June 16, 2012

"It's no accident that religions around the world have used unison singing and chanting, because unison singing and chanting is itself a mechanism for high fidelity."

Says Daniel Dennett, in a discussion with Richard Dawkins. Both atheists, they're talking about the way religion evolves.

I was interested in the quote beyond that context, because I've had to listen to so much political singing and chanting here in Wisconsin over the past year or so. Political chanting troubles me. See, e.g.:

"Occupy Wall Street, Occupy State Street, Occupy Everything and Never Give It Back!"

"Wisconsin 'Singalong' Protesters Confront Workers and Chant About Boycotting Their Employer."

"Do you really want to use rote chanting to train kids to protest against authority?"


Michael K said...

This is Red Guards stuff. Chanting probably raises endorphins and is without cortical activity.

Bill Harshaw said...

My plot in the community garden is near a swimming pool, which occasionally hosts swimming meets and I think a team of its own. This morning there was much chanting coming from the area, seemingly though I'm not sure, practicing complex cheers for their team.

Seems like it's a bonding mechanism, whether in religion, politics, or sports.

traditionalguy said...

Atheists know about as much about religion as they do about the back side of Mars.

The "enchantings" are the old pagan powers of withcraft that attempt to control life and win battles by cursing of opponents before battle.

Pull up the Nazi mass rituals with a hundred thousand men chanting to create their powers raising ten thousand swastikas aloft and then consider how some power helped them helped conquer Czechoslovakia, Austria, Norway, Denmark, France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Greece, Italy, North Africa, and up to 70 miles from the nearly prostrated hopeless Moscow and England before the magic stopped.

Apparently Churchill chanted back.

David said...

If you are chanting, you are unlikely to be thinking.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Rote chanting was the key to Obama's 2008 victory among the under-10 set.

"Obama's gonna lead us...."

And of course all the Oak Publications political stuff, the Joe Hill songbook, the union songbooks, We Shall Overcome, red diaper singalongs etc.

John M Auston said...

Chanting keeps cognitive dissonance at bay. That's why it's done in religions and in Progressive gatherings.

Both belief systems can't stand too much direct logical exposition.

So one chants.

What cognitive dissonance?

As a Conservative/Libertarian, I loath monopolies - like, say, AT&T used to be - for all the reasons that monopolies exhibit.

I would share that loathing, and for the same reasons, with Progressives, I would guess.

But I also loath the leviathan State, primarily because it is the biggest monopoly of them all.

Progressives love the leviathan State. Ergo, big cognitive dissonance.

Can't have that, so, let's sing, sing, sing.

chickelit said...

I did a blog post last year called simply Unison, related to the target of Dawkin's ire.

And Althouse has mocked unison before, in the context of the song "Theme From A Summer Place."

Bender said...

What these boobs don't know about religion could fill the Grand Canyon.

That said, it is true that, before widespread availability of books, scripture was largely learned by tradition, that is, orally. However, scripture such as the Psalms, which are thousands of years old, were chanted not in order to remember them and keep the texts alive, but because prayer is traditionally chanted -- chanted or sung prayer is praying twice, the saying goes -- and it is done in groups because it is intended to be an act of communion, many becoming one body with God.

But modern music (or at least I should say, at least until the death of music in the 1990s) is yet another thing that we owe thanks to religion to. Modern music has its roots in the development of chant and then polyphony by the Church.

Bender said...

It bears noting that Judaism, which is the foundation for most if not all religious singing today, Christianity, and Islam, despite surface appearances, are all not primarily belief systems, they are not grounded in beliefs or adherence to certain philosophical/theological propositions, but rather, they are primarily grounded in relationship.

True, one generally will form a belief prior to forming such relationship, but it is relationship which makes the religion -- relationship with Abraham and God's Covenent with him, relationship with Jesus Christ, relationship with Allah. So, yes, there is an emphasis in all of these major religions on the social aspect because they are at root social institutions. They are about unity and harmony of a people, not disunity and disharmony such as that advocated by Dennett and Dawkins.

Asheville Argonaut said...

Given another few thousand years perhaps PEUs will produce their very own Bach or Messiaen. Till then I'll continue wondering what singing Bach cantatas does to the religious brain. And stay up nights fearing that humming along to Messiaen will signal to others that I'm a brain dead religious simpleton.

edutcher said...

Cadence calls fill the same function in the military.

So, does that make being a Marine a religion?

(let me rephrase that...)

n.n said...

It derives from the principle of superposition. Power from individual inputs is additive when they have synchronous features. Our senses respond to higher inputs with a commensurate behavior. This is a natural phenomenon, which is not exclusively exploited by humans in religions or cults.

Actually, the same response can be observed with individuals who ingest psychotropic drugs, including: marijuana, cocaine, etc., and milder variants in excess. They are, in effect, looking for the high fidelity signal, which they otherwise lack in their lives. It can be interpreted as a dream of instant gratification (e.g. physical, material, ego).

Synova said...

"Cadence calls fill the same function in the military.

So, does that make being a Marine a religion?

Heh. :)

It's a good example, though.

