VA - Trance In Motion - Sensual
The possible adaptive significance of rhythmic ability is suggested by the complexity of dynamics involved in sexual activities. First, in order to generate steady rhythmic motion, it is necessary for the nervous system to drive motoric effector systems with precise frequencies and amplitudes such that forces spatially and temporally align to regulate the frequency of ongoing oscillations. Establishing rhythms is no small task (Burger, Thompson, Luck, Saarikallio, & Toiviainen, 2014; Merchant, Grahn, Trainor, Rohrmeier, & Fitch, 2015; Merchant & Honing, 2014), even with respect to moving a single body. These control challenges are further compounded when this body is being used to precisely stimulate a separate mechanical system, which may itself be oscillating or gyrating.
VA - Trance In Motion - Sensual
Furthermore, optimal sexual interaction involves modulating activity based on cues ranging from gross movements, to vocal signals, to subtle patterns of emotional expression. The more variables to be integrated, the more difficult this integration becomes, and the more sophistication required for the controlling nervous system. Some of these factors would be important for all reproducing organisms; others would be unique to humans. Human sexual performance depends on being capable of not only switching between multiple rhythms, but of inferring the best times for these changes. In this way, sexual interactions may test not only the sensorimotor quality of mates but also the sensitivity of their social intelligence.
Rhythmic ability is fundamental in sexual selection (Darwin, 1872; Fusani, Barske, Day, Fuxjager, & Schlinger, 2014), with similar evolutionary logic applying to human coitus, bird song, and even the courtship of invertebrate insects (Griffith & Ejima, 2009). However, there may be unique mechanisms by which sexual compatibility and orgasm function as tests of mate quality in humans. In many animals, sexual climax may simply be a matter of triggering a switch in operating modes for specific pattern generating nuclei that originally evolved to control ejaculation in males (Truitt & Coolen, 2002). Although such evolutionarily ancient adaptations could be sufficient for explaining many aspects of orgasm, rhythms may also explain important response properties in more recently evolved structures, such as the neo-cortex. Specifically, I propose that rhythms may be particularly likely to affect cortical dynamics via entrainment of neural synchrony, thus enhancing perceptual vividness and emotional intensity.
Music and dance may be the only things that come close to sexual interaction in their power to entrain neural rhythms and produce sensory absorption and trance (Doelling & Poeppel, 2015). Indeed, this may be one of the primary reasons we sing and dance (Sievers, Polansky, Casey, & Wheatley, 2013; Trost & Vuilleumier, 2013). That is, the reasons we enjoy sexual experiences may overlap heavily with the reasons we enjoy musical experience, both in terms of proximate (i.e. neural entrainment and induction of trance-like states) and ultimate (i.e. mate choice and bonding) levels of causation (Tinbergen, 1963).
Even the psychological phenomenon of flow may be largely explainable in terms of entrainment-facilitated trance, because flow is often induced by directed attention towards rhythmic activities (Csíkszentmihályi, 1991; Tolstoy, 1914), or may involve rhythmic engagement with otherwise non-rhythmic tasks. Six factors have been identified as characterizing flow states (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997): 1) intensely focused concentration, 2) merged action and awareness, 3) loss of self-consciousness, 4) personal effectiveness, 5) alterations of subjective time, and 6) intrinsic reward. Most of these factors would be similarly apt for describing the kinds of peak experiences associated with sexual rhythms, and rhythm-induced trance-like states may be an important reason that sex is such an effective source of flow. Both sexual and non-sexual flow states may be rewarding because of enhanced engagement with pleasurable activities, allowing self-processes to be outcompeted for attentional resources, thus allowing for deeper pleasurable engagement.
In these ways, the neurophenomenology of orgasm is both similar to and continuous with other forms of sexual trance. However, unique aspects of orgasmic experience arise from major physiological and neuroendocrine changes accompanying sexual climax. Specifically, when evolutionarily conserved central pattern generators receive a sufficient amount of combined bottom-up and top-down stimulation (Johnson, 2006; Komisaruk & Whipple, 2011), multiple kinds of rhythmic smooth muscle contractions are triggered in the pelvic region (Bohlen, Held, & Sanderson, 1980; Bohlen, Held, Sanderson, & Ahlgren, 1982; Truitt & Coolen, 2002; van Netten, Georgiadis, Nieuwenburg, & Kortekaas, 2008). Furthermore, these central pattern generators may also send collaterals to both hypothalamic and brainstem nuclei that regulate neuromodulator, neuropeptide, and opioid levels (Pfaus et al., 2012; Young & Alexander, 2012). Alternatively, more indirect pathways might be involved, as would be the case if spontaneous muscle contractions themselves caused systemic neurochemical changes, perhaps via ascending inputs from stretch-receptor stimulation (Ferguson, 1941; Odent, 1987). Regardless of the specific causes of release of these neuromodulatory substances, the likely neural consequences are increased excitation and disinhibition of multiple neural systems, as well as enhanced plasticity in the most active neuronal networks (Camacho, Portillo, Quintero-Enríquez, & Paredes, 2009; He et al., 2015; Pan, Schmidt, Wickens, & Hyland, 2005). Moreover, to the extent that trance is associated with strongly synchronous neural activity, this may allow for the greatest degree of convergent inputs to hypothalamic and brainstem structures, thus causing the release of these hormones and neurochemicals to coincide with peak trance.
