Sometimes very active discussions about peripheral issues overwhelm a thread, so this is a permanent home for those conversations.
I’ve opened a new “Sandbox” thread as a post as the new “ignore commenter” plug-in only works on threads started as posts.
Good to hear from you.
I took a look at that facebook link, and there do seem to be some interesting comments. But I never did join facebook, so I’ll be giving it a pass.
FB has its downsides for sure. The main one of course is that it’s a time suck. But that’s true of this place too! Anyhow, nice just to see the names of folks here again! Does Bruce ever post here anymore?
It has been a long time since he last posted.
As Neil said, it’s been a while. I sent an email to the address he registered with but it looks like one that was set up merely for that purpose.
@Alan Fox – a new blog post awaiting approval.
I seem to recall some prior discussions here of various styles of cogitating/thinking. I remember in particular Keiths urging me to try to picture Mitt Romney on a bicycle. Anyhow, this recent New Yorker article, which refers to a couple of books as well as a Dennett paper contains some interesting info on this subject: Link to Newyorker
I remember that! You had said that you were unable to form a mental picture of the layout of your own house, and which rooms were adjacent to which. I was curious to learn what your mental images were like and what details they did and didn’t incorporate, so I asked you to try visualizing a series of scenarios that differed in the level of detail required.
Thanks for the link. That article sounds interesting.
I found our discussion. It starts here.
A few excerpts:
I know that you’re a musician and a music critic, so I’m guessing that you can “hear” music in your head. At what level of detail?
The only actual sound I’m hearing right now is the hum of the refrigerator, but I’m “hearing” the song “The Element Within Her” by Elvis Costello. The timbre of the voice is unmistakably his, and I can hear the harmonies, the backing vocals, and all of the instrumental parts. But oddly, the drum part sometimes goes missing. (I’ve noticed that with other music too.) Maybe because the rhythm is implicit in the other elements, and so my brain doesn’t expend as much effort on the percussion?
What is it like for you when you hear music in your head?
This is interesting. I have little ability to visualize faces. I have trouble visualizing family members in detail. I can do some iconic faces like Beethoven, probably because they are usually portrayed by a single static image.
I don’t know if I could recognize Romney in a lineup.
But I can describe my living room, even down to the placement of a grocery bag that someone left lying around. I can predict if a new piece of furniture will fit.
If I open a cabinet I can tell I if something is missing or has been moved.
I think kinesthetically. I remember where things are by remembering the act of placing them. If someone else moves them, I may not see them.
It’s fascinating stuff, isn’t it?
Based on our ability to understand and relate to the behavior of others, it’s easy to overestimate the similarities between their ways of thinking and ours, and between the nature of their conscious experiences and ours.
I was blown away upon learning that walto would be unable to draw the floor plan of his own house. He’s obviously a very intelligent and high-functioning person, and he’s clearly found ways to work around the limitations of his spatial abilities, so I imagine you’d have to spend a considerable bit of time around him before realizing that his spatial experience of the world was as different as it actually is. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the very notion of a “mental picture” is something he cannot relate to.
I am similarly baffled by people who are effortlessly able to produce realistic drawings of people, things, and landscapes. I am completely incapable of doing that; my drawings all come out looking like the portraits in that Kayak ad. Drawing is magic that I am unable to perform. I haven’t given up hope of learning (see Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, for instance), but for now skill in drawing seems like an alien ability to me.
I have music playing in my head constantly. It’s actually exciting to me when I occasionally observe myself without a song going through my head. I took this constant music for granted for the longest time, and I still remember my shock upon learning that other people’s brains don’t work this way, and that they can go for long stretches without “hearing” any such mental music. Another shocker for me was when a psychologist friend told me that when she heard songs in her head, they were always in her own voice, not the artist’s!
Synesthetes tell stories about “knowing” that the number 7 is brown, say, and being flabbergasted upon learning that most other people not only disagree that 7 is brown, they disagree that it has a color at all.
Then there is the philosophical debate over whether inverted qualia are possible.
Some time ago, I saw it asserted by some fairly prominent thinkers that all thought is verbal. (I can’t remember off the top of my head who they were, though I could probably dig up some quotes if I absolutely needed to.) I remember being shocked by the assertion because visual thinking is essential in my chosen profession of computer engineering. To be a successful computer engineer without visual thinking seems impossible to me. I use visual thinking all the time.
Today’s discussion made me think of that. The people who made that assertion were obviously wrong, but I wonder if that was because they were just unaware that they used visual thinking, or whether they truly lacked the ability to think visually.
Confirmation of Dennett’s idea of the (so far, unbridgeable) gulf between first person experience and third person explanation.
“Did you move my stuff?” is a common refrain if mine. Mentally retracing steps works for me (sometimes) in locating misplaced objects.
People can be so binary. What would interest me is the ability to switch off unbidden thoughts distracting from matters in hand.
I envy those who claim meditation works for them in controlling the thought process.
