You are here



Knowledge Gardening through Music
Cognitive functions of music
C. Cognitive functions of gardening
D. Participative involvement
E. Living the present moment
F. Challenge of benefiting from insights of musicians, singers and gardeners
G. Conclusions

[Parts: Next | Last | All] [Links: To-K | From-K | From-Kx | Refs ]

The Challenge

This proposal responds to the evidence that strategies to deliver services and remedial measures are increasingly non-viable. Coping at every level of society, including that of national and international governance, is proving increasingly problematic.

Whilst there is indeed still a lot of mileage in conventional strategic initiatives, the concern here is with the many sectors, and inter-sectoral domains, where new approaches seem to be called for. Of special concern are intractable situations, as in Africa, where the western management approach fails to engage with local cultures. This is a situation described by an African management researcher, based at an African management institute, as like a 'drop of water running off a manioc leaf' (Henry Bourgoin, 1984).

It is unfortunate that the challenge of the Internet for Africa is expressed in terms of a combination of illiteracy and inadequate technology infrastructure in a response to the 'digital divide' (see Djamen et al, 1995; Jegede, 1995; and Obijiofor, et al, 2000). This ignores the fact that use of the Internet in western societies is increasingly spreading to the functionally illiterate (and may in fact be contributing to such illiteracy), forcing a shift to visualization techniques that is strongly reinforced by the perceived inadequacies of text information under conditions of information overload -- even for the highly literate. It also ignores the possibility that textually illiterate cultures may be highly 'literate' visually (as in the case of Australian Aborigines) or aurally -- enabling them to creatively by-pass the need for textual literacy in adapting to the Internet and in processing knowledge in ways congenial and valuable to their own culture. It also ignores the impact of satellite technologies in by-passing the need to wire local communities through central nodes. There is a tendency to state the challenge in terms which evoke the same old pattern of dependency on industrialized countries, which of course have a strong interest in the economic implications. This point has been aergued in an earlier paper with respect to use of information for policy-making in developing countries (Judge, 1999). There is a need to at least explore other ways of framing the challenge.

There is therefore a strong case for investing some effort in quite different approaches, even if they appear inherently risky and unlikely to succeed according to the Project Logic of conventional western management. The strange challenges of global governance may only be comprehensible through other means, as Niels Bohr said of understanding atoms: 'When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.' With respect to what follows regarding African management, another argument of Bohr might well apply: "The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct." To which Freeman Dyson added: "When a great innovation appears, it will almost certainly be in a muddled, incomplete and confusing form. To the discoverer, himself, it will be only half understood; to everyone else, it will be a mystery. For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope!" (Kenneth Brower, The Starship and the Canoe, 1979)

The following sections therefore explore the possibilities suggested by a wide range of unusual approaches to framing the cognitive challenge of organizing collective undertakings and ensuring their sustainability and coherence. They provide a context for technical arguments in a proposal by a 4-partner consortium led by the Union of International Associations to the Information Society Technologies program of the European Commission (proposal). This proposal was oriented towards the extensive web databases of the UIA on interlinked world problems, strategies, values, and institutions (see]

Learning from myth

Music -- Playing to the Beast: It is regrettable that there is so little interest in relating cultural insights into the role of music to the strategic challenges of the times. It is even more regrettable in that music is one of the few preoccupations that engage multitudes of people otherwise largely apathetic to these challenges.

Music has demonstrable and proven capacities to engage the young, the intellectually challenged, the autistic, and the very old -- across cultures and levels of society (Blacking, 1995). Ian Cross (1999) explores why people continue to play whatever they appreciate as music and what role it plays in cognitive development. The case of musical file exchange, using Napster-type software, is an interesting reminder of how significant constituencies think.

There is a case for exploring the various myths involving music to determine what function it was understood to perform in crisis situations. Particularly intriguing is the case of the Beast whose otherwise uncontrolled tendencies could only be calmed by musical harmonies -- leading to the possibility of a more creative and fruitful relationship with it. It might be argued that civilization has created or evoked its own form of Beast as a challenge to governance and could well explore new ways of relating to it.

From a musical perspective, why is the Beast so dangerously out of control? What do musical harmonies bring to the Beast's condition? What synaptic pathways do they trigger to reinforce the Beast's capacity to control itself? By what condition is the Beast trapped? The obvious examples, are the cases of dancing bears and charmed snakes swaying to the music, but perhaps more interesting isf the use of music in calming some with severe mental and emotional problems.

In armies of the past it might be argued that music was a way of engaging and controlling unruly soldiers. It provided an indirect form of discipline, enhancing collective identity, by which all were engaged. It continues to be used in this way amongst populations engaged in tribal warfare, with remnants to be heard in sports stadiums. Cynically it might be argued that society uses music in this way to control a potentially unruly population. For if music became unavailable, would not many 'take to the streets'?

