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Polyphony and synchronization

Reader comment on item: You Need Beethoven to Modernize

Submitted by Edward Christie (Austria), Dec 20, 2005 at 09:13

An excellent article on a very deep (but slightly slippery) topic. It is very difficult to put one's finger exactly on what it is about musical differences between cultures that may hold lessons for understanding subsequent technological and organizational change. Bernard Lewis takes a shot at this very same issue in one of his books, and suggests that a taste and understanding of polyphonic music (e.g. Western music) is associated with a higher capacity for synchronized actions, and more generally for any exactly-timed multi-agent coordinated actions.

Middle Eastern music being essentially monophonic, one could speculate about relative differences in social outcomes, since some key elements of development require quite complex multiple coordination of tasks and roles following quite precise time constraints. In the same vein it has been suggested that Northern Europeans (and North Americans for that matter) have been wealthier than Southern Europeans consistently over the last century at least in part thanks to much more precise and consistent observance of meeting times and deadlines.
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