Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's WITH minds anyway?

Last night I dreamt a musical--well, at least one song from it, anyhow. It was rather amusing: in the manner typical of musicals, after some key event had occurred, abruptly music came from nowhere and everyone present engaged in singing or dancing. In the manner typical of dreams, of course this made perfect sense, and I participated just as willingly as everyone else. (I did think it was marvelous that everyone present somehow either knew the words and melody, or they were adroit enough at following by ear.)

Now, the peculiar thing to note is that this was music (complete with orchestration and lyrics) I'd never hard before--it was the product of my unconscious mind. I can't guarantee that the music would win any awards, but it made harmonic sense, had convincing melodic content, and it flowed pleasingly. The lyrics were probably pretty nonsensical but I can't remember a thing about them.

(Also notable was the fact that I myself sung along, I was very deft at picking out various ways to harmonize with the other singers, something I've sometimes had trouble doing by ear. But this was easy--so very easy--and it felt natural.)

So my question: why is it so much easier to create music while I'm asleep? Why does it flow out so effortlessly, without thought or conscious guidance? I'm not saying that conscious guidance is necessarily a bad thing, but it's kind of frustrating that I can't simply choose to let this same thing happen to me while I'm awake. Again, I don't have any guarantees that the music produced would be any good, but I'd at least like to experiment and see what comes out.

I know that this ability is in my head somewhere: the ability to simply let musical works flow out, as Mozart was allegedly able to do. But I remain frustratingly unable to tap it--just as, for a highly relevant analogy, I know that the other events from that dream are in my head somewhere, but I can't remember them. Just as with any other memory one has difficulty recalling. The knowledge is there somewhere, encoded in an obscure part of one's neural circuitry. But how does one access it?

This leads me to ponder again the difference between the waking state and the dreaming state. I feel as though inhibition must be a large part of it. In dreams, while I do retain a modicum of reasoning ability, I am often so much more willing to simply embrace the absurd, the inconsistent, and the unusual without pausing to think, "Hey wait--this doesn't make sense."

Would I be better able to let music flow forth from within me if I stopped being so critical of it, then?

But if I am not critical, how can I trust that it will be any good?

Perhaps a strategy like the following is needed: relax the constraints of one's mind ("Free your mind," as Morpheus advised Neo), and let whatever wants to come forth, come forth. Do not seek to consciously guide it, do not judge it, do not think about impact this will have on others, about what it means--try not to think at all, really. After you have let this outflowing run its course, then--and only then!--do you reactivate your critical faculties in order to evaluate the products of your creativity. Only then ought to occur assessment, judgement, and revision.


  1. You know, It's odd. Just two days before I read this I took on the challenge in your last paragraph by itself. I was searching a little too hard for a meaning in life and it was wearing me out. I'm kind of enjoying it so far. I had to curb a lot of analysis habits that I do automatically. I'm still trying to avoid judging how I've done so far tho, so I can't give any detailed results.

    I like the blog by the way. I hope you don't quit too soon!


  2. It's kind of funny, because the "ignorant masses" are often criticized for being too caught up in basic living concerns, never pausing to reflect about deeper issues. The "intellectual elite" scorn that attitude while esteeming deeper inquiries: as Socrates famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and I believe that sentiment set the standard for the intelligentsia ever since.

    Yet for all that, as you yourself observed, too much deep probing may leave one weary, or even distressed. There may be advantages, in fact, to not thinking so darn much all the time - or at least, to stop fretting about certain unresolvable things (such as the meaning of life?) when they cause us distress. It's possible, perhaps, to over-examine one's life to the detriment of oneself.

    Thank you for the comment and the compliment. It's nice to know my posts are appreciated =)