Sunday, February 04, 2007

What's Alive in Your Culture?

culture |ˈkəl ch ər| |ˌkəltʃər| |ˌkʌltʃə|
noun
1 the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively : 20th century popular culture.
• a refined understanding or appreciation of this : men of culture.
• the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group : Caribbean culture | people from many different cultures.
• [with adj. ] the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group : the emerging drug culture.
2 Biology the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients : the cells proliferate readily in culture.
• a preparation of cells obtained in such a way : the bacterium was isolated in two blood cultures.
• the cultivation of plants : this variety of lettuce is popular for its ease of culture.
verb [ trans. ] Biology
maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.
ORIGIN Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’ ; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ (see cultivate ). In late Middle English the sense was [cultivation of the soil] and from this (early 16th cent.) arose [cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)] ; sense 1 dates from the early 19th cent.

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In my mind, culture is largely about entrainment, the mysterious process by which living things fall into synchronism with each other. Much of my artistic focus has been on the rhythm of music and dance, where we play with complex entrainment patterns. I've cultivated a theory that harmony could be a rapid fractal of rhythm, fantasizing about a keyboard that would automatically pulse each note at a tempo relative to its frequency. Each chord would be an interesting polyrhythm, if my initial math is right. But I digress.

Entrainment is also at the root of the other meaning of culture. Historically every village and tribe has sought to entrain other species, including microbes, to support human health. Since nature prefers symbiosis and all life dances to the same circadian rhythms, there are myriad ways to culture probiotics. Much of our energy has gone into cultured foods - yogurt, cheese, tofu, miso, sourdough, kimchi - and the list goes on. Every local culture includes cultured foods.

Cultural exchange is a way to promote human health on a broader scale. When members of distant tribes learn each other's songs and dances, when they exchange seeds and absorb symbiotic microbes, they are working toward the common good of our entire species.

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