Sep 11, 2016
This is a half-formed idea. Walk with me.
Meaning for humans is all centered around story. Narrative. Boy meets girl. Family is reunited. War ravaged the land.
Story matters to meaning because story is how we communicate what to pursue and what to avoid. Stories tell us about enemies, about lovers, and about things that bump in the night.
Stories communicate survival, in other words, and this is evolution’s prime directive. So, naturally, it builds tracks along these lines into us, at the deepest levels of our beings.
Survival is primary, but right after it is reproduction. These are the happy pair. Arm in arm, controlling us like puppets. These are our commands. Survive, and reproduce.
Now. Those are the goals. Those are our commandments.
Next in this play is meaning. Meaning is the feeling of happiness you get when you feel like you’re somehow fulfilling the desires of your creator, i.e. Evolution. Evolution wants you to survive. And it wants you to fuck.
Meaning feels good. It’s the ultimate drug. The drug of drugs. Belonging. Fulfilling a purpose. Doing what you’re supposed to do. What our master has commanded.
So, our goals are Survive and Reproduce, and Meaning is the reward (brain squirt) that keeps you chasing Evolution’s goals like a rat licking an opiate dispenser.
Next actor: Story.
Story is a meaning communication system. It teaches us. It influences us. It compels us. It guides us. It reminds us how good it feels to obey the calling to pursue meaning.
4,000 years ago, when we were telling stories in caves by firelight, we heard about the warrior, the bear, the maiden, and the romance. We heard about meaning, translated into real-life events in the familiar undulations of youth, friendship, courtship, love, loss, and war.
And hearing these stories burns paths into our minds, paths that show us where to walk and where not to walk.
Next actor: hormones.
Hormones are Evolution’s magic dust. They get us to do its will when we start thinking we’ve moved past our primitive origins. When we start using silverware and chewing with our mouths closed, Evolution can always win.
I think I should do my homework.
I think I should make out with this person right here.
Hormones always favor Evolution. They always take us towards its goals. There are no hormones for logic or insight. Those are what you get from the absence of hormones.
They tell us to fight, to cry, to run, and to have sex. They’re all about the fun stuff, which, by the way, also relate directly to Survival and Reproduction.
That’s what hormones do. They make sure we stay on script, and don’t get any crazy ideas about abstinence or pacifism.
Next actor: emotion.
Hormones are in limited supply. Can’t be all wasting that shit all the time. So we need a faux version. Something we can just flare up pretty quick and get the job done. You know, to punch someone, or kiss someone, or whatever.
Those are emotions. They’re like hormone primers. Like sticker tattoos. Almost the real thing, but not quite.
Now here’s the trick.
Hormones are the REAL magic, and they are a true force multiplier of meaning. If you’re jacked up on hormones as a teenager, your lover across the classroom can warp time and space with the slightest glance.
That’s some top tier shit there. The most powerful magic known to humankind.
But it only pulses through us in those high amounts while we’re in our most fertile years. You know, when we’re best at fighting and fucking.
That’s when Evolution dumps barrels and barrels of that shit right into our bloodstream. That’s when a kiss on the cheek behind the bleachers will be branded into your memory for 80 years.
It’s why the music you hear when you’re young is the best music. The food is the best. Everything is best from then because all your recordings (your memories) were recorded at 10 and 100x the strength.
That time you laughed with your buddies behind the 7-11? How funny was it? Really? Not that funny. But it was the best time of your life. All your buddies there.
That’s what hormones do. It’s, quite literally, magic. It turns the mundane into the wonderful.
So my model works something like this.
Memories are etchings into the brain. Like tracks. The deeper the tracks, the more powerful the memory and the more meaning that was used to make the etching.
Special memories, like when you were very young, or when something significant happens, are very deep.
Let’s say your brain is the size of the earth. Foundational memories like abuse and nasty divorces and a parent dying at an early age, etc.—those produce giant ravines in the surface of your brain.
Deep cuts that produce valleys and mountain ranges.
When you get into puberty, and Evolution wants you to reproduce, it superheats the laser that cuts into the earth. It becomes a planet-melting super-beam.
When that girl kisses you? When you go on your Goonies adventure with your closest friends? When you hear your favorite music as a teenager for the first time and, you really GET it?
That’s a plasma battleship carving Grand Fucking Canyons in your brain.
They’re miles deep. And they go on for miles in every direction.
Stories and narratives are cutting patterns. They follow certain paths. They go up one mile, down two, and then three across. And when a pattern is cut in this way, it represents a certain type of meaning. Happiness. Adventure. Loss. Grief. Rage. And laughter.
It meant that thing when it was cut into you, and it means that thing again when it’s remembered.
Now, there’s a liquid that flows over the surface of your earth brain.
It’s like a pollen. A natural hormone that mixes with the cuts in the ground to invoke the meaning of the memory.
When you have regular memories, like when you’re older, or when the memory is of something that doesn’t matter much to you, the memory’s cut into the earth is only a few feet deep.
There’s not much liquid pollen in those tracks. And when you remember them, you might get a slight smile, or a pang of regret, but it doesn’t phase you much.
But your other ones. Well. They’re full of OCEANS of liquid meaning pollen.
When you look away from those canyons, they refill. While you sleep, they refill. And when you forget them, they refill. Until they’re overflowing.
Then, one day, you meet your friend. You see her again. You hear that song again.
What happens then is the pollen becomes superheated, it mixes with the meaning burned into the sides of the canyon. And it releases—you guessed it: Meaning. It releases a pseudo hormone that feels just like the real ones that burned the canyons in the first place. They’re in the rock, and the pollen has extracted some and that’s what you’re feeling.
But here’s what’s crazy.
If you listen to that track over and over. The canyon doesn’t have time to fill up with liquid anymore. And you also start cutting small tracks all throughout the canyon, tracks with their own contexts and their own memories in them. So they start to confuse the original track.
And when the liquid comes back, some of it goes into the new tracks instead of just the old one.
If you stop listening to that music again. For years and years. The liquid that starts building up again will eat away the smaller tracks due to erosion, and all that will be left is the massive canyon.
And when you hear the song again, BAM. All the liquid is released again. Another flood of the same emotions that are burned into the walls.
Story is a series of patterns. Cuts in the mind. Narratives that correspond to our various trials as Human Evolution Puppets.
What is music then?
Music is a high-pressure hose that adds flow to any trail cut in the brain. It can also be added to the cutting torch, to become a wet saw.
Music moves in patterns. It repeats in pleasurable ways. Like stories. It wears patterns in the mind just the same. In fact it traces along with stories.
The wet saw is the song with lyrics (if you’re listening to them). Now the hose is spraying trillions of gallons of water every second. The quality of the music, and how much you like it, determines how much pressure is in the hose, and how much water is released.
But with good music, and good story (lyrics), you can not only cut new patterns in the mind, and forge brand new meaning events, but you can also just spray the hose at your EXISTING patterns.
You hear the music, and you think about your life.
And what used to only have a little bit of liquid in it (because it was only a few feet deep), suddenly overflows with significance.
Music moves us because it wets the patterns in our minds. When it plays, everything has more meaning.
And songs themselves can be their own patterns, as shallow as deep as any others depending on when you first heard them, and how.
I obviously have a LOT of thinking to still do on this, but I feel as if I’m onto something.
The patterns of music mimic the patterns of story. And story is the avatar of meaning.
Hormones magnify all of them, and music can emulate hormones and magnify the significance of stories and memories just the same.
I’d love to hear what people think about this budding model, and I’d love help cleaning it up if you’re tracking and find it interesting.