The Sound of One Line Scanning

di Bill Viola

Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness.

The ancient Greeks heard voices. The Homeric epics are full of instances of people guided in their thoughts and actions by an internal voice to which they respond automatically. This suggests as people, as Julian Jaynes has pointed out, not fully exercising what we would consider free will or rational judgment. As with most of us, there is a conversation going on in their heads, but it is not with themselves. Jaynes calls this distant mental landscape the ‘bicameral mind,’ and claims that, prior to the transition period of the Greeks, all ancient cultures were not fully conscious as we know it. In other words, they possessed many gods. Today we are suspicious of persons exhibiting such behaviors, forgetting that the term hearing refers to a kind of ‘obedience’ (the Latin roots of the word are ob plus audire, or ‘to hear facing someone’). So rooted is our need for the concept of the independent mind, that we categorize those hearing the voices as: a) mildly amusing, b) a pet, or c) confined to a mental institution. A possible fourth category might be ‘watching television.’ The prophets and gods have departed our world and the confused chatter in their wake must now be exorcized by someone called a “therapist.”

A woman named Be was alone in the bush one day in Namibia, when she saw a  herd of giraffes running before an approaching thunderstorm. The rolling beat of  their hooves grew louder and mingles in her head with the sound of sudden rain. Suddenly a song she had never heard before came to her and she began to sing. Gauwa (the great god) told her it was a medicine song. Be went home and taught the song to her husband Tike. They sang and danced it together. And it was, indeed, a song for trancing, a medicine song. Tike taught it to others who passed it on.
!Kung Bushman story from Botswana, 
as told to Marguerite Anne Biesele.

Consciously or unconsciously, most people assume the existence of some sort of space when discussing mental functioning. Concepts and terms for manipulation of solid objects are constantly used to describe thoughts, as in “the back of my mind,” “grasp an idea,” “over my head,” “cling to beliefs,” “a mental block,” and so on. This mental space is directly analogous to the “data space” in our first brain child, the computer, being the field in which calculations occur and where the virtual objects of digital graphics are created, manipulated and destroyed. Like a fundamental ontology, this given space is perpetually before or after what is done, an a priori existence from birth in the flip of a switch until the lights finally go out. If there is a space of thinking, either real or virtual, then within it there must also be sound, forall sound seeks its expression as vibration in the medium of space. The acoustic properties of this space, then, becomes the subject of this article.

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