Set and setting
Set and setting, the mind set prior to taking LSD and the physical setting in which the experience takes place, seem to be the defining factors in how people interpret the LSD experience.That extract is from Andy Roberts’ Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain. Hallucinogenics and classical music may differ radically in social acceptance, but the ultimate aim of both is to transport the user to a better place. Yet, although classical music is fazed by its inability to connect with new audiences, it refuses to consider the possibilities offered by the fuzzy area that lies between science and pseudoscience.
Set and setting is one of those possibilities, and the argument for further exploration is persuasive. Access to classical music has been improving for decades. First it was only available in the concert hall. Then came crude phonographs followed by poor quality radios. Then came the hi-fi boom. And in recent decades accessibility has increase at an exponential rate via iPods and the internet. Yet paradoxically, in parallel with that increasing accessibility the popularity of classical music has declined, and that decline has accelerated as the use of mobile players and the internet has increased. As Benjamin Britten - who knew something about engaging audiences – explained: “If I say the loudspeaker is the principal enemy of music, I don't mean that I am not grateful to it as a means of education or study, or as an evoker of memories. But it is not part of true musical experience. Regarded as such it is simply a substitute, and dangerous because deluding”.
Just one example of the importance of set and setting is the enduring popularity of the BBC Proms. This defies rational analysis; the Albert Hall is a cavernous, acoustically poor and physically uncomfortable venue – which should mean an unsatisfactory concert experience. Yet the Proms increase in popularity and continue to attract a young audience that is increasingly absent elsewhere. This is because the set and setting of a Promenade concert define the experience for those in the hall – an experience that is never fully replicated by radio and TV relays of the concerts.
Could set and setting be the defining factor in how listeners interpret classical music? Would a gourmet meal be the same rewarding experience if eaten standing in a crowded subway carriage? Is the portable loudspeaker the enemy of classical music? Hallucinogenics and classical music may have more in common that we think - the header image shows my 1972 LP of Berlioz’s opium inspired Symphonie Fantastique. More on that fuzzy area between science and pseudoscience here.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain was borrowed from Norwich library. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Also, whereas for now it's mostly in the realm of pseudoscience (ESP?) my feeling is that in time there will be empirical data to explain that connection between audience and performer that can catalyse those "flow" moments we all want more of.
I think you're absolutely right about set and setting. We may find out more about that soon. Some researchers at Johns Hopkins University have somehow gotten the official OK to pick up where Grof had to leave off evaluating psychedelics as a therapeutic agent when it all became illegal (I'm pretty sure Grof was the one who came up with the importance of set and setting)
I've always suspected Tim Leary's massive ego trip did more harm than good for the cause of psychedelics as a therapeutic agents.
I can also promise more from Andy Roberts' book, which unlike most industry press releases is both informative and well written.
My concern was more the set and setting of live versus reproduced classical music. I am delighted and not too surprised that live Bach in a train station has sold out. Far better that than Bach on an iPod in the same station.
It is a mistake to assume that a conventional concert hall provides the right set and setting - in fact the formality may detract from the experience. The Proms venue at the Albert Hall is a good example - it is not a conventional concert hall but is a very successful venue despite its many shortcomings. Snape Maltings is another example, it is a converted agricultural building in the middle of nowhere that provides one of the most satisfying concert experiences in the world.
There are a couple of things I'm struggling to understand. What is the relevance of pseudoscience here? The question is taken seriously by several fields of scientific study (see among others the Wikipedia entries for Set (psychology), Priming (psychology), Attention, Cognitive bias, Auditory illusion). Science is all about being prepared to be wrong in interesting ways, to be forced out of your cognitive comfort zone by unexpected facts. Pseudoscience is about offering cheap explanations without caring about investigating their truth (there is a technical term for it). There are useful ways of knowing that are not scientific, but pseudoscience is not one of them; there may well be answers that science will never give us, but we will never know unless we try.
Also, with reference to the linked post, what is the relevance of Bell's theorem to this? The "performer, audience, instruments, hall acoustic, physical performance space, climatic and environmental conditions" are all things that the live-music listener is well used to experiencing consciously and directly; why invoke non-local quantum causality?