A neuro-ecological approach of dance. Neurosciences in the light of platonic Epistemology. Maria Alexea
“ As we said, the gods were given to us as partners in the dance (synchoreutai) and have granted us the pleasurable perception (aisthesin meth’ hedones) of rhythm and harmony. “ (Plato).
Plato suggests that there is already a predisposition within primitive disorder to bring forth a sense of order. As in primitive universe has a propensity towards order that already exists within the “soul” of the universe. Orderly dancing in particular displays the ability to harmonize the opposing strains. Plotinus also refers to the dance in explaining the harmony of nature as a living whole; suggesting that dance on the one hand is perfecting that lower reality and mirrors on the other that ultimate reality.
Thus if dance reconciles what is elementary human with what is cosmically immanent it would be the highest blossom of culture. Simplicity and greatness of the animals’ movement as well as absolute resonance with the environment are goals that human dancers seldom attain and thus it constitutes an open challenge still for achievement. It is plausible that a deeper understanding would postulate that the evolution of the idea (the idea considered as an expression of matter, being a special form of matter itself – this is also a more “neo-platonic” interpretation of the platonic ideas, very relevant to the – putative for Plato – origin of the Cosmos in Timeous,) presupposed the evolution of fundamental movements a movement that must have within them the seeds from which will evolve all others, through reflex in unending sequence of still higher and greater expressions of thoughts and ideas. An idea is an ecological phenomenon and it is derived from the dance as the most functional form of interaction with the nature.
Psychophysics tied to macroscopic phenomena deriving its principles from those Plato and Plotinus, introducing as Gibson did, the ”terrestrial world of surfaces and events in a ecological approach of vision as an employment in the interaction with the whole environment.”
The dancer and surroundings constitute an interactive system with each constituent operates reciprocally to the other. The moving body generates information about the environment and must tailor its movement to the environment correspondingly. The dancer’s body, capabilities and propensities must be described relative to the environment reciprocally; the properties and features of the environment must be described as relative to the dancer.
Perception takes body- environment reciprocity into account because to perceive the world is to co-perceive the self, is to perceive functional relations between the self and the world around. That leads us to a broad field of research and action, which I could call neuro-ecological aesthetics implying all grades of resonance with the world.
This can be described more explicitly: There is a dancer whose body and mind seems omnipresent, always the master of his limbs, never moving one without being conscious of the shift with regard to another. He/she moves the fingers the foot is “aware” of it; if the elbow lifts the knees take note; when the foot receptors take note of the ground onto which the dancer moves, the upper body takes notice; when turning the upper part of the body, hips and legs always take a position of harmonious accompaniment. The upper body serves the mind in great measure the most articulate messages of the brain while knees and hips emit the basic foundation of physical exertion. Even an insect like a beetle operates in an analogous way in the space gathering significant configurations in a function of time and space.
Hence the gestures of the arms flow while the lower body keeps the balance and the floating motion of the legs continuous. It is as if the upper body keeps the rhythmic structure while the legs accompany this rhythmic structure lifting it to different levels within space. This flow of limbs makes the dancer subject to the rhythm of nature who in fact submits itself with body and limbs to rapid and momentarily statue like images, in the system and the laws of sculpture, of space of drawing, to all sides, forwards, backwards. To the right to the left at the same time offering contradictions of the limbs and focal points to the eyes of those gathered around, who in turn can compare it with the instant image rhythmically in full view just as in expansive Greek friezes many figures are connected so as to appear to be one creature, human beings in many variations, connected therefore in space. As if the viewer “moves” (kinesthetically) with the employment of sensory organs and mirror neurons through directions and points, and in time, in a way which it is represented through the transition from one point and directional system to the other experiences a peculiar expansion of the visual field which acquires the traits of imagery.
