Mind, Memory, Music, Math, Time, and Women

Mind, Memory, Music, Math, Time, and Women

Final paper for Healing Ecstasy of Sound at California Institute of Integral Studies Spring 2005 with Jennifer Berezan instructing


My ultimate goal is to understand the mystery of the human mind arising in the universe. The path of exploration I have chosen for this paper follows the understanding that our relationship to time, as mediated through memory and music specifically, is an essential pivot point between cosmology and consciousness. When considering what consciousness actually is, I speculate that it hinges on our ability to project ourselves forwards and backwards in time, in other words, to plan for the future, remember the past, and make connections between temporal moments. Without these abilities, consciousness beyond immediate experience would not exist. So what is it that allows us to extend ourselves in the temporal dimension?

Consciousness, and temporal extension, seems to require a relationship with an “other.” The roots of the word consciousness (and conscience), “con” meaning “with” or “together” and “scire” meaning “to know or to see,” are put together to imply a relational knowing, as opposed to an independent knowing implied by science, that shares the roots word meaning “to know”, but without sharing the notion of “withness.” (Edinger, 36)

There are two main points I want to draw out of this etymology. First, the notion of duality is important. “Withness” implies “twoness,” which implies a division between the two. As consciousness divides the external world through analysis, consciousness grows. The conscious self is born by separating itself from its mother, from the land, from the animals, from qualities which it “is not.” Anywhere we find duality; we find the opportunity for greater consciousness, as well as the potential for greater separation. One potent example of this is the divide between men and women.

Secondly, it is interesting to note that the knowing is a visual knowing, “to know” or “to see,” rather than an auditory knowing, “to hear.” “In various traditions the feminine gender is characterized by the ear and the masculine by the eye.” (Irigaray, 134) The eye cuts, like consciousness, focusing, and making divisions between what deserves attending to, and what does not.   The ear, however, operates more holistically, incorporating three hundred and sixty degrees of sound, excluding nothing, allowing for multiple simultaneous presences to be heard. Seeing separates ourselves from one another, while sound allows us to connect.

So what is it that allows us to extend ourselves in a temporal dimension? It is something that connects, not something that divides. The dividing created the notion of an independent moment and a temporal dimension. Now we must appeal to the “togetherness” of the duality to mend the rend in our universal fabric. This “togetherness” manifests differently than the visual consciousness. We must listen for what binds reality together. If sound is connection, one might think that we could achieve togetherness by speaking, but speaking has no power without listening. Listening, however, has power with or without the presence of speaking.

Listening requires a more subtle engagement with reality than seeing does. If consciousness is the next octave of seeing, then intuition is the next octave of listening. Seeing is taking. Listening is receiving. Now that consciousness has created an abundance of otherness by seeing the distinctions, it is time for it to listen to its “other,” the intuitive unconscious, in order to exercise true “knowing with.”

There are two myths of consciousness that I’d like to dispel. First, just because we are conscious, does not mean that we are one hundred percent conscious of everything at all times; that is impossible. Additionally, just because consciousness provides an exceptionally powerful means of interaction with external reality, does not mean that it is superior to other modes of interaction. As we have just explored, listening and the intuition of the unconscious can be more powerful than seeing and conscious awareness. Consciousness, as I use the term here, is, by definition, a process of mental focus. Focus necessarily implies limitation and narrowing. If we recognize the limitations of consciousness, then we can begin to live in a more accurate picture of reality. Consciousness must be included in the big picture, but it cannot be the universal container because of its inherent limitations.

One phenomena of sound that definitely connects dualities separated by consciousness, is the experience of music. This paper explores the potent contributions of music to memory through its role as a meta-channel and as a mediator between psychological and cosmological, and intuitive and conscious realities.

Participatory Memory

Music is a profound vehicle for remembering. Anyone who has been instantly transported to their teenage years by a song played on the radio knows this. We remember best what has been imprinted on us through many channels. The more channels included in the memory, the better our chances of being able to recall just one channel, which can then bring the rest back along with it.


Lane Ayre defines a channel as a mode of perception. He delineates the main channels into auditory, visual, verbal, body-feeling, movement, relationship, and world. Ayre’s comments suggest he is taking the term from the larger field of process psychology through Mindell, though he does not say so specifically. Basic channels correspond to our basic senses, and the sub-channels are divisions within the basic sense channels. For example, within the auditory channel there are sub-channels for pitch, volume, time, and timbre, which then combine to produce harmony, dissonance, melody and dynamics (volume changes).

