Musicophilia

June 29, 2009

“Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination”

-Gerald M. Edelman in the book I’m reading, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” by Oliver Sacks.

I’m awed time and time again by this idea that the experience of being is so fundamentally subjective. Our senses are not isolated apparatuses, passively transcribing reality as it exists and into our conscious grasps. As the input is filtered in from our eyes and ears and fingertips, it necessarily goes through the brain, and the brain manipulates: prioritizing, rationalizing – and not always with the consent of our own conscious minds.

“Musicophilia,” in which Sacks profiles case studies of eccentric auditory disorders, is a reminder of how absurdly intertwined every sound we hear is to our mischievous brains.

Many people, for example, seem to have “musical hallucinations.” A musical hallucination is when you hear a song in your head like it’s actually playing in the external world. They are often found in otherwise sane people concurrent with hearing loss, as the brain’s way of making up for the lost sensory input by creating its own soundtrack. I’m only about halfway through, but its crazy the way these frequencies can interact with the brain. Some people hallucinate songs in foreign languages they don’t know. Some people have lost the ability to attach emotion to music at all, or to perceive differences in pitch or rhythm. Others attach too much, so that a certain melody can send them into a seizure.

Sacks also refers to “musical imagery,” or, the way a song sounds when you play it back in your head. There is striking variance in how people hear music in their mind’s ear with some hearing full vivid symphonies in perfect tune and timing, others piecing together only vague wisps of melody.

I like to think my own musical imagery remains fairly faithful to the original. If instrumentation gets too dense or intricate, my mind does have the tendency of thinning aspects of the real song, but my memory of vocal tone always remains eerily crisp (which is strange considering my weak lyrical memory). Sometimes I’ll also create my own cerebral itunes visualizer, with swirls of pulsating colors and patterns. But that’s just imagination, not like the involuntary visualizations of those lucky bastards with synesthesia.

It’s easy to forget just how little we can really know about the experience of life for any other individual. Sometimes you’ll get a shared moment of appreciation, like when that perfect song comes on in the car and everyone just shuts up and gets lost in it. It feels like there’s this connection, this understanding that transcends all our differences. But really it’s a fraud. Maybe we’re all getting lost in it, but we’re wandering in different directions, and down different paths, in ways that we can never fully comprehend.

But I guess that’s what makes life so interesting. And I do believe that there are enough overlaps in experience that we don’t have to feel completely alone in this mess.

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You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather

June 5, 2009

I’m going to take advantage of my blogging high to counter my reflective mega entry with a cultural mini entry.

Outside of the underground hip hop club, (which I like to pretend I’m a member of) many are completely ignorant of the sheer beauty and sonic awesomeness of the band Outkast. They’re popular, but don’t get the respect that their innovation deserves. Take the song and album Aquemini for example:

Even the sun goes down, heroes eventually die
Horoscopes often lie
Nothing is for sure, nothing is for certain, nothing lasts forever
But until they close the curtain
it’s him & I Aquemini

It's him and I, Aquemini

I could go on about Outkast forever – the sweet and aching verses from “Art of Storytellin’ Part 1” and “A Life In The Day Of Benjamin André,” the dark, spacey loops and spastic beats of songs like “Red Velvet,” and then and all those smooooth smoooth songs that just make you wanna get down, like “Spread” and  “Spottieottiedopaliscious.”

They’re not afraid to sing, to use real instruments, to rap about death, love, regret, politics, or anything that is part of their lives

Seriously, if you don’t listen to Outkast, you are missing something in your life. Believe me.

Also: Is it a problem that my header picture bears a distinct resemblance to crack?

My Struggle with Procrastination

June 5, 2009

UC Santa Cruz requires incoming students to submit a “Statement of Legal Residence.”  This is a simple printout; basically your address, a few dates, and the standard legal document fare.  The document popped up on the UCSC portal “to do” list the day I was accepted. After a few months of slacking off given its late due date, I finally had a moment of inspiration a few weeks ago and decided to get the shit together. I printed out the form, hassled my mom for her information, emailed my dad in Atlanta, and was ready to go well before the deadline. But I never quite got around to actually sending it.  A little unsure of the specific deadline, I looked it up again on June 2nd…only to see that the form was due on June 1st.

If that wasn’t bad enough, even after seeing this, I still didn’t send it in. Following a slight panic, I convinced myself the paper was just a stupid formality, and it didn’t matter if I sent it in a little late, so I stopped thinking about it.

Now that might well be true. But it also might turn into a giant clusterfuck of stress and admissions confusion.

This is not an isolated incident; it is reflective of my entire work pattern. This is the exact same mental framework that causes me to procrastinate and waste time on the dangerous levels that I do.

Everyone has the urge to procrastinate.

The difference is, productive people have found smart ways to trick themselves into doing work, to their own long term benefit.

Conversely, procrastinators have found ways to trick themselves out of doing work, to (at least what seems like) their short term benefit.

This issue of using my time wisely is a big part of why I started this blog – I want to keep track of my thoughts and opinions. Throughout high school I have been a terrible student. I don’t get much work, and even less that challenges me, but I always stretch that teeny amount in such a way that makes me as stressed and unhappy as possible.

Why? I’ve justified it in a lot of ways, but I think most of them are just me trying to mask what is pure laziness by inventing an underlying existential crisis. I mean there is a lot of fear involved when it comes to starting anything school related, and maybe some of it is linked to a greater ennui and dissatisfaction with life – that might enhance the reward reaction on the online distraction side anyway. But I think mostly what stunts me are that these time wasting habits that are so deeply engrained in my lifestyle.

I recently became a subscriber to the “Study Hacks” philosophy. http://calnewport.com/blog/category/tips-fighting-procrastination/

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, the site basically explains how to maximize your time as a student by studying efficiently, and keeping yourself active and interested. Now this probably sounds like psychobabble, but with a mother who has single-handedly contributed thousands of dollars in books and lectures to self help gurus, I come to the field especially skeptical.

Study Hacks offers specific, counterintuitive insight from a level headed voice.  The guy has actually researched and compiled techniques used by top achievers that don’t dedicate their entire being to relentless study, and instead find balance. It’s like a cheat sheet into time management, and it’s the first thing in a long time that has inspired me to actively change how I approach things instead of just whining about it.

As the above example proves, I’m clearly not over my self destructive habits, but now I’m setting out a plan of attack against them. I don’t want to make the same mistakes in college that I made in high school. My lifestyle and self-deceiving brain have ruined countless opportunities, socially and academically, and ultimately made me a less fulfilled and functioning individual than I could have been at this point.

I actually feel like I am at a good place right now to reset. Will I ever be able to send in my Statements of Legal Residence? Will I even be able to perpetuate this blog? I hope so. Right now, I’m just trying to trick myself into change.

Hello World!

June 3, 2009

Hello World! I decided I can’t title this first entry any better than the above wordpress default. Simple, sweet, grandiose.

I don’t really know what I’m gonna put in this yet, but it seemed like it was time to get an outlet for all the cool stuff I come across and want to remember, especially since I have the compulsive need to show everyone anyway.

Well, I’m going to try my best not to let this blog dissipate into nothing, like my past two blog efforts. I spent too long on the salt graphic to let that happen. More soon!