diurnal cycles…

I learned about oscillations the other day… they’re a type of wave (e.g., a radio frequency or mathematical function) … I started out by puzzling how to interpret the English word into ASL….a type of rhythm…but not necessarily synchronous, it could be asynchronous… my teacher (LOFTS) explained the important feature of an upper range and a lower range that these oscillations demonstrate in the natural world. We usually see these on a graph, a very common one is a sine wave.
Now, my own personal project everytime I’m learning about a hard science, is to imagine if – and if so, how – that model serves in any way to illuminate social behavior. The deal with the wave (and no, we’re not waving hello or goodbye (yet!) we’re moving across space and time like an ocean tide) is this bit about the ranges. Two of them. The upper and the lower. So, at the peak of a wave there is a typical range of values, and just about all the time the peak is going to land somewhere between those values: not always at the maximum, but not always at the minimum either. Somewhere in between the two outer edges (heights, if you will) that mark the average height area where the peak will stop and turn down again. A range – not a set number! Not “the same” place, but a similar place, over and over again. Same at the bottom. Almost always, the nadir of the valley will go past a certain point (we could say depth) but not beyond another point. Not always to the furthest in the average range, not always to the shallowest in the range, but somewhere in between.
Already I’m thinking, ok, so let’s take moods, emotion. Mine, for instance. 🙂 When I’m feeling happy, there is, in fact, a range of “happiness.” There’s a minimum threshold I have to pass before what I’m feeling qualifies as “happy,” and it can go on for awhile until maxing out at the peak of exuberance. I don’t always get to feel the most ecstatic, and I don’t always get to just barely arrive, but if I’m feeling happy I’ve hit the zone of variation that all qualifies as happy. Being sad works the same. I’ve got gradations of mopey to mournful to deep grieving.
Ok, so what. BIG DEAL. Nothing new here, nothing unique! But let’s say you then add some kind of periodicity to the fluctation of “ups” and “downs”. Am I playing with psychology here? No doubt. But I haven’t read or heard it, so as far as I’m concerned (!) this is stuff I’m figuring out on my own. (Ha!) I’m betting – besides the obvious hormonal cycles – that each individual develops their own kind of “rhythm” of emotion based on events and incidents, repetitions and aberrations in the daily phenomenon of growing up. This gets remembered in the body and – what do you bet? – was then, and is now, reinforced by language. Certain words, particular phrases, a turn in the conversation that mirrors the play of previous conversations: whammo – the emotional rhythm gets kicked in. For ‘good’ or ‘ill’, I’d wager. Equal Opportunity Emotions.
I know this is a wild idea. (Or, I assume it is a wild idea, ’cause I thought of it and people so often react to me as if I’m just a bit further out there…!) But what if the language of persons – using languages in a Bakhtinian sense – is based on patterns or rhythms of linguistic memory?

Professor John Lye’s notes on Bakhtin’s philosophy of language
blogpost on his three global concepts

What if the “wave pattern” of our own emotional oscillations has
a) particular ranges at the top and bottom, and
b) a ir/regular periodicity?
What if language (that we take in, as well as that we put out) is the means of identification? Then, we’re predisposed (perhaps) at certain times (in the periodic cycle) to ‘hear’ (interpret) certain phrases in particular ways, and maybe also to say things because ‘it’s time.’

18 thoughts on “diurnal cycles…”

  1. Interesting, I think we also might wonder a bit further about the social nature of the oscillations you describe, since they must be interpretable, and sensical when displayed with others in order for social interaction to continue. In other words, we must all, to some extent, be predictable, so perhaps the range you are referring to can be understood as a cultural range that is in part shaped by the cultural learning of emotional performance and experience and not solely a personal range.
    For example, we learn to be in awe of the moon when our parents, friends, television characters, point out to us what to notice when we step outside at night. It can be found in the awe-filled discovery voice parents might use, “Wow Johnny, look at the moon, isn’t it beautiful!?” and now little Johnny sees it in a way that perhaps he didn’t when he first stepped out into the night. He’s learned to experience awe in that situation. However, Johnny will still over time have to discover the acceptable range of awe he is to experience, if he becomes a moon worshiper he might be locked up, and if when others are looking up in awe he suggests that the moon is an uninteresting piece of crap he will likely be seen as cynical and heartless.
    To get to the point, it seems to me that the range you describe is a cultural range that serves to make things predictable enough for us to be able to meaningfully interpret each other’s actions, but variable enough to allow for personal creativity. Not that what I’m adding here is anything new, but I thought it might be interesting to think about how these oscillations operate socially.
    Your comments also brought to mind Hall’s work on kinesics, watching school children find rhythms together on the playground, that given some time they all seem to conform to. He also noticed these patterns in people walking down the street. The cultural rhythm of life?

