The following is an interview of Jason Del Gandio (phish.net user @JasonDG) about his article, “Pulsating with Love and Light.” The interview is part of an AMA series celebrating the publication of the “Phish and Philosophy” special issue of the Public Philosophy Journal, edited by Stephanie Jenkins and Charlie Dirksen. Jason will also be answering your questions in the comments throughout the week. The next post will feature Kristine Warrenburg Rome, so please submit your questions now.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? When was your first show? Why do you come back?
Hi, everyone! I am a college professor at Temple University in Philadelphia focusing on the theory and practice of social justice. My first show was back in 1993 (7/25, Waterloo Village). Not to sound cliché, but the collective vibe is what keeps me coming back. Besides live music, I also love traveling, stimulating conversation, the bustle of cities and the tranquility of nature, and I am passionate about changing the world for the better.
Why did you decide to write this essay? What do you want your readers to take away from it?
I saw this as an opportunity to connect my ideas about the vibe with the Phish experience, and hopefully share those ideas with a receptive audience. I am hoping that the essay gives people a language for articulating and understanding something we all talk about, but rarely define or explain.
You said the essay reflects your personal Phish experience. What’s your favorite encounter with the vibe?
I grew up in a household where the vibe was a common word. Then in my late teens I started going to concerts, clubs, raves, underground parties, etc. It’s there that the vibe stood out as real, tangible, experiential. One notable Phish vibe is 4/15/94, Beacon Theater. Without exaggeration, it was otherworldly. My 20-year-old mind asked: What is it, how might we explain it, and can it help change the world?
Have you written about the vibe elsewhere? For other audiences?
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the vibe back in 2002. I then worked on it sporadically over the years. The Phish essay was my transition back to the vibe. I recently launched a new project called the 20MinVibe. It’s an online educational space for learning about the vibe. It’s still developing, but it’s up and running. See: www.20minvibe.com and feel free to connect on social media! IG 20_minvibe and FB 20minvibe.
Do you think that Trey was able to get the vibe from the audience remotely during The Beacon Jams?
Yes, but I think it’s different. Proximity of bodies intensifies the vibe—making it thicker, deeper, richer, more intense. Sitting in our living rooms spread across the country lightens the collective vibe. It becomes more ether than body. It’s more dispersed and diffuse. But you’d have to ask Trey about his own experience!
You describe the vibe as something that is ubiquitous throughout society, and yet, it is a cornerstone of Phish culture. What is unique about the Phish vibe, from your perspective? Or rather, what can we discover about the vibe through Phish that we wouldn’t through another band?
Unlike some bands, Phish leads with the vibe, so it’s easier to notice and experience. I think this is influenced by their improvisational expertise. Being in the moment is helpful for experiencing the vibe. The psychological clutter is reduced and different kinds of knowing and experiencing can surface. A muddied magnifying glass doesn’t work. But cleaning it allows the light to shine through. You then see something different, something more.
I loved the emphasis on attending to the vibe and bodily emanation in your paper. This strikes me as having political implications for how we think about what constitutes knowledge. Can you say more about what we can glean or know by way of attending to what otherwise seems ever-present or too ephemeral to capture?
Here, politics means something different. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, but about how we live, how we exist. The vibe is a way of knowing that undermines the Western paradigm’s approach to reason and truth. Rather than seeking knowledge about the exterior world, the vibe is about knowing how we relate in the moment. We then orient to each other differently. Rather than following a prescribed set of actions and behaviors (wake, eat, work, sleep), we live emergently. How would global humanity live and exist if we all acted spontaneously, in the moment, like an improvisational jam without beginning or end? I pose this as a guiding ideal, not as an either/or dichotomy between predetermined and spontaneous action. But I think we can agree that vibing with each other in the moment is not valued within the current system of society.
