Medieval Arab philosophy not a cause of global warming
November 7, 2006
I was wondering the other day why people sing in the shower and whether more people sing there than in the bath. (Well, now Richard Dawkins has disposed of God and it looks as if the US friendly Iraqis will dispose of Saddam Hussein, what is there left to think about?) My own experience suggests it is the shower that wins- I admit to singing frequently in the shower but never in the bath. Reading in the bath, yes (which is something it is more difficult to do in a shower), daydreaming and drinking a glass of Chardonnay, plenty, listening to Wagner, too, but never singing. A search in Google seems to confirm my theory that more people enliven their shower with vocal renditions- 215,000 results as opposed to 11,300 for singing in the bath.
It appears, however, that singing in the bath has a respectable history, going back at least to Ibn Khaldûn, the philosopher, historian and politician, who was born in Tunis in 1332. In his major work, the Muqaddimah, he writes:
“Joy and gladness are due to expansion and diffusion of the animal spirit. Sadness is due to the opposite, namely, contraction and concentration of the animal spirit. It has been shown that heat expands and rarefies air and vapours and increases their quantity. A drunken person experiences inexpressible joy and gladness, because the vapour of the spirit in his heart is pervaded by natural heat, which the power of the wine generates in his spirit. The spirit, as a result, expands, and there is joy. Likewise, when those who enjoy a hot bath inhale the air of the bath, so that the heat of the air enters their spirits and makes them hot, they are found to experience joy. It often happens that they start singing, as singing has its origin in gladness.”
In my view, this is wiser than most of the Koran and it’s a shame that the North African sage is not followed more closely by Muslims today. Nice to think that while the peasants in England were revolting and the Popes of Rome and Avignon were locked in a bitter power struggle, Ibn Khaldûn, as well as being Prime Minister for Hafsid sultan of Bougie, was able to devote his time to daydreaming in the bath.
His explanation is certainly more appealing than the modern “scientific” one that the acoustics of a shower adds reverb and bass boost so that my out of tune warblings will sound like Pavarotti. I don’t think the people (sorry, person) in the shower cares what they sound like*. Others have speculated that it is about being naked with water running over our bodies, the result of some kind of chemical reaction that takes place when were are exposed to steamy water or simply that we have nothing else to do. I know that if I have an awkward letter to write or a decision to make there’s nothing like a shower to focus the mind. All of which leads me to have some sympathy for Australians after EnergyAustralia has started discouraging people from exercising the vocal cords in the bathroom. Apparently “non-essential activities” in the shower are adding 9.08 minutes to a normal scrub, and this is contributing to global warming, EnergyAustralia says. At the very least, they say, if you have to sing you should sing short songs, no complete acts from La Traviata, for example. When it comes to songs that last a long time the Lisu people must hold the world record. I asked the other day how long a song I was recording normally lasted and was told ‘one week, day and night’ (with alternating singers, though). Just as well there are no showers in Lisu villages. Not that I go along with EnergyAustralia, though. For a start how is itthat in China, one of the worst contributors to global warming, there is no tradition of singing in the shower and baths are practically unheard of? I believe that if world leaders spent a little more time soaking in their baths they might be better disposed towards one another as well as finding a solution to the problems of climate change.
technology for the unrepentant ablutionary vocalist
* I might be wrong on this. One blogger has written: “When you go home and sing ”Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in the shower, you can elevate your own personal life to an art form. This can be very affirming.” And empowering, no doubt as well.