I find keith’s questions really hard to answer. I get musical “earworms” almost instantly. Our freaking microwave plays a little ditty when it’s done with anything, rather than just buzzing, and I spend hours almost every day humming little variations on the damn thing. So annoying. My daughter knows how easy it is to stick a worm in my head and will occasionally sing or play a bit of a tune on her phone sometimes just to torment me. (I grimace. She says “You’re welcome.”)
But I’m not sure whether I “hear” this stuff or just sort of sing it to myself. I’m good at whistling and am one of those guys who can play recognizable stuff by knocking his fist on his head or slapping his face, and I may be barely changing my mouth cavity as these tunes go through me. I guess it seems like a matter of silently singing to myself just as we sometimes “talk to ourselve”. But I’m not sure one “hears” either of those things–even if we can’t get them “out of our heads.”
Re the spatial stuff. It remains embarrassing. I open the wrong drawers in our house and miss the turn to our road all the time even though we’ve lived in this place for nearly 30 years. I still couldn’t accurately describe the layout to the house, never mind draw it. When our bedroom is dark, I have trouble finding the door. My family laughs at this, but again, it’s really embarrassing to me to have never had any sense of direction (if that’s what this is) at all. GPS made a huge improvement in my life.
Haha. I know exactly what you’re talking about. My front door lock makes a noise when it locks itself, and it sounds just like the standalone chord at the beginning of the Elliott Smith song “In the Lost and Found”. Every frikkin’ time I come home, the lock chirps and inserts that damn song into my head. I tried to outsmart it once by locking the door myself, before it had a chance to chirp, but the mere thought of what I was trying to do caused the song to start playing in my head anyway. It’s like trying not to think of a purple elephant.
The thing that saves me from hours of torment is that I can evict an undesired song from my head and replace it with one that I like. It’s kind of like having a mental jukebox.
The autoplaying mental music has some interesting quirks. There was a scratch in a Byrds album I listened to as a kid, and for the longest time, whenever that album was “playing” in my head, it would start skipping at that point. (For any whippersnappers who don’t know what I’m talking about, this is what it sounded like. You’d have to give the arm a little nudge to get it past whatever was causing it to skip.) I would notice the mental music skipping, and I would have to pause and concentrate in order to nudge it past that point.
Luckily, after listening to the album enough times in digital form, the skip got erased and no longer happened when I was playing the album mentally.
For me, it’s a pretty vivid and detailed experience. I’m “hearing” the voice of the actual singer, and the instrumental parts all “sound” realistic. I can tell that I’m not actually hearing the music, so it’s not like an auditory hallucination, but what I’m “hearing” possesses practically all of the qualities that the real music has. It can even give me chills at the same spots the real music does.
I’ve often wondered whether my auditory cortex lights up when I’m hearing mental music. It sure feels like I’m “injecting” the music fairly early in the sensory chain.
Oliver Sacks on his prosopagnosia (face blindness):
Oliver Sacks: Face Blindness
I Do Recognize My Friends: Oliver Sacks on Face Blindness
I had a college friend who had no ability to tell the shape of things by touch.
He had a car with shaped controls for things like the radio and heater. I assume so you didn’t need to take your eyes off the road.
He could not tell the difference between a triangular knob and a round knob.
When he reached into his pocket, could he tell the difference between his keys and his coins?
A final comment on mental music as I experience it.
I mentioned that it is easy for me to “evict” undesired songs from my head, which saves me from the torment that earworms inflict on so many people. One consequence of that ease, though, is that it’s easy for external stimuli to change the song I’m ‘hearing’, as in the case of my door lock that I described earlier.
A recent example is that I was reading about flood damage in Laurel Canyon, and the song ‘Twelve Thirty’ by the Mamas and the Papas started playing in my head, in which the chorus begins ‘Young girls are coming to the canyon…’. The canyon being referred to in that song is Laurel Canyon, and it’s where a lot of the rock musicians of that era lived.
The link is pretty obvious in that case, but sometimes it’s a little less so. I was standing in line at Target once and next to the register I saw a product with the brand name ‘Ciao Bella’. The song ‘Marabi Bell 800’, by West Nkosi, started playing in my head. The connection? One of the singers yells ‘Cow bella!’ and starts whanging on a cow bell, and ‘Cow bella’ rhymes with ‘Ciao Bella’.
When a song gets ‘triggered’ in this way by some external event, I often notice it quickly and make the connection. At other times, it’s only later that I notice the particular song in my head and wonder ‘How did that song get there?’ It’s become kind of a sport for me to try to figure out what the original trigger was in such cases.
A couple of examples from the last couple of days:
I noticed the Paul McCartney song ‘Hope of Deliverance’ playing in my head while I was commenting here at TSZ, and couldn’t initially figure out where it had come from. Only by sort of ‘retracing my steps’ on the blog was I able to figure out that the song was triggered by a comment of Vincent’s that read “Perhaps Jesus was also hoping for some kind of deliverance.”
