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Nov
18th
Sun
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Human Brain Is Wired for Harmony


Musical score based on the neurological activity of a 31-year-old woman. Image: Lu et al./PLoS One

"Since the days of the ancient Greeks, scientists have wondered why the ear prefers harmony. Now, scientists suggest that the reason may go deeper than an aversion to the way clashing notes abrade auditory nerves; instead, it may lie in the very structure of the ear and brain, which are designed to respond to the elegantly spaced structure of a harmonious sound. (…) If the chord is harmonic, or “consonant,” the notes are spaced neatly enough so that the individual fibers of the auditory nerve carry specific frequencies to the brain. By perceiving both the parts and the harmonious whole, the brain responds to what scientists call harmonicity. (…)

“Beating is the textbook explanation for why people don’t like dissonance, so our study is the first real evidence that goes against this assumption” (…) It suggests that consonance rests on the perception of harmonicity, and that, when questioning the innate nature of these preferences, one should study harmonicity and not beating.” (…)

Sensitivity to harmonicity is important in everyday life, not just in music,” he notes. For example, the ability to detect harmonic components of sound allows people to identify different vowel sounds, and to concentrate on one conversation in a noisy crowd.”

See also:

☞ M.Cousineaua, J. H. McDermottb, I. Peretz, The basis of musical consonance as revealed by congenital amusia (2012)
☞ S.Leinoa, E. Bratticob, M.Tervaniemib, P. Vuust, Representation of harmony rules in the humanbrain: Further evidence from event-related potentials, 2007
☞ Brandon Keim, Listen: The Music of a Human Brain, Wired Science, Nov 15, 2012.

Mar
18th
Sun
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Are We “Meant” to Have Language and Music? How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man

                

"We’re fish out of water, living in radically unnatural environments and behaving ridiculously for a great ape. So, if one were interested in figuring out which things are fundamentally part of what it is to be human, then those million crazy things we do these days would not be on the list. (…)

At the top of the list of things we do that we’re supposed to be doing, and that are at the core of what it is to be human rather than some other sort of animal, are language and music. Language is the pinnacle of usefulness, and was key to our domination of the Earth (and the Moon). And music is arguably the pinnacle of the arts. Language and music are fantastically complex, and we’re brilliantly capable at absorbing them, and from a young age. That’s how we know we’re meant to be doing them, i.e., how we know we evolved brains for engaging in language and music.

But what if this gets language and music all wrong? What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? What if our endless yapping and music-filled hours each day are deeply unnatural behaviors for our species? (…)

I believe that language and music are, indeed, not part of our core—that we never evolved by natural selection to engage in them. The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. Rather, these pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains.

But how on Earth can one argue for such a view? If language and music have shaped themselves to be good for non-linguistic and amusical brains, then what would their shapes have to be?

They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain.

And language and music do nature-harness. (…) The two most important classes of auditory stimuli for humans are (i) events among objects (most commonly solid objects), and (ii) events among humans (i.e., human behavior). And, in my research I have shown that the signature sounds in these two auditory domains drive the sounds we humans use in (i) speech and (ii) music, respectively.

For example, the principal source of modulation of pitch in the natural world comes from the Doppler shift, where objects moving toward you have a high pitch and objects moving away have a low pitch; from these pitch modulations a listener can hear an object’s direction of movement relative to his or her position. In the book I provide a battery of converging evidence that melody in music has culturally evolved to sound like the (often exaggerations of) Doppler shifts of a person moving in one’s midst. Consider first that a mover’s pitch will modulate within a fixed range, the top and bottom pitches occurring when the mover is headed, respectively, toward and away from you. Do melodies confine themselves to fixed ranges? They tend to, and tessitura is the musical term to refer to this range. In the book I run through a variety of specific predictions.