Those functional relations of dance stated above that are “constant ” in a certain course of time under the patterns of transformations in the optic array, can specify what is constant, a unitary object displaying a higher order of structure which I call rhythm; something which can depicted in ratio-analogies on the image perceived. Rhythm is ratio of movement and time, and balance is a device for measuring ratios; the epistemology determined by the dance takes different shape because it must be oriented to look for ratio differences and not for subtractive differences. ( although subtractive differences are infact also ratio differences)
The ecological approach of Gibson and of Bateson having its roots to the philosophy of Plato and Plotinus is about conceptualization of the perceptual information through the hierarchizing of the levels of process which in turn are configured in something that reminds a system of nested equations – recurrent traits in a variety of levels of organization, widely different at first sight, yet having the same natural laws defining them. The expression of these laws may change from observed system to observed system, but there is still potential for postulating well-formed scientific propositions for their interconnection and correlation. A system that observes and acts (a human being, here a dancer) is also connected with what it observes and acts upon. It is thus part of an overall system. In the overall system, the Platonic “other” and “same”, along with “motion” and “stasis” can be incorporated in predications for it. The same predication process can be done for its constituent parts-systems and its relation to other systems. Predications of such kind, of similarities and differences that are repeated-recurrent (“nested”) in connected systems of higher and lower order can be considered valid tools of comparison between them. The perceived characteristics of the systems – their abstractions being the aforementioned predications – can be a subject of research and experimentation by measuring their qualitative aspects (in the case of dance this may mean measurement of biomechanics, brain activity and so on – but some kind of wireless electrodes will be needed for the dancer to move freely in these experiments). This view is not “holism” as in the esotericism, in the strictly deterministic sense where “all is one” (something that, in whatever has to do with Plato, is refuted in the Sophist), or reductionism in a course of absurd denial of epistemology (and reductionism itself as part of an epistemology).
All systems and subsystems are considered as open systems, the dancer being a subsystem of his/her environment, one that can initiate feedback-feed forward processes with it; sense perception and reaction to this perception being themselves forms of movements, closely interwoven in the brain system. The experience of dance is not considered as entirely “subjective”, or totally “objective”, but metaphorically – yet seriously – speaking, the system of the dancer must become through its movement what the system of its environment dictates. (At the same time this is a doing of his/her will – a choice.)
The brain is already configured to perceive and readily interpret the stimuli. Surfaces and objects perceived are potentially for the brain sets of connected systems of “nested equations” isomorphic to the traits of complexes of atoms, of light and sound waves. Patterns of pressure are received on tactile receptors already formed through evolution to higher structures.
The environmental structures, in turn, are not static images. They become fully apparent through movement, in relations that emerge over transformations in space and time. Dance can be considered plausibly as a space-time configuration, “mapping” in the brain surfaces and objects into a system of “nested equations” of electric waves, containing the information through which perception of the self and environment occurs at a primary level of the processing of the sensory information. Many of these processes that have been considered as belonging to higher levels of brain processing might be proved that they are already involved to the primary processes (like the motion receptors in the primary visual cortex), because evolution potentially favored a more direct interaction with the environment. If so, it is probably for the purposes of efficiency and facilitation of further elaboration of pre-conceived abstractions, that primary systems verify these processes a priori as valid experience.
Dancing can be the rhythmic condensation of a locomotion variety. An ordering of patterns of motion into a more or less invariant pattern of rhythm takes place. Perceiving becomes mostly active by the dancers. Their visual system becomes a motor system as well as a sensory one. Many critical sources in the context of the dance as Gibson describes is an optic flow and motion parallax as the dancer moves through the space of surfaces. The environment provides the dances with the “opportunities and resources” in a system of nested equations and with information which specifies and selects these opportunities and resources. So the dance is designed to the environment and the environment to the dancer.
Perceiving dance photographs and with the dance trajectories captured in a fraction of time, the expansion pattern cause increasingly symmetrical deletion of background texture or any irrelevant texture. The object-dancer is an aperture, a window to look though it, and in the time course of the image perception a reverse process take place, whereas the dancer–aperture progressively reveals more background texture in the middle of the display. At the same time it enriches the background with new messages coherence and new dynamics. It creates the sensation of a new world.
(Therefore its neurobiological substrate is optimal for advertisements aiming to create the hallucination of the entrance into a new world. This world however is a fallacy contradicting itself and the laws of its origin.
