Various enterprises and personal interests, such as Man-Machine Interaction (MMI), gesture studies, signs, language, social robotics, healthcare, innovation, music, publications, etc.

Category: Psychobabble

Imaginary Gestures for Music Therapy?

A while ago I received an inspiring email with an interesting question, see below (and btw, I would encourage anyone reading my blog to start corresponding, which I greatly enjoy). I will try to respond here, sharing my thoughts not only with Paulo Suzuki, but with anyone interested.

Hi Jeroen,

I’m an IT professional and Music Therapist.

I’m working on a research using the Theremin as a music therapeutic tool and
I’d like that you recommend a book (basic or introdutory) regarding
“gestures” so that I can use to justify my issues.

My research is oriented to music therapy patients with little or without
movements – and so I’d like to know if you are familiar with any research on
“imaginary gestures”?

Thanks for the time.


Paulo Suzuki

PS: my 1st resource regarding “gesture” is your blog “Nice Gesture”; thanks
and congratulations.

Before I give you some answers, I would like to point to a prior post about Musical Gesturing with a Theremin and other posts in the Musical Gestures category. Looking back on that post, I would like to add that I believe that the feelings that music arouse in us are as real as we allow them to be, which is ‘very real’ for many people. Undoubtedly, this can be put to many positive uses, such as ‘Musical Therapy’. However, if you are in this business then I think it is important to remember that you are working for a large part with created conventions that need to be learned and accepted by your ‘patients’. Granted, there may be some feelings or ‘gestures’ that certain music has, in and of itself. For example, ‘beats per minute’ may be related to a slower or faster beating of the heart, and therefore to our arousal or activation. However, trusting too much in the emotional values of certain music quickly becomes speculative, highly subjective, and therefore not advisable (unless you either can rely on or have the time to build up a library of shared conventions with your audience, or patients).

So, to answer the first question, I would like to recommend two books:

  • Gesture, Visible Action as Utterance, by Adam Kendon (the basics about gesture and how humans use gestures).
  • Music and Gesture, by Gritten & King (Eds.) (I haven’t read this one myself, but from the contents it looks like it covers the topics you might be interested in).

To answer your second question, regarding research on ‘imaginary gestures’:

  • There is the work on ‘mirror neurons‘ that shows that there is a very close connection in our brains to ‘seeing a gesture’ and ‘producing a gesture’. That might be useful to you? A wild thought: if one wants patients to be able to play music with imaginary gestures perhaps it is possible to record their brains while watching a musician play a certain bit of music, identify the ‘brain activation’, and then watch for that when they ‘play in their minds’ themselves, translating their ‘imaginary gestures’ back to music. I’m taking a couple of shortcuts with this line of reasoning, but well.
  • Then there is the work on helping people who lost a hand or an arm. See for example this story: Robot arm ‘controlled with thoughts’. To some extent the nervous system may still process stimuli that pertain to certain hand actions, or gestures.
  • Another interesting bit of work was done a while ago by Sidney Fels: GloveTalk, a system that translates hand gestures to speech through an adaptive interface. Perhaps the micro gestures Fels uses, can also be translated to music instead of speech. Incidentally, his first ‘user’ was reported to be an experienced piano player…

Hope it helps 🙂

Even Old Men Invent Sign Language

Do children learn language from rich (enough) input or do they invent it more or less on their own, driven by some innate program? That is a question that has kept great scientists busy, particularly Noam Chomsky.

And so with modern gesture research (post Chomsky) and modern sign language research (post Stokoe/Tervoort) the question became important which role gesture and emerging sign language skills plays in the development of language and cognition in hearing children and deaf children, see the work of Susan Goldin-Meadow and co-workers in particular.

A famous case is the discussion surrounding the documented invention of Nicaraguan Sign Language by successive generations of deaf children (by Judy Kegl and others).

But it appears that not only children can create language. A local newspaper here reported that the oldest man in the Netherlands (age 106) lost hearing and speech and invented a ‘sign language’ with his daughter in law to communicate.