  2. Brion – you’ve beat me to the punch! I was thinking exactly the same thing – and feeling some awe in the process!

  3. Yes, I agree that the typical ranges are set by culture, but individual variation in the patterns might follow a more individual rhythm, based on “expectations” being produced as an unintended consequence of the regularity and/or interruption of the kind of event you describe: when and how to feel awe at the moon.
    Whether “awe” is expressed once/year during the same season, or every month at a particular point in the cycle, or only once-in-awhile when the sky happens to be clear AND the family is out late….and then if a traumatic event occurs right before/after an “awesome” moon…
    then, whatever the cultural range is has an overlay of an individual experience. so this person may/may not always operate in the usual range, perhaps exceeding or falling short of the usual ranges, possibly at both the peak and valley, or perhaps only at one or the other, or alternating…who knows? But there may be language clues that elicit the expectation/memory, and these could be events that establish a periodicity at the subjective level.

  4. I work with sine waves a lot – they are fascinating and show up in all kinds of strange places. I guess I should get used to them showing up in culture and communication 🙂
    I also used to work with random numbers and random processes. More on that in a bit, as I think they will likely have more resonance with the rhythm idea that you have.
    Sine waves shot into prominence in scientific thinking with the work of one Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Fourier), who radically stated that he could express any mathematical function as a multiple of sine waves and cosine waves. Since cosine waves are really just sine waves shifted over by a quarter-cycle, in effect Fourier claimed that sine waves were the “basis” for pretty much any function of a variable.
    It has since turned out that there are some restrictions and edge cases where that statement does not apply, but in large part we owe a lot of research and development in radio, TV, and the Internet to Monsieur Fourier’s postulation.
    Practically, it turns out, something called “Fourier analysis” (or Fourier Series, or the famous Fourier Transform), allows one to take any given squiggle of a line and identify exactly how much of how many different sine waves need to dance on a pin to give you that squiggle.
    For, sine waves have the interesting property that no two of them are exactly alike. A fundamental parameter for a sine wave is its “frequency”, i.e. how often does it repeat? Two sine waves at different frequencies oscillate differently with respect to one another – a phenomenon called “beating”. If you add two sine waves you get – a third, different, sine wave.
    The nature of “frequency” introduces a really strange diurnal dynamic between TIME, the here and now, and FREQUENCY, an abstract prediction of the future. And here comes, stage left, German quantum physicist Herr Werner Heisenberg, who famously postulated the “Uncertainty Principle.”
    Loosely stated, and blasphemously paraphrased, the uncertainty principle goes something like this: if you know exactly where something is, you can not know exactly where it will be at the next instant of time; if you know exactly where something will be over several hours, you can not know exactly where it was at any given time.
    Think of a picture taken of a highway: you cannot tell, from the picture, how fast each car is traveling. All you can tell is the exact physical location of each car. To get at the trajectory of the cars, you could hold open the camera lens for several seconds, getting a blurred streaky picture that shows you the motion of the cars, but then you lose information on exactly where each car was.
    Similarly, with time and frequency: they interplay on one other – fixing one results in a blurry snapshot of the other.
    So, recently (and what does that term mean in academia anyway?) people started exploring random numbers… but I’ll post that as a separate comment…