Here’s one. If melody is “trying” to sound like the Doppler shifts of a mover—and thereby convey to the auditory system the trajectory of a fictional mover—then a faster mover will have a greater difference between its top and bottom pitch. Does faster music tend to have a wider tessitura? That is, does music with a faster tempo—more beats, or footsteps, per second—tend to have a wider tessitura? Notice that the performer of faster tempo music would ideally like the tessitura to narrow, not widen! But what we found is that, indeed, music having a greater tempo tends to have a wider tessitura, just what one would expect if the meaning of melody is the direction of a mover in your midst.

The preliminary conclusion of the research is that, human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior!

That’s just what we expect if we were never meant to do language and music. Language and music have the fingerprints of being unnatural (i.e., of not having their origins via natural selection)…and the giveaway is, ironically, that their shapes are natural (i.e., have the structure of natural auditory events).

We also find this for another core capability that we know we’re not “meant” to do: reading. Writing was invented much too recently for us to have specialized reading mechanisms in the brain (although there are new hints of early writing as old as 30,000 years), and yet reading has the hallmarks of instinct. As I have argued in my research and in my second book, The Vision Revolution, writing slides so well into our brain because it got shaped by cultural evolution to look “like nature,” and, specifically, to have the signature contour-combinations found in natural scenes (which consists mostly of opaque objects strewn about).

My research suggests that language and music aren’t any more part of our biological identity than reading is. Counterintuitively, then, we aren’t “supposed” to be speaking and listening to music. They aren’t part of our “core” after all.

Or, at least, they aren’t part of the core of Homo sapiens as the species originally appeared. But, it seems reasonable to insist that, whether or not language and music are part of our natural biological history, they are indeed at the core of what we take to be centrally human now. Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens.

So, what is it to be human? Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.

Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.

Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist, Are We “Meant” to Have Language and Music?, Discover Magazine, March 15th, 2012. (Illustration: Harnessed)

See also:

Mark Changizi, Music Sounds Like Moving People, Science 2.0, Jan 10, 2010.
☞ Mark Changizi, How To Put Art And Brain Together
☞ Mark Changizi, How we read
Mark Changizi on brain’s perception of the world
A brief history of writing, Lapidarium notes
Mark Changizi on Humans, Version 3.0.

Sep
30th
Fri
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Why Does Beauty Exist? Jonah Lehrer: ‘Beauty is a particularly potent and intense form of curiosity’

                          
                                Interwoven Beauty by John Lautermilch

Curiosity

"Here’s my (extremely speculative) theory: Beauty is a particularly potent and intense form of curiosity. It’s a learning signal urging us to keep on paying attention, an emotional reminder that there’s something here worth figuring out. Art hijacks this ancient instinct: If we’re looking at a Rothko, that twinge of beauty in the mOFC is telling us that this painting isn’t just a blob of color; if we’re listening to a Beethoven symphony, the feeling of beauty keeps us fixated on the notes, trying to find the underlying pattern; if we’re reading a poem, a particularly beautiful line slows down our reading, so that we might pause and figure out what the line actually means. Put another way, beauty is a motivational force that helps modulate conscious awareness. The problem beauty solves is the problem of trying to figure out which sensations are worth making sense of and which ones can be easily ignored.

Let’s begin with the neuroscience of curiosity, that weak form of beauty. There’s an interesting recent study from the lab of Colin Camerer at Caltech, led by Min Jeong Kang. (…)

The first thing the scientists discovered is that curiosity obeys an inverted U-shaped curve, so that we’re most curious when we know a little about a subject (our curiosity has been piqued) but not too much (we’re still uncertain about the answer). This supports the information gap theory of curiosity, which was first developed by George Loewenstein of Carnegie-Mellon in the early 90s. According to Loewenstein, curiosity is rather simple: It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.