I suggest that there are not only basic channels and sub-channels, but also meta-channels created by the participation of two or more channels, like the combinations just mentioned. Ayre also points to the relationship and world channels as meta-channels, without labeling them as such, by acknowledging that they include all the other channels, as well as involving a new sense of perception. I mention this to recognize the unique way that the music meta-channel intertwines many other channels, and thus enhances memory. With this intertwining of channels, music houses vast stores of memory.


To get a feel for how meta-channels facilitate memory we will take a look at the orators of the ancient world, a contemporary memory savant, as well as our neighbors in Australia who still maintain the techniques of embedded memory.

Many mnemonic devices or memory techniques involve linking channels of perception. Francis Yates in The Art of Memory relates a technique used by ancient Greek and Roman orators, as well as by modern memory savant “S,” as chronicled by Aleksandr Luria in The Mind of the Mnemonist. The technique referred to by both of these works link the visual channel and the verbal channel. The idea is that to memorize certain intellectual matter, a sung story for example, you would place each phrase of the story in a certain place in a mentally constructed setting, like a room or a temple. Then to recall the song, all you have to do is to return to that room mentally, and look around to find the phrases of the song that you placed there.

The Mind of the Mnemonist also refers to “S’s” synesthetic ability that facilitates his infallible memory. Synesthesia is the phenomena of channel mixing, such that when one sense is stimulated, a synesthetic person will experience that sense and another accompanying sense perception. For example, one might experience specific colors when they hear music, think of letters, or numbers. Thus, ordinary channels become meta-channels making things easier to remember. 


Often when we think of memory we think only of the conscious process of remembering. But memory is stored wherever information is held. And information is stored not only in abstract mental processes, but in every material form and relationship. One way of tapping into this embedded memory is by bringing it to consciousness, but we can also participate in it and thereby “know” it in an unconscious / intuitive way.

For example, our DNA remembers the mutations of our ancestors. Whether or not we can pinpoint exactly how that mutation occurred bio-chemically, or how it was passed down through the generations, we still participate in remembering it. In the same way a seed remembers how to reach up for light and down for water. Riding a bike isn’t a conscious process; it is something your body remembers for you. Thus, memory is embedded in our bodies.

Anything we can do to awaken our bodies, in this modern world of body neglect, facilitates the awakening of our, equally neglected, deep memories. How do we awaken our bodies and put to sleep the dominating dragon of conscious memory? Through music, of course. Thus, as music facilitates the awakening of our bodies through memory and dance. We awaken, within our bodies, the ancestors who have been dancing for thousands of years, and we are able to participate in a form of consciousness wholly different from that of modern encouragement.        

The relationship between the land, music, and memory isn’t as easily awakened. It isn’t transported through our genes, but through our cultural inheritance, which is largely lost to, and destroyed by, modern people. Certainly the relationship between our bodies and music would be entirely different with a cultural inheritance of centuries to fill it out as well, but luckily most of our bodies still respond to music. Whereas, our ability to sense, even, the connection between the land and music, has diminished considerably with our increasing mobility and anthropocentrism.



We wrap memory up within our minds and taken it with us, extracting it from its external relationships. We inhibit our memories by cutting out various channels of interaction. We make up for the losses involved in memory in various ways, including, most potently, writing. David Abram expresses this transition powerfully in The Spell of the Sensuous,

The letters of the alphabet, each referring to a particular sound or sound-gesture of the human mouth, begin to function as mirrors reflecting us back upon ourselves. They thus establish a new reflexivity between the human organism and its own signs, short circuiting the sensory reciprocity between that organism and the land (the ‘reflective intellect’ is precisely this new reflective loop, this new ‘reflection’ between ourselves and our written signs). (187-188)

Here we can see how the transition of human culture from land and song based memory to a written based memory has contributed to the evolution of consciousness. Abram also makes the interesting connection between Mircea Eliade’s point that the Hebrews were the first people to prioritize linear time over cyclical time and the fact that they were also the first truly alphabetic culture. The ability to record events seems to play a role in the emphasis and memory of unrepeated events, such as natural catastrophes and battles. For the Hebrews, God worked through these unique events, not the background stability of cyclic patterns as worshiped by pagans.

Abram goes on to recognize how the text replaces the homeland for the Jewish people and notes that perhaps their identification with theme of exile may have to do with the fundamental exile from the land created by the written word.