This kind of multidetermination for orgasmic responding (e.g. based on both partner rhythmic ability and perceived partner salience) may be adaptive for species with sophisticated cognitive abilities, because it allows greater flexibility in releasing the powerfully rewarding mechanisms underlying sexual trance and orgasm. More specifically, although rhythmic capacity may be an honest indicator of organismic fitness (Broek & Todd, 2009; Hugill et al., 2010; Neave et al., 2010; Röder et al., 2015), it may be evolutionarily adaptive to consider (or place even greater emphasis on) additional criteria in deciding whether to trigger high-threshold reproductive mechanisms. This may be because organisms with complex nervous systems may also encounter (or construct) complex and dynamic niches within which fitness criteria change rapidly. Or, it may be the case that biased sensitivities to some fitness-indicating features may be too complex to pre-program into the nervous system (e.g. predictors of the probability of having future resources in a particular culture). And so, flexible conditions for orgasm may have allowed natural selection to leverage the power of general-purpose learning mechanisms for flexibly adaptive mate choice, rather than solely relying on the evolution (and evolvability) of specific cognitive adaptations.
Finally, substantial (but not insurmountable) technical challenges are faced in attempting to test for entrainment between nervous systems (Acquadro, Congedo, & De Riddeer, 2016; Sänger, Müller, & Lindenberger, 2013), including the possibilities of insufficiently corrected neuromuscular and motion artifacts in electromagnetic signals, as well as additional ways in which spurious associations might be observed (Burgess, 2013).
Some people who use ASMR are solely after the tingly effects, while others seek to experience other specific feelings, such as a euphoric calm, deep relaxation, trance-like state, and/or falling asleep.
Hershfield HE, Scheibe S, Sims TL, Carstensen LL. When feeling bad can be good: Mixed emotions benefit physical health across adulthood. Soc Psychol Personal Sci. 2013;4(1):54-61. doi:10.1177/1948550612444616
Special-effects master Ray Harryhausen provides the hero (Kerwin Mathews) with a villanous magician (Torin Thatcher) and fantastic antagonists, including a genie, giant cyclops, fire-breathing dragons, and a sword-wielding animated skeleton, all in glorious Technicolor. And of course no mythological tale would be complete without the rescue of a damsel in distress, here a princess (Kathryn Grant) that the evil magician shrinks down to a mere few inches. Harryhausen's stunning Dynamation process, which blended stop-motion animation and live-actions sequences, and a thrilling score by Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho," "The Day the Earth Stood Still") makes this one of the finest fantasy films of all time.Expanded essay by Tony Dalton (PDF, 900KB)
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This faithful adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic pacifist novel is among the greatest antiwar films ever made, remaining powerful more than 80 years later, thanks to Lewis Milestone's inventive direction. Told from the perspective of a sensitive young German soldier (Lew Ayres) during WWI, recruited by a hawkish professor advocating "glory for the fatherland." The young soldier comes under the protective wing of an old veteran (Louis Wolheim) who teaches him how to survive the horrors of war. The film is emotionally draining, and so realistic that it will be forever etched in the mind of any viewer. Milestone's direction is frequently inspired, most notably during the battle scenes. In one such scene, the camera serves as a kind of machine gun, shooting down the oncoming troops as it glides along the trenches. Universal spared no expense during production, converting more than 20 acres of a large California ranch into battlefields occupied by more than 2,000 ex-servicemen extras. After its initial release, some foreign countries refused to run the film. Poland banned it for being pro-German, while the Nazis labeled it anti-German. Joseph Goebbels, later propaganda minister, publicly denounced the film. It received an Academy Award as Best Picture and Milestone was honored as Best Director.Expanded essay by Garry Wills (PDF, 713KB)Lobby card