Do you think the vibe *emerges from* all our physical attributes (facial expressions, movements, sounds uttered, clothes worn, etc.)? Do you think the vibe *is constituted by* our physical attributes? Or are you positing that there is something extra, beyond our physical attributes? Perhaps emerging from them, but not constituted by them? In other words, is the vibe akin to the temperature of a room, which emerges from and is constituted by the movement of the molecules in the room? Or is the vibe perhaps more akin to consciousness? We don't yet know whether consciousness is emergent (brain processes produce consciousness) or fundamental (consciousness produces reality). I suppose one view could be that the vibe is a form of collective consciousness, or that it emerges from individuals' conscious experiences.
I read this question as, Where does the vibe come from? And in all honesty, I don’t know. LOL. It’s like astronomers trying to understand the origin of the universe. The Big Bang is a theory, and it is perhaps the best theory we have right now. More discussion and discoveries will allow us to tweak or change that theory. This is how human knowledge advances. But we are finite creatures standing in wonder of the world. Same is true with the vibe. Having said that, my own bias is this: We are vibrating creatures that emerge from the vibe, contribute to the vibe, and eventually emerge back into the vibe. But we can also ask, What is the vibe? Is it physical or metaphysical, material or immaterial, scientific or science fiction, all of the above or none of the above, or something else entirely? (Sidenote: I developed a self-paced, online course about this. See What is the Vibe? An Introduction.)
What is your position on Cartesian dualism? Does the vibe exist in the physical realm, the mental realm, or both? Or is the vibe somewhere else? Something more?
I’ve also been fascinated by Rene Descartes (the 17th century French philosopher). Great thinker and writer. But I disagree with his mind/body dualism, and I begin from a different starting place: The mind is the body thinking about itself. This framework allows me to think about the vibe as “bodily emanation.” The body radiates or emits a tangible energy that can be approached as a form of communication, as a way of knowing, and as an existential guide for moving through the world. This helps us to think about the vibe in a more concrete way. But someone might ask about ghosts, spirits, or nonphysical phenomena that “give off a vibe.” For argument's sake, let’s just assume these are real. The concept of “bodily emanation” now asks us to think differently about bodies. Alive bodies, dead bodies, spirit bodies, ghost bodies, etc. Each of these examples has its own body, but each is a different kind of body. And each body emanates a different kind of vibe.
Is bodily emanation like the concept of double sensation in Merleau-Ponty? Is one concept better at explaining the collective vibe of the Phish scene?
Note to the non-academic Phans reading this: We’re about to get scholar nerdy!!! By double sensation, do you mean something like the experience of touching and being touched? And/or that we are in and of the very world that we are experiencing? Either way, I don’t think either concept (of double sensation or bodily emanation) is better or worse. Instead, each is trying to explain something different. I’ve read a lot of phenomenology (a branch of philosophy) and a lot of Merleau-Ponty (the mid-20th century French philosopher). Neither Merleau-Ponty nor other major phenomenologists are talking about the vibe. If we reduce the vibe to a metaphor for something else (like emotion or collective experience), then sure, they’re talking about “the vibe.” But I address the vibe as an actual phenomenon distinct from other forms of experience. And in this case, then yes, we are in and of the very vibe that we are experiencing—we emanate it and feel it, move it and are moved by it, simultaneously. But the vibe is different from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s synesthesia, or Edmund Husserl’s lifeworld, or Martin Heidegger’s Being.
You described the dark side of the vibe. What is your vibe ethics? If the vibe can be used to rip-off fans, can it also be channeled for good? Or is the vibe a neutral concept?
I think of the vibe, in and of itself, as neutral. Think of hitting a bongo. The sound vibrates out into the world. It’s just sound. But a seasoned percussionist knows how to manipulate the bongo into distinct songs. Some dancey, others mellow. Perhaps happy or sad. Fast or slow. The same is true with the vibe. In terms of ethics, that depends. I might give off a defensive vibe to safeguard myself. I might give off a vibe of support and care for someone I love. But at a metaphysical level, we could talk about good forces and evil forces emanating out into the entire universe, both seen and unseen. But that’s a heady convo that seems outside the scope of this interview!
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