The Jewish sense of exile was never merely a state of separation from a specific locale, from a particular ground; it was (and is) also a sense of separation from the very possibility of being entirely at home. This deeper sense of displacement, this sense of always being in exile, is inseparable, I suggest, from alphabetic literacy, this great and difficult magic of which the Hebrews were the first real caretakers. (196)

I suggest that this exile into the word from the land, and the exile of linear time from the timelessness of the present moment, is intricately bound up in patriarchy’s exile of the divine feminine. Not only were the Hebrews the first to emphasize linear time, and utilize an alphabetic languages, but they are also the main root of religious patriarchy through the championing of a single male God.

Origins of Patriarchy

Peggy Sanday, in her book Female Power and Male Dominance, makes an interesting observation about the difference between the cultures of patriarchal, matriarchal, or egalitarian mythologies. She notices that cultures that hunt big game tend toward dominant male deities. While, cultures based on gathering or agriculture tend to emphasize female deities or, at least, male and female deities. She claims that a culture that subsists mainly on big game locates the source of their life and sustenance, and thus divinity, with the animals they hunt, external to their community. This lifestyle also encourages a larger divide between the domestic and the hunting sphere, and thus between the lives of women and children, and men. This is a culture based on “otherness” of man from beast, of man from God, of man from women.

In an agricultural or gathering community however, men, women and children often work side by side to bring forth sustenance from the very ground on which they live.  This is a culture of “withness” rather than “otherness.” Here, divinity is more participatory, all-encompassing, and embedded in daily life, rather than dependent on one isolated event sought outside the home. They live locally rather than nomadically, like hunters who follow herds. They live peacefully rather than through the violence of the hunt and the kill. It is not hard to imagine hunters turning their hunting skills into warrior skills when game is scarce.

The nomadic life of a hunter is also extracted from the land. It is a drama that is played out on top of the land, not with the land. The land becomes an object rather than a subject. In the same way the written language makes the primary drama the human drama, through the power of objectification and quantification. In the same way patriarchy denies the subjectivity of women rendering them objects to be used, as the land is used, and as the animals are used.

Melody and Rhythm

The French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray champions female subjectivity as is often disregarded by masculine mentalities. Her works at the intersection of gender dynamics and music is of particular interest in this context. Irigaray also mentions that, “In ancient religious rituals, which worship feminine deities more, music prevails over words – it is rhythm and melody which direct the energy to the point of creating an individual and a collective exaltation leading to ecstasy.” (134) Here she emphasizes difference between music and mere words. We can see how the religious experience changes under patriarchy to emphasize words over music. The extraction of the words from the music seems similar to the extraction of the words from the land and of value from the realm of women and domesticity.

Joachim-Ernst Berendt’s book The World is Sound, draws an interesting parallel between gender and musical structure.

Why do women have higher voices than men? Why has conventional science ignored the fact that is so obvious: Everywhere in nature and in music the higher voices have a leading function? Instruments with a higher pitch (violins, flutes, trumpets) carry the melody, while those with a lower pitch (in the “male” range: cellos, basses, trombones, tubas) usually have accompanying functions. They are perceived as melody instruments only when the higher ones are kept silent or kept transparent and reserved. (8)

Irigaray speaks about the roles of rhythm and melody too, without specifically identifying gendered parallels.

Rhythm supports the emergence of melody which finally succeeds in freeing itself from the structure which allows it to arise. For a melodic theme, to follow a repetitive, indeed even insistent, rhythm, amounts to removing from a musical universe its most subtle property; its ability to modulate energy without arresting it in a precise structure. But to harness breath through a repetitive rhythm corresponds to its being bound by the laws of discourse rather than by the qualities of music which permit it to remain fluid, moving. (134-135)

One can’t help but appreciate the subtlety of her commentary on the way these two different aspects of music, the fluid and the structural, can either mutually enhance one another or how the structure can easily stamp out the fluidity if it is not careful.   This is, in fact, a beautiful condemnation of patriarchy’s potential for rigidity and divisiveness to the point of violence.

Land, Memory, and Music

Writing enabled a vast centralization of power and corresponding growth of infrastructure for trade and travel during the Hellenistic age, the Roman Empire, and through the birth of Christianity, all forcing the human mind to greater abstraction than was previously required to function in fluidity of one’s localized community.

Within a localized community, characterized by activities which do not extend much beyond, and whose needs are met within, a certain radius of, say, fifty miles, life maintains a simplicity and richness rarely possible for individuals living in an extended world. The richness is a result of an embeddedness achieved through repetition over years and generations of relationship to a place. Much of the cultural richness of localized communities is stored in their music. Music is the landscape of time providing the space held by the community for learning, spirituality, working, celebrating, grieving, growing, and all of life’s important events.

