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On Momentum (II): What Are Its Sources?

Jul 22, 2009
My experience in political campaigns convinced me that momentum has musical qualities: rhythm, meter, and tempo.

There is something primitive, instinctual, about momentum. As with momentum and movement, momentum and power are inseparable.

He who has momentum is comparable to a key or root note in music toward which other notes gravitate. Because that gravitation is perceptual in origin -- a neurological result -- momentum is neither rational nor irrational, but a-rational. More on that in a moment.

A music key is the context, the background -- the host who even when he is absent is all the more present. In that sense, momentum is how "reading between the lines" works.

Momentum exists only in terms of such a context or key. What a musical key is and how it works do not exist independently of human perceptions. Those perceptions are conditioned socially but are neurological in origin.

Music, in short, is not a rational process. In fact, music, the ultimate trump, trumps reason, even superstition. Music and momentum account for why and how "reasonable" objections to Michael Jackson or Barack Obama tended to be overruled, perceived by millions of people as dissonant, off key: wrong notes, mistakes.

How, then, is a root note or key established? What root note were those two men activating that created momentum for them? In other words, what key have our brains been attuned to?

That key, I believe, is readily identifiable. It has existed for centuries.

Regarding Obama, turn back the clock back to 2000. The day after the Democrat Convention, a key exchange took place:

"Mr. Bush, campaigning . . . in Mr. Gore's home state of Tennessee, took direct aim at the vice president's convention speech, with its warnings against the 'powerful forces' and 'powerful interests' that Mr. Gore said stood in the way of middle class gains.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Gore 'a candidate who wants to wage class warfare to get ahead.'

Instead, Mr. Bush told an enthusiastic crowd in Bartlett, Tennessee, voters should support somebody 'who brings people together' and 'finds common ground.'"(1)

Three months later, Tennessee voted for Bush, sealing Gore's defeat.

Four years later, Democrats made the same miscalculation. In picking John Edwards as his running mate, John Kerry re-ignited the class warfare taboo. Edwards' stump campaign remark: there were "'two Americas': one for the wealthy and the connected, the other 'for everybody else.'"(2)

Democrats did not neglect the totem of unity in 2004; on the contrary. Unity made a dramatic appearance at the Democrat Party Convention. An unknown Barack Obama delivered the keynote address after which he "could not walk around town without being swarmed . . . He drew rousing applause and tears in some cases, for lines like 'There's not a liberal America and a conservative America. There's the United States of America.'"(3)

Four years later, Obama's stunning victory in the January Iowa Democratic primary, showed he knew how to establish a key or root note: play it long, play it loud: "'The pundits are still scratching their heads,' a hoarse Obama told an enthusiastic crowd . . . He said that if Democrats, independents and Republicans worked together, 'there is no problem we cannot solve and there is no destiny we cannot fulfil.'"(4)

Two months later, in his speech on race, Obama noted, "Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity."

Unity, then, was the root note, the key. As Obama acknowledged, unity was the source of his momentum.

Regarding Michael Jackson and unity, go to the video "We Are The World," on youtube: "watch?v=WmxT21uFrwM. You can experience unity immediately, directly -- musically.

Why is the theme of unity so compelling? "Momentous"? The question seems to find its final answer in neurology. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin:

"During the first six months or so of life . . . the infant brain is unable to clearly distinguish the source of sensory inputs; vision, hearing, and touch meld into a unitary perceptual representation. The regions of the brain that will eventually become the auditory cortex, the sensory cortex, and the visual cortex are functionally undifferentiated . . .

[W]ith all this sensory cross talk, the infant lives in a state of complete psychedelic splendor (without the aid of drugs)."(5)

Is music the last major residue in consciousness of that unitary state all human fetuses experience? Imagine the momentous changes taking place by the minute -- if not by the second -- in the fetal brain as it develops. If music is a residue of that experience, the question of how invoking unity musically generates momentum, has been answered.

But not entirely. Apparently, there is a second neurological connection between momentum and music.

Daniel Levitin wrote that "the heart of the mystery of music must involve the cerebellum."(6) The most primitive part of the brain, the cerebellum is "central to something about emotion -- startle, fear, rage, calm, gregariousness."(7)

Beside certain emotions, the cerebellum is involved with movement: "The function of this oldest part of the brain is something that is crucial to music: timing." The cerebellum is "that part of the brain that guides movements. Most movements made by most animals have a repetitive, oscillatory quality. When we walk or run, we tend to do so at a more or less constant pace . . .

When fish swim or birds fly, they tend to flip their fins or flap their wings at a more or less constant rate. The cerebellum is involved in maintaining this rate, or gate . . . [In music] the cerebellum appears to be involved in tracking the beat."(8)

The purpose of that tracking and timing? Survival. "We can run faster and far more efficiently if we do so with a regular gait . . . The role of the cerebellum is clear . . . our ancestors needed to react quickly, instantly, without analysing the situation . . ."(9)

In its inseparable association with movement, then, momentum involves what has been called our "reptilian brain," because even reptiles have a cerebellum. Momentum in humans thus is connected to something at least as primordial as the fetal brain's sensory unity.

In physics, "momentum" is defined as mass times velocity. When the mass in question is the brain in its original unified sensory state, and the velocity is speed as measured and guided by the cerebellum, the resulting momentum assumes the form of the ultimate paradox a human can be: a "freedom thing."(10) Or, in other words, a phenomenon.

A Michael Jackson, a Barack Obama.


(1) Brian Knowlton, "Acceptance Speech Gets High Marks From Democrats," International Herald Tribune, August 19, 2000.
(2) Randal C. Archibold, "Edwards lashes out at power of the privileged," International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2004.
(3) Randal C. Archibold and Katharine Q. Seelye, "Star is born with keynote appeal to 'one people,'" International Herald Tribune, July 30, 2004.
(4) Marc Santora, Kate Phillips, and Adam Nagourney, "Iowa shakes up White House race," International Herald Tribune, January 5/6, 2008.
(5) Daniel J. Levitin, "This Is Your Brain On Music," Dutton, London, England, 2006, p. 256.
(6) Ibid., p. 174.
(7) Ibid., p. 183.
(8) Ibid. pp. 170-1.
(9) Ibid., p. 179.
(10) Jean-Paul Sartre, "Baudelaire," New Directions, New York, 1967, p. 69.
About the Author
Thomas Belvedere is the pseudonym of a political consultant to senators, representatives, governors, and the media. He worked for all levels of government, and for all three branches. An accredited expert witness in federal court, he has a Ph.D. in political science.

He authored "The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion."

For his website, go to Thomas Belvedere.
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