The fMRI data nicely extended this information gap model of curiosity. It turns out that, in the moments after the question was first asked, subjects showed a substantial increase in brain activity in three separate areas: the left caudate, the prefrontal cortex and the parahippocampal gyri. The most interesting finding is the activation of the caudate, which seems to sit at the intersection of new knowledge and positive emotions. (For instance, the caudate has been shown to be activated by various kinds of learning that involve feedback, while it’s also been closely linked to various parts of the dopamine reward pathway.) The lesson is that our desire for more information – the cause of curiosity – begins as a dopaminergic craving, rooted in the same primal pathway that responds to sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I see beauty as a form of curiosity that exists in response to sensation, and not just information. It’s what happens when we see something and, even though we can’t explain why, want to see more. But here’s the interesting bit: the hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness. It’s what happens when we sense something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap, when a pattern is almost there, but not quite. I’m thinking here of that wise Leonard Cohen line: “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” Well, a beautiful thing has been cracked in just the right way.

Beautiful music and the brain

The best way to reveal the link between curiosity and beauty is with music. Why do we perceive certain musical sounds as beautiful? On the one hand, music is a purely abstract art form, devoid of language or explicit ideas. The stories it tells are all subtlety and subtext; there is no content to get curious about. And yet, even though music says little, it still manages to touch us deep, to tittilate some universal dorsal hairs.

We can now begin to understand where these feelings come from, why a mass of vibrating air hurtling through space can trigger such intense perceptions of beauty. Consider this recent paper in Nature Neuroscience by a team of Montreal researchers. (…)

Because the scientists were combining methodologies (PET and fMRI) they were able to obtain a precise portrait of music in the brain. The first thing they discovered (using ligand-based PET) is that beautiful music triggers the release of dopamine in both the dorsal and ventral striatum. This isn’t particularly surprising: these regions have long been associated with the response to pleasurable stimuli. The more interesting finding emerged from a close study of the timing of this response, as the scientists looked to see what was happening in the seconds before the subjects got the chills.
I won’t go into the precise neural correlates – let’s just say that you should thank your right nucleus accumbens the next time you listen to your favorite song – but want to instead focus on an interesting distinction observed in the experiment:


                                                      Click image to enlarge

In essence, the scientists found that our favorite moments in the music – those sublimely beautiful bits that give us the chills – were preceeded by a prolonged increase of activity in the caudate, the same brain area involved in curiosity. They call this the “anticipatory phase,” as we await the arrival of our favorite part:

Immediately before the climax of emotional responses there was evidence for relatively greater dopamine activity in the caudate. This subregion of the striatum is interconnected with sensory, motor and associative regions of the brain and has been typically implicated in learning of stimulus-response associations and in mediating the reinforcing qualities of rewarding stimuli such as food.

In other words, the abstract pitches have become a primal reward cue, the cultural equivalent of a bell that makes us drool. Here is their summary:

The anticipatory phase, set off by temporal cues signaling that a potentially pleasurable auditory sequence is coming, can trigger expectations of euphoric emotional states and create a sense of wanting and reward prediction. This reward is entirely abstract and may involve such factors as suspended expectations and a sense of resolution. Indeed, composers and performers frequently take advantage of such phenomena, and manipulate emotional arousal by violating expectations in certain ways or by delaying the predicted outcome (for example, by inserting unexpected notes or slowing tempo) before the resolution to heighten the motivation for completion.

(…)

While music can often seem (at least to the outsider) like an intricate pattern of pitches – it’s art at its most mathematical – it turns out that the most important part of every song or symphony is when the patterns break down, when the sound becomes unpredictable. If the music is too obvious, it is annoyingly boring, like an alarm clock. (Numerous studies, after all, have demonstrated that dopamine neurons quickly adapt to predictable rewards. If we know what’s going to happen next, then we don’t get excited.) This is why composers introduce the tonic note in the beginning of the song and then studiously avoid it until the end. They want to make us curious, to create a beautiful gap between what we hear and what we want to hear.

