Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Brain and I

I am up to chapter 5 and I am starting to get interested in This is your Brain on Music by D. Levitin. For me he's most interesting when he's talking about something besides music. Oh well.

According to him, my theory about what a melody is is constructivist. Cool! I'm happy to be a constructivist.

I have long thought that philosophy and psychology were bullshit occupations, and am happy to see the new empirical approaches he describes. If you can't test it, you don't know it.

I recall long ago reading a book called Philosophy in a New Key by Susanne Langer that I liked a lot. It led me to think that the mind is always specifically looking for categories. This may even be its primary activity.

Art is often trying to contradict or alter this. Whistler painted a picture of his mother that isn't called "Whistler's Mother"--it's officially called "Arrangement in Gray and Black." You and I are seeing his mother sitting in a chair facing left. We mostly register the colors much later. Whistler is doing a color study. His mind is also categorizing, but the categories are completely different.

The mind basically doesn't want anything left uncategorized. If it hears a row of notes, it will try to form them into a familiar melody, no matter how unlikely the formation may seem. My theory is consistent with Levitin's narrative of the empirical results. The idea that nothing is left uncategorized is missing here, as near as I can understand it. He just talks about putting things into categories or leaving them out. Langer talked about meaning rather than categories, but the idea is the same--the primary function is to assign meaning to everything. Please note that this is the opposite of a computer which always looks for an exact match.

Test this out: look around you and try to find something that no meaning has been assigned to, that doesn't fall into any category. Then try it on sounds.

Using this theory, we can define a game as a non-serious occupation. The mind wishes to categorize everything as serious or a game. Which one are you? This blog is a game with a semi-serious surface. The game definition must include the awareness that the mind wishes for nothing to remain uncategorized.

Now we're getting somewhere.

P.S. As usual, I am free associating. If you want to know what he says, you will have to read it yourself.

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