  5. By the way, there is good stuff about the uncertainty principle here:
    Sine waves are good “deterministic” tools to represent reality, but often fall short because reality is freakin’ messy. “Probabilistic” tools often capture more of the messiness inherent in reality, but in doing so introduce their own messiness.
    Random numbers are strange – they are random! What pattern do they have? None! Okay, alright, perhaps we can choose a particular probability distribution, and then perhaps a pattern might emerge: undergrads have always complained bitterly (and rightly) about the imposed grading pattern of the famous “bell curve”, known more formally as the Gaussian distribution function.
    Random PROCESSES take it one step further in strangeness into the truly bizarre. A random process is like a random number, except that it changes, randomly, with time.
    All kinds of powerful modeling of reality becomes possible with random processes – I spent three years working on modeling speech as a random process for computer speech recognition systems. (This, of course, is a crippling hallmark of engineering – the assumption that reality exists independently and that models can only at best approximate it.)
    When I read your ideas, Steph, I immediately thought of random processes:
    Random processes exhibit what I would call “patterns embedded in noise”. In speech recognition we typically model speech at the “phoneme” level. For example, we would notice that, on average, the frequencies of sounds exhibit a certain average pattern when someone says “chi” as in “china”, and that the frequency pattern shifts to a different average pattern when the person moves on to say “na” as in “china”. The EXPECTED trajectory going from “chi” to “na” has its own average pattern.
    I’m using the word average a lot above, because it truly is average – we collect typically hundreds of speech recordings to get an empirical quantitative measure of the underlying random process.
    Like you pointed out – there are ranges to the observations, but the observations nearly always fall within the ranges.
    I haven’t thought further about how random processes might help with cultural modeling, but I couldn’t help think about them when I read you using words like “expectation”, “pattern”, “individual variation”, etc.

  6. “Oh, and one more thing…”
    I am finding that the social sciences only go so far in quantitative analysis or even presentation of quantitative data, and that perhaps the quantitative side of social sciences could benefit from the insights provided by hard sciences.
    Now, as a jaded soon-to-be-ex-engineer, don’t get me wrong – I think the hard sciences are “too hard” and completely miss out on the qualitative perspective of the social sciences, but here’s my two cents:
    Cent number 1: In the social sciences, it seems, to me, as a newbie, that when data is used, most often only first-order statistics are presented: averages and ranges. Every now and then some poll might make grudging acknowledgment of a standard deviation. However, there are more powerful statistical measures that could probably help grasp a lot of the underlying dynamics of data: principal component analysis, non-linear regression, eigen analysis, clustering effects, etc. Maybe I just haven’t seen that kind of analysis in social science yet, but it feels like hard scientific data analysis faces an uphill battle in the social sciences because of a backlash against structuralism. Yes/no/maybe?
    Cent number 2: In the hard sciences, it seems that they are facing a crisis of monumental proportions in modeling reality, namely that all models have edge-cases and assumptions that break in the real world. More and more mathematical models are coming out with some element of randomness and chaos built in. Quantum theories are all the rage these days, even extending into popular culture (The Secret?) and perhaps even making inroads into the social sciences (I was surprised to see how many students in Stephen’s class expressed an interest in quantum theories as applied to social dynamics!) My second cent observes that the hard sciences are finally coming to grips with post-structuralism and that they are now more open to qualitative approaches in their hard-data-analysis. True/false?

  7. I’m going to have to respond to you in bits and pieces, Hari. 🙂
    First, thank you so much for the blasphemous paraphrase of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Your brought it into view for me a different way than I’ve ever conceived of it. I always though it was mass/energy that couldn’t both be determined at the exact same moment: you get mass if you measure for mass (but can’t pinpoint the energy) or you get energy if that’s what you measure (then you cannot also pinpoint the mass). Putting these both in terms of TIME is brilliant (as in – that awesome bright moonray!) For fun, I’m quoting you:
    “Loosely stated, and blasphemously paraphrased, the uncertainty principle goes something like this: if you know exactly where something is, you can not know exactly where it will be at the next instant of time; if you know exactly where something will be over several hours, you can not know exactly where it was at any given time.” The illustration with the cars on the highway helps too: either a still with no sense of momentum, or a blur of streaks, with no ability to fix position.
    I’ve blogged about quantum physics as a metaphor (?) for language, and even imagine – in wilder moments – language as the evidence of quantum indeterminacy (!) – but it is largely just muddling my way through ideas I intuit yet lack language (and knowledge) to articulate. I’m very excited by what you’ve shared…

  8. In some ways, Steph, what you started here reminds me of the beginnings of rhetorical critique of scientific literature (and language). I’ve just started reading a book Stephen ushered into my hands titled “Rhetorical Hermeneutics: Invention and Interpretation in the Age of Science.”
    (a) Has anyone read this book? My head is spinning from just the acknowledgments page…
    (b) Anyone else think that Stephen should hang up a sign outside his door that says “Caution: Grumpy Philologist. Trespassers will be loaned books to read. Innocent bystanders will be asked to write papers.”