However the increasing tendency to incorporate dance and the arts in general into the advertising campaigns lies to a more profound and ancient impact of the dance in the appearance of conscious brains in the neuro-socio-cultural development.
Human minds emerge when the activity of small circuits is organized across large networks so as to compose patterns. The patterns represent things and events located outside the brain, either in the body or in the external world but also some patterns represent the processing of the brain’s inherent patterns.
Α meta-pattern according to Bateson “ is the pattern that connects. It is a meta- pattern, which defines the vast generalization, that, indeed, it is patterns that connect.
Bateson goes further declaring “ mind is empty; it is no-thing. It exists only in its ideas, and these again are no-things. ONLY THE ideas are immanent, embodied in their examples. And the examples are, again no-things. The claw as an example is not the Ding an sich: it is precisely not the thing” in itself. Rather is what makes of it namely, an example of something or other.”
A mind, though, “non-physical”, a “no-thing” can exert its influence on the very physical nervous system that moves us to action. A mind, to my understanding, is a set of connected “things”, a relationship of the nervous system with the rest of the body and nature. Conceiving this relationship with the mind may be in an abstract manner, but the relationship itself is very corporeal, set on biological premises and natural laws. The validity of abstract assumptions on the mind can be examined by experiment, specified, validated. This “mind” is not “elusive” in this context, yet still much work will be needed to evaluate this notion.
While dancing the dancer makes a movement in space (dancing gesture) performing an action; both hand movement – the hand becoming an “object” which the dancer manipulates in a specific motion and overall action; movement and object- hand are physical events in space and time and when neural circuits are active or inactive according to the sensory inputs they create a pattern and perhaps a meta-pattern, the isomorphic of the sensible pattern – some kind of pattern itself. When the pattern corresponds to some object or action, it constitutes a map- meaning a neural pattern- of that or that action, or multiple actions coordinated together.99ii
Grounded, as it is, the activity in the – very physical – neural cells we may therefore say that the map- pattern is as physical object (the thought namely is a physical object) as well as the objects or actions because the pattern is momentarily “drawn” in the brain, it is “carved” in the brain by its activity. I must clarify that I do not literally mean that an “image” of the sensible object is actually created in the brain – the “map” within the circuitry is defined by the premises of brain – meaning the “translation” of the input to the “brain language” which is the system of the signals of neurons.
Neural circuits might create some sort of image-tic correspondence for objects in the world and of the whole environment. In the same way aspects of the body’s physical form and function are engraved in brain circuitry and generate persistent patterns of activity recreating permanently some versions of the body in brain activity. During dancing the brain not only maps states that are actually occurring, it can also transform rhythmically body states and even simulate body states that have not yet occurred in a function of the inward music that drives bodily movement straight into the future. So we have a dynamic configuration of integrated neural processes centered on the representation of the dancing body, which transforms spatial and temporal organization into a dynamic collection of integrated mental processes. The temporal structures of the neural circuits are subjected to the to a wide range of periodical phenomena which surround us throughout history.
Rhythm of the dance which expresses the rhythm of the body and the environment, where a biological system is situated, ”nested”, within another system which is the surroundings that are a space-time structure – a matrix – and of course a bearer of information-which consists of its inherent order that the dancer can perceive unconsciously at some degree. Life itself is determined by the existence of biological endogenous and exogenous rhythms that are in a constant interaction. Potentially, through the influence of exogenous factors on the life forms developing on earth, a range of biological rhythms came into existence, became reinforced and genetically and eco-socially established.
