authors and producers have chosen not to interview Buddhists, Communists, shamanists, etc.

Faycin A Croud said...

Oddly, the first thing I thought was "a fissure," as in a volcanic fissure. But magma really isn't alive, is it? Although I have always thought of it as the Earth's blood.

weirsdo said...

Bela Bartok based his compositional technique, including his tonal language, on the golden mean. Although some may find his use of dissonance unpleasant, he produced some of the greatest melodies of 20th century music.

masterymistery said...

weirsdo, that's a very useful addition to this debate. I haven't listened to much of Bartok, but I will now...


I responded in detail some days ago to comments (above) left by Karen, mgeorge and Faycin. I don't know why my comments-in-response have vanished. When I wrote and published them, they clearly existed in the comments field. Now they've gone.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for stopping by and for particularly thought provoking comments.

I hope this comment stays published.



Anonymous said...

Ummm sorry, have to clear up a few misconceptions here. "Statistics/mathematics/actuarial studies" deals with a MUCH wider range than counting the *number* of people alive / dead at the moment / over a period of time. I think you mean "demographics".

Nice work with linking the golden mean with Bode's law, not sure how this links in with Phythagoras' investigation into harmonics, though. Surely this is more to do with Maths/Physics than Arts?

Shouldn't "sublimation" really mean more like "minimising local entropy"?

From the same Wikipedia entry: "Jung's seminar on kundalini yoga, presented to the Psychological Club in Zurich in 1932, has been widely regarded as a milestone in the psychological understanding of Eastern thought", you JUNGIAN!

Anonymous said...

@mgeorge: The Reality Dynsfunction ( the first book in the Neutronium Alchemist series) rocked, the last really sucked - too many bloody Deus Ex Machinas. You've got to read Peter Hamilton's Greg Mandel series... and what do Communists have to do with near death experiences anyway?

martin Olson said...

what thoughtful writing and interesting comments!

masterymistery said...


Strictly speaking you're right about "demographics" (deathographics?) though boundaries between disciplines are increasingly wide aND fuzzy.

Re Bode's law, I think there's two possibilities: that thge distances between the planets and the sun, and the distances between the planets and other planets, are gbased on the golden mean and/or multiples thereof (easy enough to test this hypothesis --- the distances arE known. Calculator anyone?)

The other possibility is that if the distances between the planets and the sun were strings, and you plucked them, the resulting sounds would stand in relation to each other according to the golden mean or multiples thereof (this one's harder to prove/disprove, bvut still relatively easy).

Re Pythagoras, yes his work on harmonics definitely has a bearing on this topic --- But I need to familiarise myself to a much greater extent with P. and his work).

I would say "minimising local entropy" is an outcome/output of the process called "sublimation" but I don't think we have a substantive difference of opinion here. To me its terminological.

I like to think of living things as anti-second-law-of-thermodynamics engines.

Yes I am a follower of Jung's thinking, in a very amateurish sort of way, and I think a lot of his work has been misunderstood or deliberately distorted by those who should know better. His concepts of "archetypes" and the "collective unconscious" have had a huge impact on modern thought in such areas as psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultur-ology etc.

Thanks for your comments --- challenging as they are!

Hope you'll stop by again soon.


masterymistery said...

Hi Martin, yes this post is going quite well... Thanks for stopping by.