Art & Organism

Resonance notes


Resonance in the largest sense refers to a kind of communication: connections or relationships by means that are not obvious, and are powerful evidence that we are not alone, a state of profound significance, recalling that all meaning derives from connections:


“Two souls and one thought only

Two hearts that throb as one.”

(F. Halm 1842)[i]


True beauty dwells in deep retreats,
  Whose veil is unremoved
Till heart with heart in concord beats,
  And the lover is beloved. 

(Wm Wordsworth, “To ………Let other Bards of Angels sing”.

[COULD THE POWER OF RESONANCE to evoke new ideas beyond the obvious confines of the resonant elements be because it is recuiting filling-in?]


IF MEANING relates to CONNECTEDNESS, is RESONANCE a valid venue?  Could it’s intuitive and thus less obvious means of connecting, inspire us to look beyond the moment as we keep pursuing connections which is the source of “meaning” and ultimately, even suggest the “meaning of life?” 

(then again, why do we want to know?  Evolutionary biology and “overshoot” can speak to that)

“I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking,” says Joseph Campbell, “I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about” (from The Power of Myth Episode 2, Chapter 4)

So, Joseph Campbell may be on to something:  There seems to be a unique pleasure when life experiences resonate with “our innermost being and reality” (of which we may be utterly ignorant or which (more interestingly) is unknowable.) Philosophers have spoken often of the unique pleasure of harmony (from the Greek harmonia, meaning “joint, agreement, concord…to fit together”)


Every aspect of RESONANCE is worth exploring in our cultivation of a sense of every possible mode of connecting.  The pursuit–and joy in achieving–HARMONY is a token of this. (“All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction, which thou canst not see; All discord, harmony not understood”– Alexander Pope; Dostoevsky spoke of an “eternal harmony” that he occasionally experienced that was worth his whole life; “The greatest good,” said Nikola Tesla, “will come from the technical improvements tending to unification and harmony.” –All provided, of course, that we have the cognitive competence to perceive resonance, if only intuitively.


“It is the theory that decides what can be observed” (Albert Einstein);  “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend” (Robertson Davies);  “People only see what they are prepared to see” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). “We see things not as they are, but as WE are” (Talmud)

Paul MacLean would agree, and take such resonances the step further: 

To the  best of our knowledge, the  brain  provides  the  rules for everything we do. If true,  then in a sense  we can  never  discover anything outside the  brain because  all  the  ingredients of cerebration, like  those  of a mathematician’s formulas, are already in the brain. To say this is not to ignore the capacity for changes  in size of dendritic and  axonal  fields in response  to certain conditions.” (MacLean 1997)[i]





The metaphor of resonance often describes the fit between a message and an audience’s worldviews. (A Theory of Resonance  Terence E. McDonnellChristopher A. BailIddo Tavory   Sociological Theory 6, 2017 : https://doi.org/10.1177/0735275117692837)





The more I consider the abundance of exemplars of resonance and how it is considered in many domains of technology and scholarship, the closer I feel to its meaning.   I pluck a string over here and another begins to vibrate over there.

I create a sound and a glass shatters. ( http://demoweb.physics.ucla.edu/node/58 )

My New Agey friend showed me her new Tibetan singing bowl. It made a beautiful sound when she rubbed the edge with a stick at just the right speed and angle.  But there is significant physics behind this: glance at Resonance Frequency Variations Of Metallic Tibetan Singing Bowl With Temperature” By R. Wijesiriwardana  (some simple notes on sound at a singing bowl sales site)

On November 7, 1940, the third longest suspension bridge collapsed: it was the Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge, across a narrow part of Puget Sound in Washington State.  (Check out the UCLA Physics Lab on Harmonic Motion, Waves and Sound there is a video of the collapse there)

 GRAVITY exerts a similarly mysterious influence at a distance — Newton understood the difficulty we might accepting such a counterintuitive idea:

“It is inconceivable, that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact…That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it.” (Newton speaking of gravity, 1693)[i]

“A particle excited at exactly the right frequency changes its quantum state — this is called “resonance spectroscopy.” Up until now, this method has only been used employing electromagnetic radiation. Researchers at TU Vienna have now developed a resonance method, which for the first time does not use electromagnetism, but the force of gravity.”  How this is utilized to explore gravity noted in 2011 


Resonance in physics and music

·        “An acoustically resonant object usually has more than one resonance frequency, especially at harmonics[ii] of the strongest resonance. It will easily vibrate at those frequencies, and vibrate less strongly at other frequencies. It will “pick out” its resonance frequency from a complex excitation, such as an impulse or a wideband noise excitation. In effect, it is filtering out all frequencies other than its resonance.