To demonstrate this psychological principle, the musicologist Leonard Meyer, in his classic book Emotion and Meaning in Music (1956), analyzed the 5th movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. Meyer wanted to show how music is defined by its flirtation with – but not submission to – our expectations of order. To prove his point, Meyer dissected fifty measures of Beethoven’s masterpiece, showing how Beethoven begins with the clear statement of a rhythmic and harmonic pattern and then, in an intricate tonal dance, carefully avoids repeating it. What Beethoven does instead is suggest variations of the pattern. He is its evasive shadow. If E major is the tonic, Beethoven will play incomplete versions of the E major chord, always careful to avoid its straight expression. He wants to preserve an element of uncertainty in his music, making our brains exceedingly curious for the one chord he refuses to give us. Beethoven saves that chord for the end.

According to Meyer, it is the suspenseful tension of music (arising out of our unfulfilled expectations) that is the source of the music’s beauty. While earlier theories of music focused on the way a noise can refer to the real world of images and experiences (its “connotative” meaning), Meyer argued that the emotions we find in music come from the unfolding events of the music itself. This “embodied meaning” arises from the patterns the symphony invokes and then ignores, from the ambiguity it creates inside its own form. “For the human mind,” Meyer writes, “such states of doubt and confusion are abhorrent. When confronted with them, the mind attempts to resolve them into clarity and certainty.” And so we wait, expectantly, for the resolution of E major, for Beethoven’s established pattern to be completed. This nervous anticipation, says Meyer, “is the whole raison d’etre of the passage, for its purpose is precisely to delay the cadence in the tonic.” The uncertainty – that crack in the melody – makes the feeling.

Why the feeling of beauty is useful

What I like about this speculation is that it begins to explain why the feeling of beauty is useful. The aesthetic emotion might have begun as a cognitive signal telling us to keep on looking, because there is a pattern here that we can figure out it. In other words, it’s a sort of a metacognitive hunch, a response to complexity that isn’t incomprehensible. Although we can’t quite decipher this sensation – and it doesn’t matter if the sensation is a painting or a symphony – the beauty keeps us from looking away, tickling those dopaminergic neurons and dorsal hairs. Like curiosity, beauty is a motivational force, an emotional reaction not to the perfect or the complete, but to the imperfect and incomplete. We know just enough to know that we want to know more; there is something here, we just don’t what. That’s why we call it beautiful.”

Jonah Lehrer, American journalist who writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience, and the relationship between science and the humanities, Why Does Beauty Exist?, Wired science, July 18, 2011

See also:

Beauty is in the medial orbitofrontal cortex of the beholder, study finds
Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty, TED, Lapidarium transcript
The Science of Art. A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience
☞ Katherine Harmon, Brain on Beauty Shows the Same Pattern for Art and Music, Scientific American, July 7, 2011

Sep
22nd
Thu
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Why harmony pleases the brain

"The key to pleasant music may be that it pleases our neurons. A new model suggests that harmonious musical intervals trigger a rhythmically consistent firing pattern in certain auditory neurons, and that sweet sounds carry more information than harsh ones.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, we have known that two tones whose frequencies were related by a simple ratio like 2:1 (an octave) or 3:2 (a perfect fifth) produce the most pleasing, or consonant, musical intervals. This effect doesn’t depend on musical training – infants and even monkeys can hear the difference. But it was unclear whether consonant chords are easier on the ears because of the way the sound waves combine in the air, or the way our brains convert them to electrical impulses. A new mathematical model presents a strong case for the brain.

"We have found that the reason for this difference is somewhere at the level of neurons," says Yuriy Ushakov at the N. I. Lobachevsky State University of Nizhniy Novgorod in Russia.

Ushakov and colleagues considered a simple mathematical model of the way sound travels from the ear to the brain. In their model, two sensory neurons react to different tones. Each sends an electrical signal to a third neuron, called an interneuron, which sends a final signal to the brain. The model’s interneuron fires when it receives input from either or both sensory neurons.

However, the signals from the sensory neurons arrive at the same time if the tone is consonant, and so the interneuron still fires just once, then waits until it “recharges” before it fires again. The result is a regular train of pulses.

