Jul. 8th, 2013 03:14 pm
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This video of tips from on making the most from your practice
is fascinating after just finishing _Guitar Zero_, as they are the same points made by the psychologist-author of _Guitar Zero_. Both emphasize the need to practice slowly and carefully so the student doesn't make learn bad habits, which are difficult to unlearn, and both mention that the foundation of playing well is through hours of practice, so that what starts out as a bunch of small steps requiring mental focus, such as chord changes, become an unthinking process where all those little parts merge into a whole.
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_Guitar zero : The new musician and the science of learning_ Gary F. Marcus (2012)

I loved this book, and I will be keeping it in the reread pile, because it is full of useful information for the would-be guitar player of any age. It is also suitable for the general reader, gently introducing some of the more technical terms used in both neuroscience and music theory, but never becoming bogged down with jargon. It's real strength, however, is that it provides a strong dose of encouragement for any adult who has thought of learning to play a musical instrument but felt overwhelmed by what seems to be the steep learning curve.
continued below cut )
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[W]ords at best offer only a distinctly limited window into the true nature of music....Even words that we take for granted aren't universal; pitches that we describe as "high" and "low" are described as "light" and "dark" in Norwegian.
from _Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning_
by Gary F. Marcus
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From the Harvard Bookstore newletter

Daniel C. Dennett
Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking
in conversation with Steven Pinker
Tues, May 7, at 6 PM
$5 tickets are on sale now
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Being a navigationally-challenged blind woman, I found this episode of RadioLand titled "Lost and Found" particularly fascinating. One of the things which I find curious about sighted people is how often they reduce navigation to a visual experience, when what is going on is really a multi-modal process, and this episode does a great job of explaining about that. Also, the segment with Charlie the Pigeon Man of Cornell is absolutely great, not only because how pigeons find their way home is really cool but because scientists are still compelled to admit f*** if they know how the birdbrains do it. Finally, the last segment is just a total tearjerker, because there can never be too many true stories about a blind woman and the guy with the not-so-secret-fuzzy-heart who loves her


Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:49 am
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It is almost impossible for me to read about the music of "The Wicker Man" while listening to New Orleans jazz. I had noticed the same dissonance while trying to read a British ghost story which was heavy on atmosphere.
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_What the Nose Knows: The Science of Smell in Everyday Life_ (2008) by Avery Gilbert

The author's description of himself demonstrates that he is definitely someone who gets to play in the overlap between science and media studies:
"...I'm a sensory psychologist, trained in evolutionary theory, animal behavior, and neuroscience. I'm a rational, evidence-based guy working in the most frothy, fashion-driven, marketing-heavy business outside of Hollywood....
The new science of smell is making us rethink everything from wine tasting to Smell-O-Vision. So it's time for a fresh look at odor perception and how it plays out in popular culture."

1. How many smells are there?
lengthy post below the cut )
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"The Brain's Politics: How Campaigns Are Framed and Why"

George Lakoff, Featured Event
Next Tuesday 5 PM | Bartos Theater

"Everything we learn, know and understand is physical — a matter of brain circuitry. This basic fact has deep implications for how politics is understood, how campaigns are framed, why conservatives and progressives talk past each other, and why progressives have more problems framing messages than conservatives do — and what they can do about it."
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blurb from

Watch or listen to this great series from the Library of Congress on streaming video or audio podcast. Project chair Kay Redfield Jamison convenes scientists and scholars, composers, performers, theorists, physicians, psychologists, and other experts to talk about cognitive neuroscience and music.
Here are some of the lectures in the series:

"The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature":
In this short talk, author Daniel Levitin suggests that in human history music came before language, and that throughout history music has almost always been accompanied by movement.

"Depression and Creativity Symposium":
Kay Redfield Jamison, Dr. Terence Ketter, and Dr. Peter Whybrow take a look at depression and bipolar disorder and their possible connection to creativity. They specifically discuss artists like Vincent van Gogh, Robert Schumann, and Felix Mendelssohn.

"The Mind of an Artist": Cognitive psychologist Michael Kubovy and composer Judith Shatin suggest that language and music are very closely related in the brain, and Kubovy shows findings on the brain's reaction to different types of music in comparison to the cognition of language.

"Music, Criminal Behavior, and Crime Prevention":
Norman Middleton of the Library of Congress Music Division starts the lecture with providing examples of how music has been used in regards to preventing crime and treating criminals. Then Dr. Jacqueline Helfgott talks about ways of discouraging criminal activity and anti-social behavior through the use of music in different environments.

"Wellness and Growth: Acoustic Medicine and Music Therapy": Jayne Standley, director of the Music Therapy Program at Florida State University, introduces music therapy and the many ways it has been applied in the medical profession while showing video examples of successful music therapy.