o   Acoustic resonance is an important consideration for instrument builders, as most acoustic instruments use resonators, such as the strings and body of a violin, the length of tube in a flute, and the shape of a drum membrane.

o   Why Stradivari was lord of the strings | New Scientist   Nov 29, 2006  Joseph Nagyvary, a chemist at Texas A&M University in College Station, analysed shavings from a Stradivarius and a Guarnerius using infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. He found that a chemical wood preservative used in timber yards around Cremona in Lombardy, where both …

·        Radio: When you tune a radio knob to 96.5MHz, the internal oscillator is adjusted to produce a 96.5MHz signal. This is a reference signal that allows the receiver to recognize any radio waves coming from the antenna at the 96.5Mhz frequency. 

·        Human hearing

o   Acoustic resonance is also important for hearing. For example, resonance of a stiff structural element, called the basilar membrane within the cochlea of the inner ear allows hair cells on the membrane to detect sound. (For mammals the membrane has tapering resonances across its length so that high frequencies are concentrated on one end and low frequencies on the other.) (also https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/basilar-membrane)

o   Like mechanical resonance, acoustic resonance can result in catastrophic failure of the vibrator. The classic example of this is breaking a wine glass with sound at the precise resonant frequency of the glass; although this is difficult in practice.[2][3]

·        Sympathetic strings or resonance strings are auxiliary strings found on many Indian musical instruments, as well as some Western Baroque instruments and a variety of folk instruments. They are typically not played directly by the performer (except occasionally as an effect), only indirectly through the tones that are played on the main strings, based on the principle of sympathetic resonance.  


 Stochastic Resonance

o  “… a mechanism by which a system embedded in a noisy environment acquires an enhanced sensitivity towards small external time-dependent forcings, when the noise intensity reaches some finite level. As such it highlights the possibility that noise, a universal phenomenon and yet one considered traditionally to constitute a nuisance, may actually play a constructive role in large classes of both natural and artificially designed systems.”   (also & w/examples)


Morphic Resonance

o   In 1988, Rupert Sheldrake published a “dazzling Theory of Everything, the goal of which was nothing less than to replace the physics- based worldview of modern biology with an organismic model that made life and mind more “basic” than matter and mathematics. He called the theory the theory of “morphic resonance”.

o   More recently, New Scientist seems to be backing away from their “benefit of the doubt” review of a re-issue of Rupert Sheldrake’s 1988 book, The Presence of the Past. CultureLab: Sheldrake book: Did we really say that?     A detailed critique is at http://skepdic.com/morphicres.html. Still, there are intuitively attractive ideas here: read an interview with Sheldrake


·        Pythagoras is discussed in Music of the Spheres[iii] which makes the instantiating point that “Pythagoras showed that the notes are not random or arbitrary and that they could be understood on a deeper level.

o   The notes were chosen simply because they were pleasing to the ear. But, as it turns out, the scales also follow basic mathematical constructs. So the question is, what does this say about our likes and emotions? Is there a mathematical/physical basis to them, as well?”  The phenomenon recalls the comments of those that find specific examples of beauty in mathematics. (see Mathematical Beauty notes in Wikipedia)

o   “There are many things that Pythagoras did not explain. Why is the frequency inversely proportional to the length? Why use the length at all for his studies? Why do we like these intervals? However, Pythagoras did make a great start.”


·        Good comment in Absolute Music: The History of an Idea  By Mark Evan Bonds  p.40

·        Elaborate speculative theory at http://www.thakanon.org/pythagorean-music-theory.html


·       Resonance in the CNS

o   Multilevel role of resonance in the brain(MacLean 1997)[iv]

o   Cited at length By Charles Don Keyes in Brain Mystery Light and Dark: The Rhythm and Harmony of Consciousness

o   Limbic Resonance[v]



[i] (last lines before curtain of Ingomar the Barbarian. A play in five acts, adapted from Friedrich Halm’s “Der Sohn der Wildniss,’ by Marie Lovell.    (Entire play archived; written by Von Münch Bellinghausen (Friedrich Halm)—Der Sohn der Wildniss. Act II. Trans. by W. H. Charlton. (1842) Often misattributed to Keats

[i] The Brain and Subjective Experience: Question of Multilevel Role of Resonance  Paul D. MacLean (1997) J Mind and Behavior 18(2&3):247-268

[i] Sir Isaac Newton (Third letter to Bentley, 25 Feb 1693. Quoted in The Works of Richard Bentley, D. D. (1838), Vol. 3, 212-3.)