By contrast, the signals from dissonant tones arrive at different times and so generate an irregularly spaced train of pulses in the interneuron.

The researchers took their analysis one step further, and calculated the amount of information each signal carries. In the terms of information theory, a random signal carries very little information; a signal with a discernable pattern carries more. So naturally, the consonant notes carry more information than dissonant ones. They then used this to calculate the information content of the pulse trains generated by consonant and dissonant tones.”

Lisa Grossman, Why harmony pleases the brain, New Scientist, 19 Sept 2011 (Illustration source)

Mar
27th
Sun
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Universal Property of Musical Scales Discovered

"Researchers at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC) of the University of Amsterdam have discovered a universal property of musical scales. Until now it was assumed that the only thing scales throughout the world have in common is the octave.

                      
                           (Credit: Image courtesy of Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA))

The many hundreds of scales in existence seem to possess a deeper commonality: if their tones are compared in a two or three-dimensional way by means of a coordinate system, they form convex or star-convex structures.

Convex structures are patterns without indentations or holes, such as a circle, square or oval. 

Almost all music in the world is based on an underlying scale from which compositions are built. In Western music, the major scale (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do) is the best known scale. However, there are many other scales in use, such as the minor and the chromatic scale. Besides these ‘traditional’ scales there are also artificial scales created by modern composers. At a superficial level, scales consist of an ascending or descending sequence of tones where the initial and final tones are separated by an octave, which means the frequency of the final tone is twice that of the initial tone (the fundamental).

1000 scales

By placing scales in a coordinate system (an ‘Euler lattice’) they can be studied as multidimensional objects. Dr. Aline Honingh and Prof. Rens Bod from the ILLC did this for nearly 1,000 scales from all over the world, from Japan to Indonesia and from China to Greece. To their surprise, they discovered that all traditional scales produced star-convex patterns. This was also the case with almost 97% of non-traditional, scales conceived by contemporary composers, even though contemporary composers often state they have designed unconventional scales. This percentage is very high, because the probability that a random series of notes will produce a star-convex pattern is very small. Honingh and Bod try to explain this phenomenon by using the notion of consonance (harmony of sounds). They connect their research results with language and visual perception where convex patterns have also been detected, possibly indicating a cognitive universal (a general cognitive property).”

Universal Property of Music Discovered, ScienceDaily, Mar. 25, 2011.

"Finally it may be noteworthy that star-convexity is not unique for musical scales, but seems to be a prevalent property in many other areas of human perception, from language (Gardenfors and Williams 2001) to vision (Jaeger 2009). In this light, the star-convexity of scales may perhaps only be an instantiation of a more general cognitive property for the domain of music.

See also: Aline Honingh, Rens Bod, In search of universal properties of musical scales (pdf), Institute for Logic, Language and Computation University of Amsterdam

Mar
5th
Sat
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Mark Changizi on How To Put Art And Brain Together

                    

"What initially looks like neuroscientific principles being used to explain artistic phenomena is, more commonly, suspect brain principles being used to explain artistic phenomena that may not exist. (A second common approach to linking art and the brain sciences goes in the other direction: to begin with a piece of art, and then to cherry-pick principles from the brain sciences to explain it.) (…)

We are, indeed, woefully ignorant of the brain, but we can make progress in explaining art. Here is the fundamental insight I believe we need: the arts have been culturally selected over time to be a “good fit” for our brain, and our brain has been naturally selected over time to be a good fit to nature …so, perhaps the arts have come to be shaped like nature, exactly the shape our brain came to be highly efficient at processing. For example, perhaps music has been culturally selected to be structured like some natural class of stimuli, a class of stimuli our auditory system evolved via natural selection to process. (See Figure 1.)