  9. If we’re going to start (?) picking (!) on Stephen, I think we need a serious strategy session… hmmm,
    my initial proposal reflects on you, Hari, and all the rest of us, just a tad bit more (!):
    “WARNING: The innocent will be dismissed. The engaged will be challenged. The masochistic will be embraced.”
    ps, no, I haven’t read the book, but I am definitely puzzling over the language (and socially-constructed reality) of the physical sciences in comparison with that of the social sciences.
    more to come….!

  10. Oh no no, I was not picking on Stephen at all! Rather the opposite, I thought! 🙂 No?
    I do like the “masochistic will be embraced” 🙂
    No, but really, I was only attempting light humor, and apparently had no “uptake”, sorry!
    Let’s get back to viewing social dynamics in terms of patterns and quantum physics… in particular, about the role of culture in determining the range of expected behaviors while also allowing for individual variability…

  11. Oh, you had uptake alright! I knew you meant light humor; I tried to respond in kind. %-/ You see why I said consultation would be necessary?! And why I’m not a comedian… 🙂 I did realize – soon after posting, before your comment – that the first phrase is absolutely false. Not just a poor choice of diction, a completely inaccurate one. :-/ Apologies all around.
    Meanwhile, yes, I was thinking about Brion’s comment again today, too…. especially the part about Hall’s kinesics…I’m hoping we might entice him to provide a brief explanation…

  12. OK.
    I want to get into all that random stuff (!), but let’s stick with this sine and cosine wave interaction for a minute. Suppose Brion’s cultural rhythm, the social (what I might call “the group”) level, is the sine wave. It’s the basis of most everything, and the cosine waves are the individual… (I’m thinking ‘out loud’ so please bear with my twists and turnabouts!)
    Presumably no cosine wave is exactly the same as any other, either, right? Just like no sine wave is exactly the same. Hmm. (I’m trying to decide if a sine and cosine wave – separated by that quarter-turn – are better conceived as two separate cultures, rather than as culture/individual? But then… FOCUS! I’m trying to keep this at the level of the INDIVIDUAL – where these forces (sine, cosine; social, idiosyncratic) intersect.) So, yes, that works. I’ve got my sine wave (culture) and also have my own (rotated) cosine wave. Sure, my cosine wave is related to the cosine waves of other people in my group because of the common sine foundation. My “sine” is a wee bit different than your “sine”, cuz no two are ever identical (even though there is vast similarity), and my cosine is a bit different than your cosine, and – the combo of my sine/cosine with your sine/cosine is where the random stuff really gets going…yes?