We can look to modern day musical, oral cultures to get an idea of what it may have been like to live in a participatory consciousness. We must remember, as we compare ourselves with our neighbors across oceans as well as those, literally, under our feet, that even as we learn from them and honor them, we are continually destroying them. Their collective remembering is held in the land continue to brutally disfigured beyond recognition. What we did to their land, we did to their languages, to their children, and to their continuity of self. There is great sadness here, and to receive these lessons without tears would be a disservice to ourselves and all our relations. As Eve Ensler said in her dynamic 2004 Praises for the World performance, it would be better if authorities were to issue their orders weeping rather than with the customary stoicism, because we are emooootional creatures. She reminds us of that which we often forget.

The Australian Aborigines maintain a culture of embeddedness. Their culture, songs, stories, land, and language are all inseparable, inextricably linked to one another, so that to utilize one, necessarily implicates each of the others. These links serve to create the meta-channels that facilitate a vast store of memory. As David Abram puts it, “While the sung stories provide an auditory mnemonic for orienting within the land, the land itself provides a visual mnemonic for recalling the Dreamtime stories.”(177) He also draws on Helen Payne’s anthropological work showing that every significant site along their songlines (songs which map the land through stories) offers water, shelter, and/or a vantage point, and that they cover every source of these elements crucial to desert survival. Memory is essential to survival. The memory stored in the land and in our bodies is unlocked by music.

Not only is the memory essential for the survival of the people but it is also essential for the survival of the land. Through the divisions of consciousness we have forgotten our fundamental relationship to the land. We can see today the effects of a mentality which treats the land as a gravel pit to extract resources from and dump our waste into. Without a relationship to the land we do not experience love for the land and can not care for it the way love would demand. In Alice Walker’s Book, Now is the Time to Open your Heart, we see how integral both songs and plants are to shamans in facilitating the healing of people’s spirits. Walker speaks through her character, Alma, saying, “The land…wasn’t meant to be bought and sold… It was meant to loved and sung to.” Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, expresses the painful alternative, “an unsung land is a dead land.”

Women, Music, Mathematics, and Time

The mobilization and centralization of the early Common Era extracted people from the land in body, mind, and spirit. As individuals moved away from their land, their people, and their lifestyle, all of which constitutes the home of their song, often they forgot the songs. As the competitive spirit of Christianity grew, at the expense of the land and music based Paganism, and spread its homogenizing force. The songs, the land, and the lifestyles of localized cultures were largely overshadowed. Many cultures of embeddedness died out, but many persist, through their indomitable fluidity, within the intermingling of their tradition with the now dominant culture of Christianity.

The consensus reality that we accept as true, when characterizing something as large as the world, is necessarily limited in its portrayal of reality by its generality. The specificity which makes up lived reality often differs drastically from what is accepted as consensus reality. This is part of the reason that democracy often fails to be truly representative or ethical on large scales, because the majority does not constitute the reality. In order to truly engage with specificity, and thus reality, effectively, smaller scale interactions are required.

Women, because of the roles dealt them by nature and society, are continually engaged in localized community as a function of childrearing. Men’s roles however have tended toward non-localized activity. We saw, in Peggy Sanday’s work, how these divisions began out of necessity in hunting societies, and were perpetuated through the cosmologies that developed around them. Sanday maintains that the when lifestyles shift, cosmologies do not. Because history and subsequent societal structure is determined by the winners, our heritage derives from the Northern hunters who became warrior invaders of the Southern climes and naturally dominated the peaceful domestic agricultural cultures. The immanence of the domestic life-force succumbed to the dominance of a single transcendent male deity, Christianity spread, and patriarchy reigned.

Redmond traces the transition into patriarchal Christianity as the rights of women dwindled. The jealous god of the Old Testament demanded complete loyalty and people were forced to choose in the “either/or” hierarchical style of patriarchy. There was no female counterpart for the masculine deity and thus no place for sexuality as something divine. With no divine sex or women, ordinary women and sex soon lost their divinity. The either/or thinking demanded that that which was not divine was inherently evil.

Rhythmic music which was closely linked to the old religion and to rites of sacred sexuality was demonized as inciting lust. Thus music was banned, except for choirs of virgins. This god demanded the asexuality of men and women. By 576 C.E., Christian families we not allowed to instruct their daughters in singing or playing instruments. By 603, even choirs of virgins no longer existed as Christianity spread across Europe and women fell under its weighty demands, banned from all forms of music making, professional, and private.