If the arts are as I describe just above – selected to harness our brains by mimicking nature – then we can pursue the origins of art without having to crack open the brain. We can, instead, focus our attention on the regularities found in nature, the regularities which our brains evolved to competently process. (…)

With the brain put on the shelf, the goal is, instead, to analyze nature, and use it to explain the structure of the arts. Is this really possible? And isn’t nature just as complicated as the brain, or, at any rate, sufficiently complicated that we’re headed for despair?

No. Nature is filled with simple regularities, many of them having physics or mathematical foundations. And although it may not be trivial to discover them, our hopes should be far greater than our hopes for unraveling the brain’s mechanisms. Our presumption, then, is that our brains evolved to “know” these regularities of nature, and if we, as scientists, can unravel the regularities, we have thereby unraveled the brain’s competencies. What regularities from nature am I referring to? For the remainder of this piece, I’ll give you three brief examples from my research. Only one is explictly about the arts, but all three concern the cultural evolution of human artifacts, and how they harness our brains via mimicking nature. (See Figure 2.)

The first concerns the origins of writing, and why letters are shaped as they are. Our visual systems evolved for more than a hundred million years to be highly competent at visually processing natural scenes. One of the most central features of these natural scenes was simply this: they are filled with opaque objects strewn about. And that is enough to lead to visual regularities in nature. (…)

The second concerns the origins of speech, and why speech sounds as it does. Our auditory systems evolved for tens of millions of years to be highly efficient at processing natural sounds.

Although nature consists of lots of sounds, one of the most fundamental categories of sound is this: solid-object events. Events among solid objects, it turns out, have rich regularities that one can work out. For starters, there are primarily three kinds of sound among solid objects: hits, slides and rings, the latter occurring as periodic vibrations of objects that have been involved in a physical interaction (namely a hit or a slide). Just as hit, slides and rings are the fundamental atoms of solid-object physical events, speech is built out of hits, slides and rings – called plosives, fricatives and sonorants. For another starter example, just as solid-object events consist of a physical interaction (hit or slide) followed by the resultant ring, the most fundamental simple structure across language is the syllable, most commonly of the CV, or consonant-sonorant form. (…)

Written and spoken language look and sound like fundamental aspects of nature: opaque objects strewn about and solid-objects interacting with one another, respectively. Writing thereby harnesses our visual object-recognition mechanisms, and speech harnesses our event-recognition mechanisms. Neither opaque objects nor solid objects are especially evocative sources in nature, and that’s why the look of most writing and the sound of most speech is not evocative. (…)

Music – the third cultural production I have addressed with a nature-harnessing approach – is astoundingly evocative. What kind of story could I give here? A nature-harnessing theory would have to posit a class of natural auditory stimuli that music has culturally evolved to mimic, but haven’t I already dealt with nature’s sounds in my story for speech? In addition to general event recognition systems, we probably possess auditory mechanisms specifically designed for the recognition of human behavior. Human gait, I have argued, has signature patterns found in the regularities of rhythm. Doppler shifts of movers have regularities that one can work out, and these regularities are found in music’s melodic contours. And loudness modulations due to proximity predict how loudness is used in music. (…)

Many other aspects of the arts are potentially treatable in a similar fashion. For example, color vision, I have argued is optimized for detecting subtle spectral shifts in other people’s skin, indicating modulations in their emotion, mood or state. That is, color vision is a sense designed for the emotions of other people, and it is possible to understand the meanings of colors on this basis, e.g., red is strong because oxygenated hemoglobin is required for skin to display it. The visual arts are expected to have harnessed our brain’s color mechanisms via using colors as found in nature, namely principally as found on skin. Again, the strategy is to understand art without having to unravel the brain’s mechanisms.

One of the morals I want to convey is that you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to take a brain-based approach to art. The brain’s competencies can be ferreted out without going inside, by carving nature at its joints, just the joints the brain evolved to carve at. One can then search for signs of nature in the structure of the arts. My hope is that via the progress I have made for writing, speech and music, others will be motivated to take up the strategy for grappling with all facets of the arts, and cultural artifacts more generally.”