[ii] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2f/Moodswingerscale.svg/250px-Moodswingerscale.svg.pngThe nodes of a vibrating string are harmonics.

[iii] http://www.phys.uconn.edu/~gibson/Notes/Section3_7/Sec3_7.htm : 3.7 Music of the Spheres and the Lessons of Pythagoras


At this point, we have covered a number of topics and some history of physics, so it is important to step back and understand where we are before going on.

·        Using simple mathematics, Pythagoras was able to describe the basis of almost all musical scales, including the pentatonic, the Western, the chromatic and the Arabic scales. This shows the power and excitement of science. For the first time, Pythagoras could answer the question, WHY? Why are these notes and scales special? The answer is that they are formed in a simple, systematic, and mathematical manner. Most importantly, Pythagoras showed that the notes are not random or arbitrary and that they could be understood on a deeper level.

·        Pythagoras’s discoveries bring up a deeper ‘psychology’ question: scales were first developed by ear: we – and the Neanderthals – choose these particular notes before there was any understanding of mathematics or physics. The notes were chosen simply because they were pleasing to the ear. But, as it turns out, the scales also follow basic mathematical constructs. So the question is, what does this say about our likes and emotions? Is there a mathematical/physical basis to them, as well?

·      The power of spectroscopy. What Pythagoras did was look a physical system (the musical scale), found characteristic frequencies (pitches/notes) and found simple mathematical relationships between the frequencies (ratios of 3/2, for example). This process actually became a fundamental part of physics, and modern physics, in particular.

Modern physics started in the early 1900’s with the concepts of quantum mechanics and relativity. However, the concept of quantum mechanics came about through a process much like Pythagoras’s. The physicist, Neils Bohr, considered a physical system (the hydrogen atom), examined the frequencies characteristic of hydrogen (i.e. the colors of light that a hydrogen lamp produced), and found simple relationships between the frequencies (such as ratios of 32/42).

[iv] The Brain and Subjective Experience: Question of Multilevel Role of Resonance.  P.D. MacLean 1997.  J Mind & Behavior 18(2-3):247[145]-268[166]

[v] Limbic resonance From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  9 December, 2017: 

Limbic resonance is the idea that the capacity for sharing deep emotional states arises from the limbic system of the brain.[1] These states include the dopamine circuit-promoted feelings of empathic harmony, and the norepinephrinecircuit-originated emotional states of fear, anxiety and anger.[2]

The concept was advanced in the book A General Theory of Love (2000), and is one of three interrelated concepts central to the book’s premise: that our brain chemistry and nervous systems are measurably affected by those closest to us (limbic resonance); that our systems synchronize with one another in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health (limbic regulation); and that these set patterns can be modified through therapeutic practice (limbic revision).[3]:170

In other words, it refers to the capacity for empathy and non-verbal connection that is present in mammals, and that forms the basis of our social connections as well as the foundation for various modes of therapy and healing. According to the authors (Thomas Lewis, M.D, Fari Amini, M.D. and Richard Lannon, M.D.), our nervous systems are not self-contained, but rather demonstrably attuned to those around us with whom we share a close connection. “Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call ‘limbic resonance’ — a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states.”[3]

This notion of limbic resonance builds on previous formulations and similar ideas. For example, the authors retell at length the notorious experiments of Harry Harlow establishing the importance of physical contact and affection in social and cognitive development of rhesus monkeys.[4] They also make extensive use of subsequent research by Tiffany Fieldin mother/infant contact,[5][6] Paul D. MacLean on the triune brain (reptilian, limbic, and neocortex),[7] and the work of G.W. Kraemer.[8]


School of Management build on research in social cognition, and find that some emotions, especially positive ones, are spread more easily than others through such “interpersonal limbic regulation”.[14]

Author Daniel Goleman has explored similar terrain across several works: in Emotional Intelligence (1995), an international best seller, The Joy Of Living, coauthored with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and the Harvard Business Review on Breakthrough Leadership. In the latter book, Goleman considers the “open loop nature of the brain’s limbic system” which depends on external sources to manage itself, and examines the implications of interpersonal limbic regulation and the science of moods on leadership.[17]

In Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking (2003) author Staphine Kaza defines the term as follows: “Limbic regulation is a mutual simultaneous exchange of body signals that unfolds between people who are deeply involved with each other, especially parents and children.” She goes on to correlate love with limbic engagement and asserts that children raised with love learn and remember better than those who are abused. Kaza then proposes to “take this work a step further from a systems perspective, and imagine that a child learns through some sort of limbic regulation with nature”.[18]