Old Man Van der Vaart and his Children created a sign language
Adrianus van der Vaart and daughter-in-law Corry created a sign language (source: AD)

Did ‘Opa Arie’ take a dip in the fountain of youth?
Is there no such thing as a critical age of acquiring/inventing a language?
Or did the newspaper exaggerate?

Given the nature of newspapers it is likely that the AD exaggerates. Besides, any sort of gesture system is quickly called a ‘sign language’ in the Netherlands, and little distinction is made by the general public between ‘genuine Sign Language of the Netherlands (NGT)’ and other ‘gebarentaal’.

Further research is needed urgently however, before it is too late. The potential ‘Wilnis Sign Language’ (Wilnis is an isolated village in the Netherlands with a remarkable population of elderly people with bad hearing) should be documented by the likes of Judy Kegl? Can anybody send in a linguist?

Suspicious Baby Sign Footage

I put together a playlist with YouTube movies with babies showing off their signs. Or should I say, mommies showing off their babies? Or their babies’ signs?

The first two videos are posted by a user called SmartHandCA, and constitute the most convincing but at the same time most suspect material. Why is there no real user name?

I know there are companies out there trying to make money by convincing people they should teach their babies to sign. They have everyone claiming it will boost their (language) development, succes in this life, the hereafter and then some.

Now, I am not saying it is definitely the case, merely raising a bit of doubt, but the baby in question may in fact be the child of Deaf parents, or older than the stated 12 months. This is the internet after all. The rest of the babies are all older, already talking as well or just signing ‘more’ or requesting nursing. If my distrust is unfounded then I must admit it is a neat example of a small baby picking up good vocabulary skills for his age.

All in all, it is not very funny to watch, it even got on my nerves after a bit. And, apart from the magical baby from SmartHandsCA, it seems to confirm that ‘more’ and ‘milk’ are the only frequently used signs (see my prior posts on babies signing ‘more milk’, and the fascination with nipples we share with certain apes). But perhaps I am just too biased and skeptical to see the revolution taking place in front of my eyes.

My kids are getting a bit older now, with a daughter of five and a boy of three (but a next one coming up soon). They do not seem to suffer from a lack of baby signing, which I tried half-heartedly but gave up on due to low ROI. I do shout at them a lot, and even throw books if I feel their vocabulary development is getting behind. It doesn’t seem to matter. My daughter’s most treasured words are those she picks up from her friends at school. Not always music to my ears, I must say.

How to create your own anchor-gesture

In remarkable similarity to how to create your own mudra, I just found a nice prescription to create your own gesture to relax you or give you confidence under stress (in this case on the cricket pitch). Why anyone would feel stress in relation to cricket is none of my Dutch concern, but the procedure seems equally valid for mudras, magic spells and now anchors. It’s all between the ears, I guess.

A stressed cricket player makes an anchor gesture? (source)

I just hope cricket will not become a game whereby a bunch of men-boys only enjoy an easy afternoon relaxing. Without the proper stress the competitive edge required for peak performance may vanish?

A new Mudra for a small lump on my leg

Learning of my interest in Mudras, colleague JM, who is also a yoga teacher, lent me his Mudra Werkboek by Gertrud Hirschi, a swiss yoga teacher (a 1999 Dutch translation of: Mudras – Yoga mit dem kleinen Finger, 1998). Hirschi published a new Mudras book in 2006, which I guess is an update.

The most intruiging bit of the book is on page 199, which shows how you can create your own mudra:

  • Study the book and the energies of your hand
  • Show respect!
  • Study the characteristics of each finger and choose the posture that fits [the selected bits?]
  • Formulate the goal of the mudra in positive terms [i.e. I have a smooth leg]
  • Speak the sentence loud and slow thrice with a breath each
  • Picture the outcome
  • Try feeling the result
  • Dedicate your mudra to a divine power or deity of your choice
  • Wish the outcome with all your heart, but remain patient and trusting

Does this sound a bit like creating your own magic spell? Well it wouldn’t be the first time magic and yoga are considered twins. Anyway, I have yet to try it out. The energies of my hands still baffle me. Some serious contemplation is in order, methinks.

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