Mark Changizi, cognitive scientist, author, How To Put Art And Brain Together, Science 2.0, March 4th 2010. (Picture source)

See also:

Mark Changizi on how we read
Are We “Meant” to Have Language and Music? How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man
Mark Changizi, Music Sounds Like Moving People, Science 2.0, Jan 10, 2010
Mark Changizi, Can Art and Brain Be Put Together?, Psychology Today, April 5, 2011.
Mark Changizi on Humans, Version 3.0.

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Willingness to Listen to Music Is Biological, Study of Gene Variants Suggests

                    

Our willingness to listen to music is biological trait and related to the neurobiological pathways affecting social affiliation and communication, suggests a recent Finnish study.

Music is listened to in all known cultures. Similarities between human and animal song have been detected: both contain a message, an intention that reflects innate emotional state that is interpreted correctly even among different species. In fact, several behavioral features in listening to music are closely related to attachment: lullabies are sung to infants to increase their attachment to a parent, and singing or playing music together is based on teamwork and may add group cohesion. (…)

Recent genetic studies have shown familial aggregation of tone deafness, absolute pitch, musical aptitude and creative functions in music. In this study, willingness to listen to music and the level of music education varied in pedigrees.

This is one of the first studies where listening to music has been explored at molecular level, and the first study to show association between arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene variants and listening to music. Previously, an association between AVPR1A and musical aptitude had been reported. AVPR1A gene is a gene that has been associated with social communication and attachment behavior in human and other species. The vasopressin homolog increases vocalization in birds and influences breeding in lizards and fishes. The results suggest biological contribution to the sound perception (here listening to music), provide a molecular evidence of sound or music’s role in social communication, and are providing tools for further studies on gene-culture evolution in music.”

Willingness to Listen to Music Is Biological, Study of Gene Variants Suggests, ScienceDaily, Feb. 28, 2011. (Picture source)

Jun
1st
Tue
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J.S. Bach - Canon Cancrizans, The crab canon

Animation created in POV-Ray by Jos Leys. Music performed by xantox with Post Flemish Harpsichord, upper manual

A crab Canon is an arrangement of two things that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome. Originally it is a musical term for a kind of canon in which one line is reversed in time from the other (e.g. FABACEAE <=> EAECABAF). A famous example is found in J. S. Bach's A Musical Offering (1747) (also known as “crab canon” or “canon cancrizans”), which also contains a canon (“Quaerendo invenietis”) combining retrogression with inversion, i.e., the music is turned upside down by one player, which is a table canon. The use of the term in non-musical contexts was popularized by Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach. (Wikipedia)

"The manuscript shows a single score, whose beginning joins with the end. This space is topologically equivalent to a bundle of the line segment over the circle, known as a Möbius strip. The simultaneous performance of the deeply related forward and backward paths gives appearance to two voices, whose symmetry determines a reversible evolution.” — (source: Canon 1 a 2)

                    
                                                              M.C. Escher, Crab

Structure

"Gamesmanship aside, this canon represents one of the 18th century’s most complex archetypes of double counterpoint.
The following table, where each column represents a scheme of simultaneously sounding voices, reveals what happens in but the counterpoint of the first measure (m. 1) with the last (m. 18).
This pattern is marvelously repeated in eight more measured pairs, gradually moving toward the center! The arrows represent forward (→) and backward (←) readings of the targeted measures.

Three-Dimensional Model

To make your canonic Möbius strip:
(1) Cut along the solid lines of the canon’s rectangle,
(2) Fold along the dotted line so that the music is visible on both sides,
(3) Wrap the strip, giving it a half twist, then tape the ends together so that the backward and forward clefs are next to each other.
To “perform” your model, one musician would start at each clef, read around the strip in the prescribed direction to the other clef, and then reverse directions.”