  13. This is exciting stuff! Yes, cosines have the same properties as sines, and in fact both are only two of an infinite family of similar waves, conveniently lumped into the term “sinusoids”. I say infinite because the idea is that if a cosine is simply a sine shifted by a quarter-cycle, what do you call a sine shifted by a third-of-a-cycle, or by a really small amount? So, there can potentially be a wide variety of sine-like waves.
    Anyway, really interesting things happen when you combine sinusoids:
    Simulation of different sinusoids
    Simulation of combining sinusoids
    I definitely think that we can see some of the same patterns in modeling cultural trends as a set of slowly varying sinusoids juxtaposed (added/multiplied? don’t know) in some way with individual trends.
    For example – fashion. It is colloquially stated that fashion repeats – bell bottoms tried to make a comeback recently, and will doubtless come back again soon. But they got squelched fairly quickly. That may be an example of a manufactured attempt that happened to intersect with a negative response from individual trends, resulting in a dull thud. Sometimes, though, cultural trends happen to intersect with individual trends at just the right RESONANT spot to cause a much LARGER collective WAVE of change. Social revolution? Literal WAVES at stadiums? Viral marketing? How do rational people explain the cult-like popularity of Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
    For example, recently my wife and I were at a campaign event for Hillary Clinton up in New Hampshire (not to say we’re Hillaryites – we also went to an Obama event and an Edwards event, so we’re actually lemmings). At the event, as the crowd was becoming restive while waiting for “the president” to come out, I noticed that the campaign staff repeatedly tried to get sections of the crowd to chant in unison, or to clap in unison. All their attempts failed miserably – one small group would start yelling “Hill-a-RY! Hill-a-RY!” but they would get ignored by the others. (I, personally, started yelling “I like Lemmings!” to the tune of “Let’s go Red Sox!”, but that didn’t go over well with the crowd around me.)
    At one point one of the campaign staff asked a large guy to begin a clapping sequence with his section. Problem was, the guy had no sense of rhythm, so he starts clapping and encourages his section to follow along – but everyone was off-beat. So the guy starts yelling “STROKE! STROKE! STROKE!” with each clap to synchronize the crowd. That worked, but it looked so ridiculously manufactured that nobody else joined.
    Point is this: the intersection of social sinusoidal patterns is where really strange stuff can happen – at certain points you are going to get peaks, and the peaks may have a periodicity to them (fashion, social revolutions, elections), while at other points you may get surprising deadening, or negative interference, or lulls, very much like becoming becalmed while sailing.
    Which is how my mind feels now, so I’ll stop here and wait for serendipitous gusts (from the gracious van Overs or Coppolas in the gathering clouds?)

  14. By the way, the software I work on makes its living from modeling exactly these kinds of scenarios mathematically and visually, like the cute graphics on those websites I cited earlier. At some point we could have a group gathering and folks could toss out various ideas (“how about a random factor in that pattern?”) and I could quickly perform some mathematical mumbo-jumbo to get the computer to display a visual simulation of what the interactions might look like…
    Pizza and beer would contribute well to such a gathering’s intellectual output, no? 🙂

  15. The op-ed on Obama and Hillary is excellent! Yes, I had noticed they’ve both picked up on “personal” after Edwards; and the matter of timing is the heart of what we’ve been exploring, eh? I agree, too, that it is EXCELLENT for the race to go on, longer. Both candidates will be forced (I think) to show more and more respect for each other, which – I wager – is the rhythm (!) we want to encourage.
    I couldn’t get to the two links you posted on different and combined sinusoids… I *love* the idea of pizza and beer and simulations! My particular penchant (you should be warned), however, is to avoid the hypothetical and, instead, do our best to engage ‘the real’ – meaning the phenomenologically real as some group of us are experiencing it in the here-and-now. This is where the quant-heads need (imho) the qual-heads.

  16. okay. I don’t process as quickly as you guys do (perhaps my cosine wave is at a significanly slower frequency than yours…) So, not sure if I have much to contribute at this point…BUT, I am intrigued by the sine/cosine relationship as applied to the group/individual. Something like the langue/parole relationship?
    I’m in the process of picking out paint colors for my house. It’s much more difficult than I thought it would be. I can’t believe how many different variations of green, blue, brown, gray there are. Some greens are more gray, and some grays are more blue, and some blues are sort of brownish…so, a drop of *this* will change the color wavelength to be more like a *that*, and vice versa. Hari’s post on fashion/politics made me think of color in this way. But it also made me think of culture in this way. Steph, you said,
    “I’ve got my sine wave (culture) and also have my own (rotated) cosine wave. Sure, my cosine wave is related to the cosine waves of other people in my group because of the common sine foundation. My “sine” is a wee bit different than your “sine”, cuz no two are ever identical (even though there is vast similarity), and my cosine is a bit different than your cosine, and – the combo of my sine/cosine with your sine/cosine is where the random stuff really gets going…yes?”
    So, like color (or fashion, or politics), the difference between you and me could be theoretically the same as the similarity (or difference) between me and someone from a remote tribe in Zimbabwe…no? For example, if we were to chart ALL of the different sine/cosine relationships that exist in the social world (yikes!!) couldn’t the slight variations between what you and I experience as our sine/cosine relationship be seen as simply a variation in hue or tone – like the difference (and/or similarity) between grayish-green or greenish-blue? Not sure if that makes any sense.

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