What experiential pathways are offered to the Beast by music?

Strangely it might be argued that in modern civilization, as in the past, it is the Beast that could be said to have appropriated music to some degree. This is well-illustrated by the names of groups and titles of records (as any web search for Music and Beast illustrates).

What can be learnt from the subtle art of musical accompaniment, notably for movies?

Magical gardens -- and the Garden of Eden: It is in such gardens that everything is purportedly in harmony. In a sense the garden is the manifestation of perfect governance, in which the plants and animals are effective performers of magical melodies -- they are in tune with their environment with which they dance.

There are libraries of books on the Garden of Eden and on utopias of various kinds. Those of greater interest explore the challenge of the Beast in its various forms to such exemplifications of harmony -- the challenge of chaos. But in portraying such gardens and their associated utopias there is usually a break with the many unpleasant features of reality -- banned necessarily from the Garden of Eden. It is rare to encounter means of traversing the interface between perfect harmony and the cacophony of the real world. Yet many would readily agree that music offers vital clues to this, indeed it exemplifies the challenge.

There have always been those who have favoured a particular musical mode as the key to harmony, rejecting other modes as inferior. The chasm between classical and pop music has long been clear. But avant garde composers interested in dissonance have endeavoured to reframe this challenge. The principles of harmony, and the ranges of possible music, are far grander in scope than the particular musics pleasing to particular groups of individuals at a moment in time. In this sense the musical challenge parallels that of world governance, but is perhaps better articulated in technical terms and makes it more obvious why particular styles might be favoured by particular groups. Indeed the range of possible musical styles effectively defines the range of constituencies by which governance is challenged. Simplistic efforts to ensure the dominance of a particular musical style are as obviously inappropriate as efforts to impose a particular style of world governance.

What is the cognitive and experiential significance of a Paradise or of a Music of the Spheres? How might it engage with a world of disharmony and imperfection?

Defining the need

How can knowledge be embodied into song or music -- especially for use in situations where reference to text is impossible or an indication of inadequacy? This might be seen as a key question for sustainable community. It may be a key question for governance of any kind. Even strategic 'fire-fighters' must recognize that if they have to look at a manual in order to put out the fire then it may well be too late -- and certainly does not inspire confidence. Most leaders however are now seen to speak from scripts -- because they have no sense of the coherence of the message they need to communicate.

Given the explosion of information, how can knowledge be packaged in new and more compact ways that are readily accessible -- and effectively act as templates through which to respond to complex situations? These new modalities might be seen as the cognitive equivalent to the see-through information visors of pilot helmets onto which are dynamically projected vital navigational information. 

Examples might include:

  • First aid mnemonic songs or chants
  • Survival songs or chants
  • Negotiation songs or chants (holding options at different stages in a complex process, as articulated in Getting to Yes)
  • Enterprise management songs or chants

There is indeed a case for repackaging most knowledge in this way as an alternative distribution mechanism to costly books or other information media. Whilst the process raises many questions, there are some valuable aspects to rote learning, especially if its aesthetic dimensions can be heightened through song (cf the case of Harold Baum's Biochemists' Songbook designed to facilitate memorization of biochmeical pathways; or the use of songs to develop science concepts in chi!ldren Of particular interests is the way in which knowledge can be held in learnt songs long before the significance or application becomes evident. This might be considered somewhat like the delayed release systems used to water or fertilize plants. It is the basis for monastic rote learning and chanting in Buddhist monasteries.

Sustainable songs could be designed to carry sets of concepts. Simple variants of a song could carry fundamental concepts, such as the basic 10 concepts of economics, or of electricity, or of sustainable development. The verses or song structure could be designed to be open to more complex development (possible through transposition of key, multi-part development, counter-point, overtones, etc) to carry larger, subtler patterns -- sets of 20, 50, or 100 concepts. The design could allow concepts to be nested according to need. The creative could be challenged to come up with more powerful songs to hold knowledge even more effectively -- somewhat along the lines followed by avant garde composers in developing musical ideas.

Qualification for participation in sustainable community, might then depend on knowledge of the songs to determine:

  • at what level a person could effectively participate
  • what self-discipline the person can apply

Aspects of this already operate in the processes whereby people are (self-)selected into sustainable dialogue processes, whether face-to-face or electronically mediated. Knowing the 'language' of the group may be more a question of knowing the 'song'  through which resonant relationships are sustained. 'Participation' in community or democratic processes may come to have more of the significance associated with the technical and musical ability to take 'part'  in a polyphonic choral group. 

[Parts: Next | Last | All] [Links: To-K | From-K | From-Kx | Refs ]