Today I noticed the Byrds song ‘Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe’ playing in my head, and I was able to figure out that it had been triggered by a comment I wrote to CharlieM:
Sometimes the connections are pretty subtle, and it’s given me an appreciation for how complicated subconscious thought can be. It can be a little creepy, too, thinking about all the stuff that’s going on under the surface, undetected.
Do any of you experience the ‘song triggering’ phenomenon?
Wow. So if he were standing in front of his door in the dark, with no available source of light, he’d have no way of figuring out, by feel, which of the keys on his keyring to stick in the lock. I guess he’d have to try them one by one.
OK, I lied about that being my final comment on the topic of mental music. A couple more observations:
When I’m still learning a song, it plays in my head in a messed-up form. For example, the chorus might just repeat over and over if I don’t yet know the verses or their accompanying melody. When I don’t know the lyrics, the words sort of get mumbled.
Sometimes when a song is “playing”, I’ll reach a spot in the song that is musically very similar to a passage in another song, and my brain will switch songs and start playing the similar one. What I like about this observation is that it confirms that song recall is associative. That is, songs aren’t stored in sequential form. Instead, each part of the song triggers the recall of the next, because exposure has built up an association between the two. In the case of the similar songs, a passage in the first song triggers the association that has built up between the similar passage in the second song and the subsequent part. In other words, the passage in the first song “accidentally” activates an association in the second song, and the brain is off to the races plowing through the second song.
Another comment on the fact that song recall seems to be associative, not sequential.
Sometimes, when a song is ‘playing’ in my head, I will have a desire to skip ahead. Perhaps there’s a favorite part of the song that I want to get to, or perhaps someone has asked me about the lyrics in the third verse. I’ve found in those cases that I can’t simply ‘jump’ to the part of interest. There’s no mental equivalent of the ‘hit right arrow to skip ahead 30 seconds’ function. I can only get there by playing the intervening parts of the song. In other words, I have to follow the chain of associations to get to my desired destination.
It can be annoying to wait while the intervening stuff plays. While I can’t skip ahead, I’ve found that I can ‘fast forward’ through the intervening stuff to get to my destination faster. So I’m actually hearing a sped-up version of the song until I get close to the good part, and then I slow it back down to normal.
I still have to follow the chain of associations, but I can make it less painful by increasing the rate at which I go from one association to the next.
I had forgotten about this, but I did an OP on mental music eight years ago:
Some questions about music in the head
The comments are really interesting.
I believe keith has posted about the “problem of goodness” as a counterpoint to the problem of evil, and the possibility of proving the existence of an omnimalevolent being (or something along those lines). I see there’s a book that revolves around that stuff: Link to Amazon
Dunno if it’s already been discussed here.
Thanks for the link. It hasn’t been discussed here, as far as I know, but I was absent for a long time so I’m not sure.
I see that he’s got another book entitled The Problem of Good.
I’m an atheist, so I’m not trying to argue for an omnimalevolent God, of course. I just use the Problem of Good as a counterargument when believers try to argue away the Problem of Evil by saying “God’s ways are beyond our comprehension. He is perfectly good, so he must have his reasons for allowing evil and suffering.” That can easily be flipped to “God’s ways are beyond our comprehension. He is perfectly evil, so he must have his reasons for allowing happiness and goodness.”
Anyone else still looking in in Uncommon Descent? I’m currently unable to see it via Chrome, getting “too slow to load” message.
Have edited a couple of URLs upthread to resolve display issue on phones. If possible, can folks use *a href=”URL”*short description*/a* when possible.(replace * with smaller than and greater than.)
Perhaps it’s an issue with older WordPress templates. This site uses 2011 (year of release). Maybe we could try using 2022?
It is not loading in any browser that I have tried. I’m guessing that something is broken at that site.
It’s back up now. Maybe it just overloaded, as I’ve been commenting there, and noticed it sometimes takes a while for comments to appear. I’d guess cache-ing was involved if I had any idea what that is.
UD down again. I am unable to access the site from late evening, say 11.00 pm CET (7 hrs ahead of CST) until mid-afternoon. What ever admin set-up there is now seems unconcerned.
What’s more puzzling is why the personalized ads are in Icelandic.
It seems up here. But my RSS reader has not picked up any posts since March 02, so something is amiss.
I’m not getting any Icelandic ads.
Bizarrely, my wife has had a few ads from Iceland pop up on her phone for which I got the blame. I recently cancelled our fixed-line internet (with fixed IP address) and we just use a mobile router. Speed has gone from less than 1mB to 30-70mB but maybe it affects location info. somehow.
It can be challenging (but amusing) to work out what product or service is being offered without language clues.
My RSS reader finally picked up the missing posts from Uncommon Descent. So maybe they have fixed their server issues.
“ New research provides evidence that people generally have a positive implicit bias towards women and a negative implicit bias towards men, as well as a similar but less consistent implicit bias in favor of people from higher social classes. But the new research, which examined data from nearly 6,000 individuals, found inconsistent evidence for implicit biases based on race.”