Brain Pickings

Sentics: Emotional Healing Through Music and Touch

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A sensory antidote to addiction and depression, or what artificial intelligence has to do with poetry.

In the late 1960s, as advances in neuroscience technology were making the brain knowable in entirely new ways and illuminating it as an input device, Austrian-born scientist and inventor Manfred Clynes became interested in its capacities as an output device. He began experimenting with the basic expressive time forms of the central nervous system, which he called “sentic forms,” and argued they were universal — something he proved by deriving sounds from people’s emotional expressions through touch and gesture, then playing these sounds to people of different cultures, who were able to correctly identify the original emotions the sounds were expressed.

Based on these findings, Clynes developed an application in which subjects used touch to express a sequence of emotions — neutrality, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence — through finger pressure. The 25-minute sequences, called sentic cycles, were based on a precise mathematical formula and resulted in subjects reporting calmness, energy, an alleviation of depression, and even a loosening of the grip of tobacco and alcohol addictions. Clynes used his research as evidence that that it was possible to counter a negative emotional state by inducing a rather rapid shift into a positive one, particularly showing that music was most powerful mechanism for inducing love, joy, and reverence.

How remarkable it would be if one could experience and express the spectrum of emotions embodied in music originating from oneself—without the crutch of a composer’s intercession, without being driven by the composer; and to do so moreover whenever we wish, not when circumstance may call them forth. This, indeed, has become possible through the development of sentic cycles.” ~ Manfred Clynes

In 1972, Clynes began distilling his theory into a book that took him four years to write. In 1976, he published Sentics: The Touch of the Emotions, in which he outlined his findings of emotional perception and response at the intersection of music, art and mathematics. (Also featured are a number of Clynes’ poems, some of which artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky quoted in his seminal 1986 book, The Society of Mind.) Blending clinical research, theory and philosophy, the book laid the foundations of the sentics field, insights from which have since seeped into everything from psychotherapy to addiction rehabilitation to education.

Changes in respiration and heart rate during a sentic cycle. Respiration accelerates during anger and hate. During grief the respiration has a gasping character with rest periods at the expiratory end of the cycle. Respiration slows during love, and speeds up markedly for sex. (Inspiration is downward in the figure.) During reverence there is a marked slowing down of respiration with resting phases at the inspiratory phases of the cycle (paralleling those

Perhaps the most important application and effect of sentic cycles lies in their ability to influence the urges and driving forces of the personality. The sense of calmness and satisfaction of being, as such, or the sensation of being emotionally drained, which occasionally replaces this, noticeably alters the dynamics of drives. One may observe the replacement of the neurotic anxious drive— the rigid drive toward self-imposed goals—by a creative drive coupled with joy in its exercise. This displacement of a drive whose satisfaction lies in a distant goal (which cannot be achieved in the present) by a creative drive whose exercise provides a continuous flow satisfaction coupled with joy) is a remarkable aspect of sentic cycles. It appears that needs for smoking and perhaps even drugs may be seriously altered through the use of sentic cycles.” ~ Manfred Clynes

A big thanks to reader Jeff Beddow for flagging Sentics in his comment on this recent piece about 7 essential books on music, emotion and the brain.

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