One of the most amazing parts of being in community is watching the energetic currents move through all of us. To see the ripples appear from nowhere and reverberate. We exist as resonant bodies within interconnected space, influencing and entraining to those around us.

I have spent a lot of time studying theories of hearing and computational modeling of the cochlea via non-linear gradient frequency neural networks (does that surprise anyone?). If you haven't already stopped reading, I'd like to take a detour into the theory of cochlear modeling - I have a point related to community, I promise.

A gradient frequency neural network (GrFNN) isn't actually as as complicated as it sounds. It's made up of neural oscillator pairs - an excitatory and inhibitory neuron. They are connected to the pair next to them, in a way that the natural resonant frequency of each pairs increases logarithmically, which corresponds to the way we perceive sound - an increase in an octave corresponds to a doubling of frequency (Hz). Thus they form a frequency gradient.

As sound enters the ear, it resonates at a point in the spiral cavity of the cochlea. At this point, a tiny hair is stimulated, sending an impulse into the underlying neural oscillator pair. The cycle of the neurons firing starts to entrain to the incoming signal. When the impulse if before the current cycle would fire, the excitatory neuron tries to fire more quickly, but the inhibitory neuron takes a little time to catch up so the change isn't immediate. When it's behind the cycle, the whole thing lags.

These oscillators are non-linear, which is to say they don't only fire on/off. When it fires, you also get subharmonic firing at lower amplitude. That is to say, if you stimulate a 4/4 downbeat, you'll get smaller oscillations on the offbeat, and even smaller oscillations on the 1/8 note. This get more complicated when you have complicated rhythms. You get all sorts of reinforced and unreinforced subharmonic oscillations. This is actually the fundamental basis for beat prediction and that feeling of satisfaction in the brain. A hi-hat coming in on the offbeat feels "right" because there is already a subharmonic oscillation present within your inner ear that is being reinforced by the new signal. This is all pre-perceptual!

The oscillators influence those around them. As one pair entrains to an incoming signal, it shifts the cycle of the pairs near it, created localized grouping of complex oscillations. This is how the brain separates sounds. Groups of oscillations can be identified and subharmonics can be ignored at the level of your neural hardware. ie. You can hear a voice in a crowded room because your ear is designed to do so, not because your brain is able to process out the noise.

The same process happens in community. We are all oscillators, that absorb the narrative frequencies of the signals around us. We entrain to the dominant frequencies, and influence those near us. As energetic processes move through are communities, we see these cascading ripples of influence. We may not see the original of the signal, but we can perceive the groupings of resulting vibrations. Yet we can only do so if we step back far enough to see the movements of the network from some distance. At the level of our own experience, or those directly next to us, we seem to be independent actors controlling our own oscillations. But when we exist in community, when we watch the way larger groups of people around us respond in the same way we do without seeming rhyme or reasons, we can begin to understand that we are part of a vast and interconnected network.

When the signal pushes and pulls at your internal oscillations, do you listen to the subharmonics? Do you reach out your hand to those next to you? Do you allow yourself to be influence? Not with resignation, but with the fluid gratitude of one that knows they can only immediate pass on what they are given?

** If you want to get nerdy, here's some open source software, and neuroscience papers - the math is beyond me but it's fairly digestible without it.