Jeff Thomas
Jeff Thomas

He studied music with Pablo Casals, discovered the universal brainwave patterns of human emotions, and coined the term cyborg: a profile of Dr. Manfred Clynes

INTO THE DOCTOR’S study as into the Sibyl’s cave I go spelunking. I tiptoe between piles of dog-eared manuscripts, musical scores, software manuals, newspapers, learned journals. Occasionally a leaf flutters and falls aslant a neighboring pile. I edge around high-tech gizmos extruding wires, coils, cables, CDs, DVDs, LCDs, RSVPs from VIPs. Everything is everywhere. I sidle past telephones, desktops, laptops, stalagmites of speakers with prodigious woofers and sharp-beaked tweeters, finally arriving at the center of the high-ceilinged chamber where, crouching between two grand pianos, Dr. Manfred Clynes sorts through recordings of his latest composition while working out the program for an upcoming concert performance in Vienna (on the bill so far are Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Beethoven’s Eroica), piggybacked on a biocybernetics conference.

Meeting Dr. Clynes as I did last year counts as one of the most remarkable coincidences of my life. I had been tormenting my junior college theater students with my annual spiel on the unity of all the arts: how visual, aural, literary, and dramatic composition all emerge from the same deep inner principles. That semester, for reasons unknown, I recollected a PBS NOVA episode I had seen a couple of decades ago in which an experimental subject, to express a suggested emotion, pressed his thumb against a sensor, producing a characteristic line pattern on a computer screen—a simple transformation converted that into a sound-shape*. Then the sound-shape was played for diverse and distant people (including undergrads at UC Berkeley, medical students in New South Wales, and Australian aboriginals) who unfailingly identified the original, generative emotions. Feeling to visual shape to sound-shape and back to feeling again! “Find that old NOVA episode,” says the note still pinned to my door frame. (My house is a Sibyl’s cave as well.) “Is a video available from PBS?”

In an Irish pub in Sonoma, California, an old street performer pal, Ron Singer, a Floating Lotus Magic Opera vet, onetime familiar of Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy, and other flora of the ’60s spiritual renaissance, introduced me to an old fellow he had recently befriended. A merry Greis he was—to employ the expression famously used of Goethe—a merry old venerable. The Greis lent a sympathetic and intelligent ear to my beer-fed self-inflated natterings on the aforementioned topic. At last, he cocked his head with a bemused and penetrating look: “But that was me.


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