And while cadence calls have a practical purpose, for the most part they're not for the benefit of the DI's (or TI's, chose your pleasure) they're for, er, erasing the "me" (that we were complaining about the other day) and replacing it with identity with the group.

Not a secret at all, though, and hardly mindless.

And something other sorts of "chanters" are likely to despise with phrases such as, "I could never join the military because I'm too much of an individual."

But it seems, now that someone brought it up, that it's pretty obvious that there is a reason for drum circles and endless singing together and chanting.

I also, having gone to any number of summer bible camps, have no dispute with the assertion that the songs sung together emotionally and mentally manipulate. But then, everyone knows that they're *supposed* to do that during a sing-along or campfire. You're told you're on a "high" and will crash later, so you expect it.

And again, I'm betting there is a correlation between those who think Jesus Camp is a horrible zombie creating sort of thing, and who think Occupy is a lovely movement filled with earnest and wonderful young people acting on their convictions.

Richard Dolan said...

Generating an effect is not the same thing as having a purpose. The first is a mechanistic concept relying on notions of causation; the second is an intentional concept relying on notions of choice and agency. It's a mistake to conflate the two, but there is a lot of that in this dialogue. It's also a mistake that runs through much loose talk about evolution.

Dennett's philosophy attempts to apply concepts drawn from evolutionary biology to other fields, and is the basis for his theory of mind (really a theory of the evlovling brain). Both he and Dawkins begin from the premise that we live in an exclusively material world; all that is is what we can see and touch and smell. Abstractions are entirely secondary.

If that's where you begin, it's not much of a surprise to conclude that theories of spirituality, including any religous views, are without any substance -- just abstractions we conjure up and myths we tell ourselves. The trick is not showing that, if one accepts the premise,then certain conclusions follow. It's showing why the premise is worth accepting.

Chip Ahoy said...

There is a levitation exercise that some spiritualist types do and some Boy Scouts too that has to do with chanting and ritual and getting it exactly right as with musical precision.

A group stands around and attempts to lift a person lying there, lift them by using a single finger, and the group cannot do it because everything is floppy.

So the leader goes, "Count up from one to ten then back down then to one and lift."

The group tries it but they mess up the count. The leader interrupts, "No. No. No. You must count properly. Start over."

The group starts over and the leader interrupts again because the count is halted and insufficiently rhythmic. He chastens the group and instructs them to restart.

They do. At the first sign of the first tiny fault the leader jumps up and yells, "GODDAMMNIT CAN'T YOU GET ANYTHING RIGHT? START OVER YOU DUMB ASSES! Sheesh."

Now all the people are completely focused on what they know to be a ridiculous exercise and on getting the simple ritual exactly right, including the person being lifted. They do the count exactly right. They insert their finger under the subject's body, it feels the same as it did before but this time the person is planking beautifully and they magically lift, the whole group extending a single finger, and they could keep going up too with no difficulty or exertion at all to the full extended height of the shortest person in the group and they all stand there pissing themselves at the sight of the planking person floating up there at their fingertips.

hdhouse said...

If their conclusions on unison singing had anything to do with musicology or ethnomusicology I might not be laughing so hard.

jimbino said...

The Web does hold the promise of eventually liberating us from the curse of religion. Publishing of audios and videos of praying the rosary, of modern Elmer Gantries, of priestly child abuse and extensive coverups will enlighten the younger generation.

Mere listing of the books banned by the Roman Catholic church would furnish signposts for those who seek the true path to freedom from religion.

Floyd said...

In Christianity we also have Christ's admonition against "vain repetitions" at least in prayer... some choruses do just that and since we've gone to PowerPt. slides instead of hymnbooks the four-part harmony I grew up to love in the Baptist church has turned to unison singing since no one has the parts in front of them....

Chanting in a secular context has a place... when I played football a good pregame chant would make me want to run through walls -- and like I was able to. Sometimes itf seemed my mojo was offset by the other guy's chant though. Pity.

David R. Graham said...

If political, religious, military and sports chant had a common source, purpose or effect they would be interchangeable. We would hear Anglican Chant under capitol domes. Cadences in cathedrals. The chants are not interchangeable, so, they are incomparable. And really, what business has an atheist discoursing on religion, if not to make a new one? More, is anything not incomparable? And why do atheists pine to speak of God?

leslyn said...

jimbino said... The Web does hold the promise of eventually liberating us from the curse of religion. Publishing of audios and videos of praying the rosary, of modern Elmer Gantries, of priestly child abuse and extensive coverups will enlighten the younger generation. Mere listing of the books banned by the Roman Catholic church would furnish signposts for those who seek the true path to freedom from religion."

"curse," "enlightenment," "true path"...you do realize you are speaking like a co-religionist--don't you?

Are you an evangelist in disguise?

Alan said...

I wish Bose would start a religious denomination. THAT would be high-fidelity faith.

The Crack Emcee said...

Two things:

Well duh. And Dawkins isn't an atheist but an agnostic.

O.K., three things:

David R. Graham,

And really, what business has an atheist discoursing on religion, if not to make a new one?

[Wild applause] Wow. Bra-vo. That's hilarious.

Your imagination is completely kaput, isn't it?

DEEBEE said...

Hey Hey Ho Ho these godless whores gotta go