History of the Canon No.1 a 2 cancrizans (pdf), The Musical Offering, J. S. Bach

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Armonia by Remedios Varo, 1956.
"María de los Remedios Varo Uranga was a Spanish-Mexican mamacita with a classic look and artistic creations that look like demented Disney settings and characters. She was born December 16, 1908 in Anglés, Girona, Spain. She had a financially comfy childhood because her father was a hydraulic engineer (and no, I don’t mean Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre hydraulics, we’re taking water flow hydraulics). Thanks to Papa’s job, Varo had the opportunity to travel to Spain and South Africa quite often. Taking trips to places most will never see sparked a lifelong interest in math, mechanical drawing, and locomotor vehicles in young María." Source (via surrealism)

Armonia by Remedios Varo, 1956.

"María de los Remedios Varo Uranga was a Spanish-Mexican mamacita with a classic look and artistic creations that look like demented Disney settings and characters. She was born December 16, 1908 in Anglés, Girona, Spain. She had a financially comfy childhood because her father was a hydraulic engineer (and no, I don’t mean Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre hydraulics, we’re taking water flow hydraulics). Thanks to Papa’s job, Varo had the opportunity to travel to Spain and South Africa quite often. Taking trips to places most will never see sparked a lifelong interest in math, mechanical drawing, and locomotor vehicles in young María." Source (via surrealism)

Feb
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Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, De Musica, ca. 1120-1150. Manuscripts Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library (via National Library of New Zealand), (via marsiouxpial) 
Boëthius (ca. 480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus  and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Boethius, of the noble Anicius lineage, entered public life at a young age and was already a senator by the age of 25. Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he saw his two sons become consuls. Boethius was executed by King Theodoric the Great, who suspected him of conspiring with the Byzantine Empire.
Boethius&#8217; De institutione musica, was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice between the years of 1491 and 1492. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and helped medieval authors during the ninth century understand Greek music.
In his &#8220;De Musica&#8221;, Boethius introduced the fourfold classification of music: 1. Musica mundana — music of the spheres/world; 2. Musica humana — harmony of human body and spiritual harmony; 3. Musica instrumentalis — instrumental music (incl. human voice); 4. Musica divina — music of the gods  During the Middle Ages
Boethius was connected to several texts that were used to teach liberal arts. Although he did not address the subject of trivium, he did write many treatises explaining the principles of rhetoric, grammar, and logic. During the Middle Ages, his works of these disciplines were commonly used when studying the three elementary arts.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, De Musica, ca. 1120-1150. Manuscripts Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library (via National Library of New Zealand), (via marsiouxpial)

Boëthius (ca. 480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Boethius, of the noble Anicius lineage, entered public life at a young age and was already a senator by the age of 25. Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he saw his two sons become consuls. Boethius was executed by King Theodoric the Great, who suspected him of conspiring with the Byzantine Empire.

Boethius’ De institutione musica, was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice between the years of 1491 and 1492. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and helped medieval authors during the ninth century understand Greek music.

In his “De Musica”, Boethius introduced the fourfold classification of music: 1. Musica mundana — music of the spheres/world; 2. Musica humana — harmony of human body and spiritual harmony; 3. Musica instrumentalis — instrumental music (incl. human voice); 4. Musica divina — music of the gods During the Middle Ages

Boethius was connected to several texts that were used to teach liberal arts. Although he did not address the subject of trivium, he did write many treatises explaining the principles of rhetoric, grammar, and logic. During the Middle Ages, his works of these disciplines were commonly used when studying the three elementary arts.

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Musical Toy
Etching published by John Hatchard and John Harris in 1811. Circular game board with lines of musical notation, divided into 12 segments, with scales in the centre. (via BibliOdyssey)

Musical Toy

Etching published by John Hatchard and John Harris in 1811. Circular game board with lines of musical notation, divided into 12 segments, with scales in the centre. (via BibliOdyssey)

Jan
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The Genealogy of Pop / Rock Music 1955-1978 by Reebee Garofalo

The Genealogy of Pop / Rock Music 1955-1978 by Reebee Garofalo