Addressing our intuitive and emotional potential, the biological rhythms provided the basis for artistic creativity and this might have happened through the dance which is mostly akin to those rhythms because it refers more profoundly to the body and environment. It is therefore a logical consequence of our increasing levels of knowledge to enquire more deeply into the inherent patterns of biological rhythms. The Poet Novalis said, “If one has dispensed with the rhythm of the world, then one has dispensed with the world as well.” Life probably begins with a kind of “dance”, thus life begins with the feedback of information and is maintained through a continued supply of energy. “never at rest always tortured by energy; wasted prodigiously by the sun poured into space, its might make the sea roar. Deep in the sea all molecules repeat the patterns of one another till complex new ones are formed. They make others like themselves and a new dance starts. Growing in seize and complexity, living things, masses of atoms, DNA, proteins, dancing a pattern ever more intricate…”(Richard Feynman)
My personal dancing experience is one indicating that the energy (the “motor power”) of the dancer is as if derived from the environment (rocks, sea, waves, wind etc.). A very broad usage of the term “dance” has been used (as by physicist Feynman) to describe biological processes, but any form of art may serve, among other things, in broadening of relations between fields with the usage of metaphor. “Translation” of metaphor into strict scientific language and practice may be needed, but at the same time it is also needed to return to the metaphor itself as an “un-translated theorem”, as a source for new, intuitive insight that can be transformed and channeled to the realm of science again.
Body and brain themselves are engaged in a continuous interactive “dance” expressed fully in the literal dance. ( Aristoxenos spoke of the musical logic of the body and Nietzsche declared that he would never trust a thought by which no dance of the muscles would get involved).
Thoughts implemented in the brain induce emotional states that are in turn implemented in the body while the interaction of body and space can change brain’s landscape and its substrate of thoughts.
Self is possible because the body can be represented in the brain and body is embedded in the external world, which implies, that patterns that represent things and events located outside the brain configure them in a way that a moving whole of self and the world is created. Through the human medium, which is the dancer the movement of all nature runs through the maps of diverse sensory modalities, integrating them finally to mental images. Thus the sensation of self was certainly a huge advantage because it generated a firm connection between life- regulation needs and the profusion of mental images that the brain was forming about the world around it.
The “self” notion can be understood in this context as a center of communication between the person and the world. This communication is facilitating, in a sense, the understanding of “same” and “different” in correspondence with the self and the world. For the human species, even with the perceptual capacity differences that exist between individuals or populations, it seems that there is a general minimum of common perceptual capacity, that constitutes the grounds of in-species communication: We can communicate and understand each other despite the relative difficulties created by, e.g. color blindness. That seems to be the general tendency. In that sense, a part of the abstractions that constitute the “human self” are common to every member of the species – they are the linking points that may make us understand that we are the same by being members of “humanity”.
Seeing “differences” as some fundamental implementation by the perception of a variety of objects and similarities as the unitary perceptual tools we ascertain that they are of equal importance. Similar mental categorizing and connecting between categories of processes can occur at almost any level of abstraction, deduction, and induction and so on in any subject. (Seen from a “platonic” point of view these are categories of “Same” and “Other”. Some may again refute the “platonic terminology” usage Ι do as one being out of its context. Yet, I think that I insist on plausible grounds: Plato himself outlines his thoughts in the context of putative, speculative assertions in Timeous and actually he is more open-minded that he might seem at first glance, even in the “Laws”, where he at least sees the legal system as dynamic, changing according to the temporal needs of the “Polis”.)
What is defining the dancing self?
Until recently this question was the province of philosophy, but studies in the brain began to produce explanations which I would like to explore further in the context of a neuro-ecological approach. Continuity coherence and reflection are premises broadly accepted by neuroscientist for the definition the “self”
An unbroken, rhythmic thread is running through the fabric of our experience – a trajectory through past, present, driving into the future. This might have been made conscious through the body movement in space because every natural movement flows in waves (it can be analyzed in waves), these waves flow within other waves in a form of nested equations that flow through nature, which in turn evolve in other movements in a potentially ever expanding natural sequence. This presupposes and enhances a model of self and the world by creating multiple feedback loops in various parameters such as space, time and relation to the others
The representation of the body in the brain in a transformational pattern as dancing locomotion requires might have led to closer stitching together of relatively disparate aspects of mind processing: coordination of brain activity driven first by rhythmical motion-dance and then by reason (whereas reason implies the musical logic of the body). The feedback loops for that purpose must be distinct and specific so that the “self” can interact socio-ecologically with “partners in the dance”, whereas these can be clouds winds trees, flowing veils, as well as other humans.
