I've been thinking about our sense of wonder.
I’ve been thinking about how the project of our musical preschool has developed since it’s inception, and I am amazed at the breadth of the journey.
When I began the preschools, I knew nothing about neuroscience. I was relying on experience, instinct and to a large extent intuition. I would tell my teachers that if a very young child is laughing, he is secure and therefore you can reach him, you can teach him.
Now, with the advent of neuroscience, this hunch is a hormonal fact. Serotonin, which is released in the brain when a child is secure and happy, facilitates learning and memory.
Science is now corroborating our empiric experience of the past thirty years.
For example: I have always sensed and experienced a mysterious link between language and music. Aniruddth Patel (Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, Boston, MA) explains this link in wonderful detail in his “OPERA” hypothesis (1).
"(1) Overlap: there is anatomical overlap in the brain networks that process an acoustic feature used in both music and speech (e.g., waveform periodicity, amplitude envelope), (2) Precision: music places higher demands on these shared networks than does speech, in terms of the precision of processing, (3) Emotion: the musical activities that engage this network elicit strong positive emotion, (4) Repetition: the musical activities that engage this network are frequently repeated, and (5) Attention: the musical activities that engage this network are associated with focused attention."
For my staff and I, this is a wonderful incitation for us to continue and develop the way we bring music to very young children.
Laurel Trainor (McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) has been studying the first verbal utterances of newborn babies. These utterances mirror and imitate those of the caretaker. These first exchanges are highly musical, and they exist in every language. In English this lilting, high-pitched repetitive language is called “motherese” or "parentese”. You have all used this, it sounds something like “Oh my Buuuu tiful little Baaaay bie!” In Italien “O il mio beliiiiiiisssssimo bamBiiiiiino”
Trainor confirms that this first dialogue is potentially the defining element in a child’s healthy emotional and linguistic development.
These are just two examples among a plethora that illustrate the primordial place that music occupies in our minds, bodies, and emotional constructs.
Where is this leading? What am I thinking about now as a result?
I keep feeling the path widening as I follow it. The research that I have done recently while writing a book proposal on this subject has led me to some profound questions. My reading about Artificial Intelligence (AI) has lead me to wonder about what education systems need to be addressing now: today, not in twenty years time. One of the foremost questions that I think we need to ask ourselves is “how will our children be able to create a moral and ethical framework for AI as well as Trans Humanism?”
Without a profound notion of what our collective humanity is, I don’t see how we can define the criteria necessary for a just and sustainable framework.
What are we that AI is not? What can we do that AI cannot? Many of us may feel the answer to this question, but we are unable to articulate it.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson touches on this idea precisely, during a recent interview with Paul Elie at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York.
"I don’t really believe that people have ceased to be religious. I think they’ve ceased to be articulate on the subject of religion. There is a sort of receding from traditions that makes the songs you would sing a thousand times in your life, the psalms you would repeat a thousand times in your life—those things that incrementally create in people a vocabulary for the sublime, for the pure."
One does not need to belong to a religion to experience a sense of wonder, or an awareness of the sublime or the pure. Is this part of what we are that AI is not? Music (and Robinson includes music in this reflection) accompanies not only rituals and rites of passage; it is one of the means by which we access the sublime, the pure. It has always served this function, in every society, in every part of the world.
I think there is an interesting link between this idea, and the fact that certain parts of our brains are considered to be the oldest, the most linked to our evolution as a species. Music perception appears to be linked to our limbic system, the emotional center in our brains. The limbic system is considered one of the oldest parts of the brain. My feeling is that these are the very parts of our beings that we need to stay close to, to preserve and develop.
When I see our children close their eyes and gently sway while singing or listening to something beautiful I feel certain that we are on the right track.
It is the very presence of music in every culture everywhere in the world, that leads me to think that although we lack the research to prove it at present, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that we need to get back to a very visceral and emotional musical practice with our children. I don’t mean buying them cd’s or apps, I mean singing with them, bouncing them up and down to music, dancing with them and beating on drums together. When they are old enough, try to facilitate any form of group musical experience. An orchestra, a choir, or a rock band are all wonderful options.
Making music together takes us out of ourselves; it makes us bigger than ourselves. It brings us together, it makes us happy, and it makes us human.
1) Why would musical training benefit the neural encoding of speech? The OPERA hypothesis, Aniruddh D. Patel, Frontiers in Psychology, published: 29 June 2011 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00142