Saturday, July 29, 2006

Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody

From "Pragmatics as Biology or Culture" by John C. Marshall and Roget J. Wales:

'Full-song' is acquired by a white-crowned sparrow if and only if the juvenile bird is exposed to adult song during a fairly well defined 'sensitive period'; in the absence of such experience, the socially isolated (but otherwise intact) bird will produce, when mature, a simple, phrased song, lacking the full dialect complexities of its normally reared conspecifics. A juvenile exposed to any white-crowned sparrow dialect learns that dialect; but exposure to the song of another species has little or no effect — the bird sings simple song when mature, just as if it had been totally isolated from experience of song.
Some Christian musicians seem to understand a similar need for direct experience. In "Seeing You", Matt Redman sings:
No one can sing of things they have not seen...
Worship starts with seeing You,
Our hearts respond to Your revelation.
In "My Heart" from Paramore:
It's been so long...
Since I've heard the sound,
the sound of my only Hope.
This time I will be listening.
Sing us a song and we'll
sing it back to You.
We could sing our own,
but what would it be without You?
The difficulty comes in discernment — how do we know we've learned some dialect of the "full-song", and aren't naively improvising on our desire for a non-existent Hope? Maybe more people are following in the path of Pessoa than would like to admit it:
I'll always be the one who waited for the door to open in the doorless wall,
Who sang the song of Infinity in a chicken coop,
And heard the voice of God in a covered well.
(Update: Some more insight on the white-crowned sparrows here)

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