Enjoy these and many more lectures on "Music and the Brain" in this series of talks from the Library of Congress.
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By Tom Jacobs

block quote start
A newly published study
finds people are more likely to be moved and intrigued by abstract paintings if they have just experienced a good scare. This suggests the allure of art may be “a byproduct of one’s tendency to be alarmed by such environmental features as novelty, ambiguity, and the fantastic,” argues lead author Kendall Eskine, a research psychologist at Loyola University New Orleans.

....Their study was inspired by 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke,
who argued there is a strong link between fear and our experience of the sublime. To test this thesis, the researchers conducted an experiment featuring 85 Brooklyn College students.

....“Fear was the only factor found to significantly increase sublime feelings,” the researchers report. Having just been jolted by that frightening film clip
“resulted in significantly higher sublime scores than all other conditions, which did not differ significantly from each other.”

This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, according to Eskine and his colleagues, Natalie Kacinik and Jesse Prinz.

“At its core, fear is an emotional mechanism that increases survival chances by motivating fight, flight, or freezing responses to threatening situations,” they write. “Fear seizes one’s attention, halts current plans, and increases vigilance.”

As they point out, this dynamic is echoed in Burke’s description of the
experience of the sublime,
which the philosopher called “that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended.”
“The capacity of a work of art to grab our interest and attention, to remove us from daily life, may stem from its ability to trigger our evolved mechanisms
for coping with danger,” the researchers conclude.
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Kes: I don't think I agree that the intention of language is always to communicate information clearly, considering how much poetry, plays, songs, and other works created by wordsmiths tend to play with and exploit ambiguity in language; it seems to me that ambiguity must, to some degree, be intentionally cultivated, as opposed to an arbitrary circumstance.
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For the past two weeks I've been participating in a neuroscience study which requested blind participants evaluate word pairs for similarities. The person who informed me about the study said each survey would take 4 to 8 hours, and I was all cocky and like, oh, I read and I'm good with words, so it probably won't take *me* that long.

Realization: no matter how good you are at something, doing it 989 times in a row will set off your boredom threshhold until you want to run away screaming "No more, pleeeeeeze!!!"

I now have a whole new respect for lab monkeys.

This made me want to hear a monkey song, so here is my favorite one
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Kes: I am currently reading this book, and it may turn out to be my favorite nonfiction book of 2011. It's available through

Two Brains Running:
A review of
_Thinking, Fast and Slow_
by Daniel Kahneman

review by JIM HOLT

block quote start
Such sweeping conclusions, even if they are not endorsed by the author, make me frown. And frowning -- as one learns on Page 152 of this book -- activates the skeptic within us: what Kahneman calls 'System 2. Just putting on a frown, experiments show, works to reduce overconfidence; it causes us to be more analytical, more vigilant in our thinking; to question stories that we would otherwise unreflectively accept as true because they are facile and coherent.
And that is why I frowningly gave this extraordinarily interesting book the most skeptical reading I could.

System 2, in Kahneman's scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase 'bread and. . . . ' It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person's System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)
[Kes: another experiment in which I would love to participate.]

More generally, System 1 uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. System 1 proposes, System 2 disposes. So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? In principle, yes. But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is 'ego depletion.') Too often, instead of slowing things
down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is,' Kahneman writes, 'the automatic System 1 is the hero of this book. System 2 is especially quiescent, it seems, when your mood is a happy one.

At this point, the skeptical reader might wonder how seriously to take all this talk of System 1 and System 2. Are they actually a pair of little agents in our head, each with its distinctive personality? Not really, says Kahneman. Rather, they are 'useful fictions' -- useful because they help explain the quirks of the human mind.
block quote end

The NY Times book section has another, very brief, article on audiobooks which may be of interest:
by James Parker
Published: November 25, 2011
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Tadoma was a method whereby deaf-blind people would feel another person's face in order to interpret what that person was saying
excerpt from _See What I am Saying: The Extraordinary Power of Our Five Senses_ by Lawrence Rosenblum
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Last week at MIT's Emerging Technology conference, someone presented information regarding a study in which volunteers played Doom using a brain-computer interface
Note the link to a longer Computer World article about the study.
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Kes: unlike Aldous Huxley, who was, but this Orwell quote pretty well describes what it's it's like for me to try to focus on what everyone else is focusing on, as opposed to the thigns I see in my head, on which I have no trouble focusing.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" — George Orwell
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Kes: Perhaps this explains why I often hear something totally different than what someone actually said and, my brain being my brain, it is often more bizarre and interesting than what actually was said, which maybe helps explain why television and most Hollywood movies have become incredibly boring to me over the past year or two.
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Kes: I would be interested in someone studying how people might construct mind movies during imaginative/creative events, such as when someone reads to them or describes something to them


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