I have been playing with the idea that genetics guides ontogeny, that how our genes inform an individual’s unfolding has far more to do with how music is made than with how a computer is programmed. Once again, I’m finding these ideas emerging in my dreams.
Two nights ago, while dreaming, I was seeking to understand the mathematics of words, searching for the equations in language, wondering how music connects them both. In the dream, the answer felt to be related to evolution. The answer emerged. The answer is the price of homemade baked goods at the farmer’s market. (I don’t know what that means.}
Scientists are stumped by how few genes there are in the human gnome. Some less somatically sophisticated species display a far larger library of genes. Having a complete gnome is not leading to deep insight as regards our disabilities, diseases, talents or evolution. Over and over again, difficult-to-understand genetic riddles are ascribed to not-yet-understood, multiple gene effects.
Consider this. By understanding music, we can understand how genetics works. This is because the human connection to music is a direct reflection and result of the ontogenetic processes created by our genetic algorithm.
Genes engender a growing being with cells that pay astonishingly close attention to the behavior of contiguous cells and the environments beyond the growing body. Growth is all about receiving and displaying information, not following a template. As each cell splits and acquires a series of tasks to perform based upon location and other information, it is passing on a musical score to be adjusted depending on how the other instrumentalists participate.
This is perhaps a case when a metaphor and that which the metaphor represents begin to merge.
Genes are a score or script outlining a specific symphony or performance, yet each gene also retains a score or script that includes an almost infinite number of ways for each instrumentalist to adjust to changes in the performance of the other players.
The human gnome is a score with instructions on how to vary that score and under what circumstances.
This music is most obvious in the womb when environmental information is heavily influencing ontogenetic outcomes. This is perhaps the case with every species on the planet. Humans, members of a species profoundly impacted by neoteny, have experienced over the course of tens of thousands of generations the emergence of this ontogenetic womb music in postbirth life. Not only have ancient forebear embryo features, such as hairlessness and huge head-to-body ratios, prolonged to appear in great great great… grandchildren, but ancient embryo characteristics have manifested in contemporary adults.
In other words, the remarkable flexibility of cells in embryos to embrace change and adjust growth has emerged in aspects of human personality that include an obsession with music, which reflects exactly how it is that genes compel cells to participate in the creative process. When compared to genetic process, music displays an isomorphic, or almost identical, dynamic. Both display an unfolding across time of information influenced by the environment.
Music rhythms reflect human heartbeats, human breathing and the breadth and limits of human footwork. We all go into a trance with music, often experiencing shifts in identity characterized by identification with groups larger than our selves. For some, music bridges to spiritual experience, featuring shifts in identity beyond the group. To ally oneself with music is to experience one’s boundaries becoming less firm. The experience of multiple-person musical give-and-take allows us to feel as a cell might when instructed by the gnome to dance a person into existence.
Consciousness, or identity, is not nearly as stable as we often think. Every night we slide into alternatives. Music encourages shifts in identity. This is not by chance. Who we are as beings integrated into a larger society and ecology has a lot to do with our abilities to change. This is a direct result of our living lives informed by the dynamics of the womb. To understand genetics, we have only to pay attention to how we dance.