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Civilization enlists personal and social communications. They’re key to our survival. Before the written word, oral histories maintain important societal knowledge. Information formats differ dependent on who, when and where.

Storytellers, poets and musicians toil to keep our attention with emotionally charged messages. They deftly transform the personal into the universal. Reliance on empathy propels us into the narration which, though not quite our own, still appeals to our imagination.

Many of our good or bad decisions elicit emotion, not thinking. Thought usually arrives later to rationalize the right or wrong conclusions. Pure logic can’t furnish sufficient incentive to act, whereas emotion provokes unconscious and automatic response. Robert Pultchik maps out four primary pairs of diametrically opposed emotions. His wheel of emotions includes anger/fear, sadness/joy, trust/disgust and anticipation/surprise or some combination thereof which trigger individual actions. Listening to stories, poems, or songs somehow transcends the emotional trigger with a shared reflection holding our rapt attention.

Recently, Lucas Parra and others uncover a communal phenomenon. These scientists learn that those listening to the same story synchronize their heartbeat fluctuations. This doesn’t require listeners to share emotion as previously hypothesized, but rather being absorbed, engrossed and envisioning what happens next. Thus, spectator’s hearts respond to similar vigilant brain signals. The scientists demonstrate that a cohesive narrative remains crucial in creating this synchronization of brain and heart activity in an audience.

Synchronicity offers a powerful tool for better teaching and communication. As Edward O. Wilson observes, “You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.” Stories, poetry and songs invoke a psychic resonance in multiple listeners. This enables creation of a mythos which encapsulates our society’s hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Roger Combs


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