HEARING: THE INFORMATIONAL AND THE EXPERIENTIAL

 

1983 The Anstendig Institute

 

The complete process of hearing consists of two basic, essentially separate categories of phenomena:

1) the simple act of hearing: the actual physical registration of the sound, the conscious awareness of the sound, and the physical-emotional (the expressive) manner in which we experience the sound, and

2) the mental processing of that which has been experienced.

The Anstendig Institute has, in previous papers, named these two aspects of hearing the "experiential" and the "informational".

The experiential is the physical aspect of hearing, which includes the following processes: the actual registering of the sounds, i.e., the physical duplication by our bodies of the vibrations from the source; the conscious awareness of the sounds; and the physical-emotional (the expressive) manner in which we experience the sound, i.e., the emotional experiences caused by the sounds. The experiential phenomena take place simultaneously: the production of the sound vibrations at the source, their travel through the air, their striking the body and thus causing the body the body to vibrate i.e., the physical processes that cause the sound to be produced by our bodies, happen causally, as a flow in time. But the duplication of the sounds by our body, the conscious registering of the sounds, and the emotions inherent in the sound all happen simultaneously the instant the body duplicates the vibrations from the source as a final step in the process. To understand why the emotional experiencing of sound happens simultaneously with the physical registering of the sounds one must understand that there are no abstract emotions.1 In order to experience an emotion one's body must physically assume the characteristics of the emotion either internally or externally. Since sound waves strike the body and cause it to vibrate in their patterns, the vibrational characteristics of the emotion one will experience are inherent in the manner in which the body vibrates after being caused to vibrate by the sound-waves. And it is precisely that manner in which the body vibrates--usually, but not necessarily, along with the physical attitude of the body--that is the emotion one experiences.2 Thus the emotional happens simultaneously, and as part of, the physical registering of the sound, because the body is actually vibrating in the characteristics of the emotion that is experienced at the time it is experienced.

The informational takes place as a flow in time and is a sequence of events that happen after, and are initiated by, the experiential phenomena: first the sound is simultaneously experientially registered and consciously noticed, after which it is mentally processed, categorized and evaluated. The mental activity takes place sequentially over a period of time. All such activities associated with hearing as recognizing, remembering, naming (pitches, etc.), understanding, liking, disliking are mental activities that follow and are dependent upon the actual hearing of the sound. Thus the experiential is hearing itself, and the informational is the subsequent processing in our minds of what has already been heard and experienced. None of the informational processes are necessary in order to hear and experience the content of sound and, in fact, it is possible to suspend one's mental-informational activity and hear sounds, particularly those of music, purely experientially. In most cases this is the ideal, most intense way to hear music. That is because our consciousnesses are limited and most people can only fully concentrate on one thing at a time. If one is mentally busy processing what has been heard, the music continues on while one's mind is busy with what has already happened. One is distracted from the further progress of the music by the attention necessary for the mental activity. This problem of hearing is characteristic of the way most people hear.

The sounds themselves have their experiential and informational content. As sounds flow in time they form patterns to which our bodies react in an experiential manner. Examples would be major and minor chords, their progression from one to the other, and the rhythms of their progression. In music, these sounds and patterns correspond to the patterns of our own bodies, i.e., the body is put together in such a way that, like the sounding board of a piano, it responds to and vibrates in sympathy with external vibrations and the patterns of most music are those to which our bodies are most sensitive and vibrate most readily in sympathy with. The patterns in which music causes our bodies to vibrate are those of our emotions. Thus music produces expressive emotional reactions in us. Sound can also carry the patterns of informational communication, i.e., the words and nuances that imply information. But the informational aspect of hearing can be a mental activity in relation to the experiential aspects of the sounds as well as a processing of messages and other information specifically contained in the sounds Recognizing and evaluating emotions would be an example of the informational, mental processing of things heard experientially. An example of the processing of information contained in the sounds would be the simple understanding and evaluating of the meaning of words and the messages implied by the word patterns. Actually even words first have to be heard experientially before one can process them informationally, but their patterns do contain pure information.

