Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Songs and Poetry

When we look at different civilizations, one of the odd peculiarities is the universal human habit of singing and turning text information into rhymes. Although it seems a kind of irrational behavior, it can be observed in all known cultures all over the world and seems to have developed independently.
What is the reason that information is transmitted in such a strange way that defies reason and logic?

In fact the reason behind lyric, songs and poetry can be understood quite easily, if we look at early human history, or better prehistory. Prehistory is defined as the era before writing was invented. Knowledge could only be preserved to the next generation by oral tradition.
The main problem of oral tradition is accuracy of the reproduction. We all know how information can be altered by rumors. Facts are changed, exaggerated or misunderstood, each time they are retold. In order to improve accuracy of oral traditions, early humans used a clever trick. They put the spoken word into a certain rhythm and made the words rhyme. 
So whenever somebody retold a story, he had heard before and changed the text, the rhythm or the rhyme would be broken and the error would become obvious. The storyteller was therefore forced to use the exact same words to retell the story. Whenever he realized that the rhythm of the sentence got lost, he knew that he didn't reproduce it correctly and would check with the originator of the story what the correct wording of the story was. It was some kind of CRC-code (cyclic redundancy check) in the same way as it is used today when transmitting digital data. Some bits are reserved to check the accuracy of the others. If these bits don't correspond with the others, the entire data package is discarded. 
In the same way poets and songs once worked. If they lost their rhyme and rhythm, they were discarded as wrong reproduction of the original.
For this reason we can see that most ancient epics and myths that have been written down on clay tablets, have some sort of repeating internal structure that indicates that they were most likely some kind of songs. We know it for sure from the Edda and the Song of the Nibelungs.
We can also see how little the words have changed in different versions of the Sumerian Atrahasis Epic, although they were written down centuries apart. Of course they could have been copied one from another, but since there are some small changes, it is more likely that they have a common oral source.

By the use of lyric, prehistoric humans were able to preserve information and reports about historic events quite accurately and unchanged for centuries from a time far before the invention of writing. Therefore much of the ancient mythology might be far more authentic than historians assume, since they describe events before they could be recorded in a written form.

Songs and poetry have therefore not been so irrational as we might assume today. This practice was quite rational and efficient to store information in a non-written way. We should not underestimate its importance for early humans and their history records.
However songs and poetry have become obsolete with the invention of writing. We can now record information accurately in many ways, so that it lasts many generations without its content being changed.  In a time of written history there is no need for lyric. It is a relic from prehistorical times and without any use for rational people. Digital CRC-code has replaced rhymes far more efficiently. 
While human intellect develops further, the outdated practice of songs and poetry may one day disappear.

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