Just as music unlocks memories embedded in the land and the body, it is also creates inroads to the secret knowledge of mathematics. Music lays down patterns in neurological pathways that pave the way for manipulating numbers along the same patterns. Mathematicians even sometimes describe their internal problem solving process as more auditory and pulsating, than visual. Thus, it is not surprising that when women were barred from music, their presence in mathematics became equally scarce.

The spread of Christianity also removed women from the intellectual sphere more directly, as is potently evident in the treatment of Hypatia, a well renowned female philosopher, mathematician, and teacher in Alexandria who was brutally torn to shreds by a mob of monks in 415 C.E. Some claim it was her paganism that they objected to rather than her gender, but in truth, to early Christians, the issues were one in the same. And their actions certainly sent a clear message to other women who would have sought to express their intellect, or their femininity as Hypatia dared to.

Redmond speaks of,

Aphrodite’s horae, celestial nymphs who played their tambourines as they performed the Dances of the Hours to mark the passage of time throughout the night. Their tambourines symbolized the moon, and the rhythms they played were the cycles of time. Their earthly counterparts, priestesses who initiated men into the sexual mysteries, were known by the same name. (163)

Here we see the direct link between women, music, and time. When the drums of women were silenced by the domination of Christianity, the human participation in the co-creation of time ended for the Western world.

Time came to be governed by the realm of mathematics from which women were barred. We became slaves to the clock, to the divisiveness of patriarchy, never able to sink deeply into our bodies, our land, or the eternity of each individual moment. The “divide and conquer” attitude of the hunter/warrior became the “analyze and control” attitude of the modern scientist where the goal depends solely on quantification and the quality of the whole is neglected through the devaluation of intuition. Mathematics and science came to define our consensus reality, the objectivity which can be replicated anywhere, and the abstraction that lacks the truth of specificity.

Consciousness, as we currently use it, puts the highest value on consensus reality, which is an abstraction – powerful to a point, but of limited value for individually unique contexts. The narrowing focus of consciousness often excludes the big picture. Consciousness defines a consensus reality under which only division can define and meaning is disregarded. As consciousness has developed, the feminine, as an integrative and intuitive force, has been excluded, not seen, made invisible, and discredited.

Patriarchy equally defines our consensus reality – the exclusion of women from participatory creation of religious reality (music), intellectual reality (mathematics and science), and power reality (politics and business).   By barring the feminine from a role in creating this reality we lack the grounding context of the land, family, body, and intuition to guide its ethics, practical considerations, and applications.

The exile of the feminine from time seems a subtle concept, but that is only because women’s history is a forcibly forgotten history. To understand the forgotten half of time, we must understand the forgotten half of humanity, and to understand both we must recover the history of the forgetting. Recovering the forgotten begins with recognizing where and how remembering occurs. The hardest part of remembering involves recognizing the limitations of the consensus reality we have created.

We have seen that remembering occurs in dynamic relationship, as epitomized by music. Through it we reconnect with our bodies, the land, our histories, and the infinite space of the present. This is the forgotten half of time, the infinite space of localized participation held by feminine embeddedness and by music. When we, women and men, deny ourselves this, we deny our individual health, the health of our relationships, societies, ecosystems, and planet. We must balance our pace of endless production with moments of deep participation. By enriching the present with our conscious and unconscious presence we find the immanence of the divine we often seek externally in vain.


Ayre, Lane. Unintentional Music: Releasing Your Deepest Creativity. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc., 2001.

Abrams, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Random House, 1996.

Berendt, Joachim-Ernst. The World is Sound Nada Brahama: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1983.

Chatwin, Bruce. The Songlines. London: Penguin Books, 1987.

Edinger, Edward F. The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for the Modern Man. Toronto, Canada: Inner City books, 1984.

Irigaray, Luce. Luce Irigaray: Key Writings. “Before and Beyond any Word.” New York: Continuum, 2004.

Luria, Aleksandr. The Mind of the Mnemonist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Payne, Helen. “Rites for the Sites or Sites for the Rites? The Dynamics of Women’s Cultural Life in the Musgaves.” In Women, Rites and Sites: Aboriginal Women’s Cultural Knowledge. Edited by Peggy Brock. North Syndey, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1989.

Redmond, Layne. When the Drummers Were Women. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Walker, Alice. Now is The Time to Open your Heart. New York: Random House, 2004

Yates, Francis. The Art of Memory. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966.


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