The experiential content of sound is the more difficult to hear because the whole body has to duplicate the nuances of the sounds in order for one to hear them. If one's body does not vibrate with the emotional characteristics of the musical performance, for example, one will not experience that emotion. If the nuances of a musical performance are finer than the vibrating of one's own body, i.e., if one's body is vibrating more coarsely than the nuances of the musical performance, one will not hear those nuances: the nuances will be degraded by one's own body and one will hear either something similar but coarser or something completely different, depending upon the attitudes and patterns in which one's body is vibrating. An example of this is trying to brighten up the attitude of persons who have just experienced a great tragedy. Those persons' bodies will be in various physical attitudes of extreme distress and unhappiness. If one were to play happy music for them, or do anything else to try to distract them, one may eventually be successful in raising their spirits somewhat, but they will still be hearing the expression of the music colored by their own attitudes and w111 experience a completely different expressive content than that of the music (for example, they might hear the music as bittersweet instead of happy).

The informational and the experiential are classic polarities of time and space relationships, the informational being a function of time and the experiential being a function of space.3 Information is processed by the spirit (our consciousness) as a flow in time. Sounds and emotional experiences are vibrating space. One can only be conscious of space. Of course, the polarities are part of one thing, always are together, and cannot be separated. (To understand the inseparable nature of polarities, think of a see-saw. One end is up and the other is down.) One distinguishes between the two for purposes of investigation and analysis, but they are both inseparable parts of the same thing.4
 

The Experiential 

The Informational 

space 

time 

final (ity)(synchronicity) 

causal (ity) 

sound 

processes over a period 

soul 

spirit 

orientation left and right 

orientation up and down 

horizontal 

vertical 

emotions 

intellect 

physical 

mental 

receptive 

creative 

passive 

active 

yin 

yang 

female principle 

male principle 

In considerations of hearing, the actual act of hearing has been neglected. Whenever hearing is considered, it is the informational that is usually meant. In music, this is particularly the case. None of the books on how to listen to music that we have looked at explain anything about how to improve one's hearing (one's attention span, one's ability to register nuance etc.). All of them deal only with the informational aspects of hearing and thus are only of value to people who already hear well. For example, they explain the formal structure of the music, they explain what the music is supposed to express, they explain counterpoint and harmony, and generally direct your attention to a lot of informational aspects of music that are totally unnecessary in order to hear and experience the music. But they do not direct you in any of the many possibilities that can help you improve the way you actually hear the music.

In our music schools, the instruction in ear training is really recognition training and does not teach one in any way to hear. One is only taught how to recognize and categorize what one has already heard. This type of instruction deals with the informational aspect of the hearing experience, but not with hearing itself and is only successful with people who already can hear well. Most people need to learn how to hear before they can really benefit from this kind of training. Better hearing acuity could be developed by means of known disciplines that are not taught at all in these classes.4

The situation is tragic, because there are many very talented people with much to express but who are lacking in an understanding of how to hear acutely, and there are many musicians with spectacular ears from the informational point of view, but emotionally have little to express. Similarly, it is possible for one to have excellent hearing as far as how loud one hears, but not have the ability to concentrate or relax enough to notice very much of what is falling on one's ears. Therefore it is possible for someone who is hard of hearing in the sense of how loud one hears, to be more aware of sounds than a person who hears louder.

Our modern manner of living is no longer conducive to developing the abilities that are necessary to hear acutely. Our present time-oriented society does not foster the emotional aspects of life nor does it allow time to just listen. It is important to the continued development of the human race that the experiential aspects of hearing (and those of sight also) be specifically fostered and cultivated because they are the most enriching of human experiences and are the experiences capable of the finest possible nuance and variation.

 

1 See our paper "Hearing Loss From Listening With Headphones", end of page 1.

2 By attitude, I mean the phyisiognomical shapes characteristic of emotions, i.e., the mouth turned up in a smile or turned down in a frown, and other emotional attitudes of the body.

3 The polarities of time and space are symbolized by the vertical and horizontal lines of a cross.

The Anstendig Institute owes the substance of its explanations of the classic polarities to Methodik der Astrologischen Haeuser und Planetenbildern by Hermann Lefeldt, published by the Ludwig Rudolph (witte-yerlag)~ Hamburg 13, West Germany. This book contains the only complete explanation of the classical polarities that we are aware of.

4 Techniques of developing hearing acuity are dealt with in a separate paper.

 

The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit, tax-exempt, research institute that was founded to investigate stress-producing vibrational influences in our lives and to pursue research in the fields of sight and sound; to provide material designed to help the public become aware of and understand stressful vibrational influences; to instruct the public in how to improve the quality of those influences in their lives; and to provide research and explanations for a practical understanding of the psychology of seeing and hearing.