When I’m teaching I can feel a change take place when a magic number of students is present. Before that, I am just talking to individuals one on one. When that critical mass is reached I can become a different person, the teacher, rather than just myself. 3 is apparently too few, it doesn’t make the change occur. 4 is at the edge, as is five. but somewhere in there, I can enter a state other than my normal mind. It is a remembering, performing, adapting and extemporizing mind. It’s a flow state for me and it is inaccessible when I am alone. And I enjoy it very much. But a similar effect happens to the class itself. With enough people and with a basic level of receptivity there is a tipping point for them as well where they become somehow attuned to a common frequency and it is as if we are a kind of energy flow machine where I give them energy in the form of confidence, good organization and information and their attention and enthusiasm gives energy back to me that absolutely heightens my delivery. There is a magic to the internal feeling for the exchange which is basic to its success. If students come to class with the idea that this is all drudgery, they pull me down with them. They hold onto my ankles and prevent take off. I can feel the lifeless lack of response and my job becomes harder. I am doing all the lifting and at the end I am not happy and energized, I am drained and flat.
This highly specific sort of exchange has a thousand parallels in the rest of our lives. Every two people when they meet have an exchange somewhat similar to this one. The magic of interpersonal chemistry obviously decides much of what happens next but the receiving of energy and flowing it back is basic to every encounter. I have certainly noticed that the sweetness and energy of other people seem to have a great deal to do with how I offer them energy and bounce back theirs. Some days the world seems harsh and grubby and no love or friendship seems able to jump the gap but then, on a sweet high energy day when I am open to people and taking them in with an open spirit, incredible things seem possible and on these days it seems obvious and easy. Obviously, something like my teaching experience seems to happen at shows and concerts and speeches. It seems to me that this is one of the points that we never properly own and take responsibility for: How much we determine the tone of everything that happens, how much energy and engagement really matter. We may be just one charged particle but if we are near a few others, amazing things can happen.
A third mind is created when any two meet; this mind talks to itself, finds a mood, an energy, a temperament, a personality; a self. This mind if excitement and energy are present, can consider amazing things, can tinker with subtleties and complexity. As the two-part, this mind disintegrates though it can be remembered with love or disgust or disinterest by its agents. It is a social molecule. As the number of people meeting rises, the new mind comes into being with different energies possible. Certain kinds of projects and tasks can be energized by small groups in a way that feels supernatural. Complexity is still possible with small groups. The excitement of an ensemble working to put on a show or start a business can be electric. There is often a feeling of “organizing” of becoming limbs and organs specializing and working in concert with the virtual body. Of course, many meetings create minds which are inert or dull or suspicious and sour. It’s simply that SOME mind will emerge at the moment of engagement. The energy that happens when motivated minds meet, this third mind, or these “virtual creature” minds can be enormously powerful but the power is essentially amoral. The power will flow if the “batteries” are present. If the mind is engineering reform or art or charity or terrorism…the energy is there.
Emergent human social behavior is not all good and positive. This energy can go dark and bloody in any mob. Hutus and Tutsis would not have massacred each other without this electric build up and overflow. The Nazis couldn’t have existed without it. When a demonstration becomes a riot it is this.
One of the scariest days of my life was in San Francisco after the 49ers won the Superbowl. The streets were full of people celebrating and in a moment that felt strangely like clouds covering the sun, the mood twisted. There were transitional moments: people shouting words of happiness that sounded oddly angry, people looking a little too hard to see if you were celebrating too. At this moment it was like they were looking for outsiders, looking for something to push back against. Soon things tipped and it was like wild animals except that wild animals do nothing like this. It was like a torrent of human craziness and anger, feeding on itself and igniting like flammable gas. And all because “We won!”. Except not really. I don’t think it had anything specific to do with the winning, except that there was a kind of build-up of a charge. A critical mass of charged up, energized humans bumped into each other like pressurized molecules. This is why large gatherings of people always have a risk component and why well planned large events feature effective guidance of group energy, logistics management, and at least a skeleton of police exuding the “remain orderly” pheromone. It’s just a guess but I bet losing teams have way fewer fan riots than winning teams.