When the self came to mind, it began generating a great biological revolution, the culture, through knowledge that was first ecological and mythical (the gods were representations of the natural forces) and then scientific (as been conceptualized by Goethe). The purpose is to create a model of the world; Then simulate it in time by evaluating the past and anticipating the future.
Dances of any kind is behind the emergence of the arts, because the arts have deep roots in biology and the human body and can elevate humans to the greatest heights of thoughts (movements expressive of thoughts) and feelings. Thus, they became a way into a homeostatic refinement that humans eventually idealized and strive to reach, the biological counterpart of a “spiritual” dimension in human relations.
Plato also clearly favors a dancing as a “homeostatic” model whereby musical activity and dance is used to transmit and reinforce favorable sentiments among the political body in an orderly way, through the combined activities of the dancing chorus which is – apart from the choreographic activity the group that performs it and the locus of performance – implying an indissoluble bond among the participants.
Indeed the homeostatic drive might have been behind the birth of culture for the purpose of the restoration of the equilibrium of individuals and the group within the constraints of human biology of the physical and social environment because the imbalances now are defined by cultural parameters and the detection and correction would occur the high level of the brain’s “stratosphere”.
Dance as a homeostatic model begins at the cortical level although it incorporates naturally the external isomorphs of neural circuits, the patterns that connect to the environment engaging basic homeostasis for the life regulation needs of organism and surroundings in an oscillating course which could come in acquaintance with chaos and challenge constructively the order and harmony
In everyday locomotion, there is already a thin line between simple walking and a deliberately graceful walk that evokes the dance, expressing semantics in a more profound manner. It remains true that there is a gap, a threshold, however impalpable that is crossed when the body is to dance, rather than simply move. This gap is less a matter of movement per se than of meaning, for what distinguishes dance movements from non-dance movements is the fact that they have dance meanings attached to them. Dance meanings originate through a process whereby elements of non-dance motor patterns are seized upon and set within a particular context. The logic of dance is, in this respect, highly akin to the logic of play. The message of the dance is a meta-message – a meta-pattern, one that sets the subsequent communicative transaction in its correct logical context. This in fact concerns a form of story telling.
In the sociocultural narrative of Plato, the “synchoreutai” have borrowed their authority from mythical beings presumed to have more power and more knowledge because they were dancers – the Greek gods. These narratives of a dancing society of the human element with the gods can be seen as metaphors that link mankind with the rest of the Cosmos, in an interactive, mutual evolution (locomotion).
Gibson, J.J (1950) the perception of the visual world. Boston: Hougthton Mifflin
Gibson, J.J( 1979) the ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Hougthton Mifflin
Ramachandran, V. S und hirstein
Potential expansion points of development of a theoretical approach on dance.
- Duncan –her views on dance and interaction with space, her abolition of imitation of her choreographies for the sake of personal configuration with the location of dance, preferably the nature.
- Dance as the abstract development on the apparatus of locomotion perception in nature – were thought and emotion is perceived and expressed by the means of the body (covered partially for the moment).
- Dance as a reciprocal process with the environment and the co-dancers (covered partially).
- Dance evolution history as rooted – among other aspects – in hunting gathering, where the need of the hunter to conceive the locomotion of the prey and adjust his locomotion to it, in the specific environmental context both of them were active in, as well as adjustment to the cooperation needs of human societies, expression and communication (covered partially).
Gibson, J.J. (1929) The reproduction of visually perceived forms. Journal of Experimental Psychology 12: 1–39
Gibson, J.J. (Ed.) (1947) Motion picture testing and research. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office
Gibson, J.J. (1957) Optical motions and transformations as stimuli for visual perception. Psychological Review 64: 288–295
Landwehr, K. (1988) Die ökologische Auffüllung der Welt II.: HomogenitätsInhomogenitäts-Übergänge im Ganzfeld. Gestalt Theory 10: 21–34
Wertheimer, M. (1923) Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt. II. Psychologische Forschung 4: 301–350
A Theory of Direct Visual Perception, and From The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.James J. Gibson – 2004 – In Robert Schwartz (ed.), Perception. Malden Ma: Blackwell. pp. 158.
Gregory Bateson . Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Paladin Books.
- Griffith, Tom (2000). Plato: The Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.