Sometime in October or November 2011 I underwent an MRI to better determine the extent of the damage my right knee took after a fall and the incident surrounding the fall, which I can’t really discuss due to a temporary court injunction. Nevertheless I can show you how cool my knee looks under a big magnet’s gaze.
Whoa, it’s, like, all knee and stuff!
Almost a decade ago I suffered a grade three (i.e. full) ACL tear in the same knee, and had surgery to build a new ligament thingy. So that explains the two titanium screws visible in the pics. Two orthopods told me this 2011 scan is not too terribly conclusive, and for now I’ll have to leave it at that.
The skin on this knee bears a big scar from the surgery. I also have a hardcore scar on my other knee from walking into the edge of a truck’s front license plate (don’t do that). My third and final scar is on my chin, just below my mouth. I was bench-pressing and as the spotter happened to look away my suddenly puny pectorals failed and the bar slammed into my chin. Good thing it didn’t fall right in my face! The spotter was really apologetic (after I, cursing, returned from running laps around the gym to lighten the pain). Then I went hom; with blood all over me, I wasn’t Schwarzenegger enough to finish the set. Why not just stick to push-ups, folks?
Tonight a genius idea struck me: my brain MRI pics would look great on a T-shirt. Like so:
Except for consciousness, granular things, abstractions, etc., let’s digitize the world!
Too many drastically overestimate their skill at discerning details of audio such as music. Listen to this basic A major guitar chord:
Can your ears “reach into” the chord and pick out all three notes? (Test yourself by singing or humming each one individually.) Or do you just hear the chord as a composite? It’s easier when someone plays the notes together and then separately, as above. If you want a real challenge, go mash down a bunch of random piano keys (a “tone cluster”); then, without releasing the keys, try to sing or hum each note separately.
Do you hear a few huge, blocky piano chords, or do you hear hundreds of individual notes also? Serious music students have a hard time distinguishing all the different notes, too, so much so that they sometimes refer to ear-training courses as “fear-training” or “ear-straining.”
My understanding — and this might be wrong — is that, with chords, the mind (on some level at least) hears both composite sounds and individual tones at once, always. So maybe in your subconscious you’re hearing it all. I’m still leaving out overtones and features such as vibrato.
This is my brain. Not joking; the MRI people copied me a DVD.
I’m also unsure of whether the conscious mind, hearing chordal music, rapidly switches its focus from one individual note to another (and the composite waveform) or if it’s truly capable of hearing multiple tracks at once. (If I had to guess, I don’t think the conscious mind attends to much of anything with perfect simultaneity, when you drill down to individual instants, simply due to latency limitations of the physical nervous system.) For whatever it’s worth, computers can only complete one task at a time — they just switch between them so quickly we imagine they’re “multi-tasking.”
Even when people don’t have good ears for music (by which I don’t mean they’re literally tone-deaf, just that they aren’t highly skilled at perceiving details of audio), we typically say they can identify for themselves whether a piece of music is “good” or not. Of course it’s really their subjective experience of the music that they’re labeling as good or bad.
We don’t extend the same leeway to people evaluating visual art, however. We don’t expect someone with bad vision (and no corrective lenses) to make astute judgments about a painting they can’t see well. (A good way to train the eyes, by the way, is field-guiding.)
Why the double standard? I think because most of us are more familiar with sight; most of us live our entire lives without wondering about our ability to discern pitches in the audio we take in.
Once, a long time ago, my friend Bryan told me he only heard heavy metal as a kind of static-y noise. He couldn’t identify its pitches; later, after repeated listening, he could hear them. Try it yourself: here’s an instrumental Metallica song, Orion, as originally recorded. Skip ahead to :56 if you want to cut to the chase and get past the quiet intro.
Do you hear the bass guitar and the multiple notes of the multiple guitars? Or is it just one moving block of sound with drums banging away? People do in fact hear it quite differently. Now try the same (well, practically the same) music played on piano (by the fantastic VikaYermolyeva). Generally people hear pianos more clearly than other instruments.
I think current research says babies are pretty much always born with perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch — the ability to distinguish and name notes. To someone with perfect pitch (who has also learned the Western musical alphabet), a guitar string vibrating at 440 hertz produces an A, not just a sound. (Perfect pitch doesn’t mean singing in tune; it might help someone sing in tune, but perfect pitch is a perceptual skill, not a skill involving the voice box, diaphragm, tongue, etc.) Growing up, children aren’t taught to associate the notes they hear with a musical alphabet, and so their perfect pitch fades away. Some adults can indeed learn it, though.
Basic ear-training makes music more enjoyable even for non-musicians. Now, go smush down some piano keys.
I’m a smart guy, but am I human? To transform the question into something more suspectible to an objective answer: Do I actually have a brain? Due to happy circumstances that I shouldn’t entirely disclose, recently I discovered — free of charge! — that I do indeed have a brain. Actually, I underwent brainy MRIs twice before, but it’s always a celebration to be reminded I have cerebration.
I can haz a brain!
To cerebrate or not to cerebrate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to improve your kinesthetic sense, or perhaps field-guide to improve your mind’s eye instead? Those ways of thinking aren’t valued enough on too many of today’s life-altering tests. Ultimately, the best approach: develop what you could call good metacognition (cognition about one’s own cognition), or what you could call good intrapersonal skills (like social skills, except these govern the warring factions of your psyche). Then your brain might be as big as mine obviously is in these pictures.
More Machine than Man
To tell the truth, I’m no neuroscientist. (Although that was my first declared major at TCU.) Maybe my brain isn’t impressively sized. I remember once arguing with another kid — maybe I was five or six — about IQ tests. His thesis? IQ tests tell you ‘how smart you are.’ My retort? ‘I’m smart — and no damn test can convince otherwise!’ Apparently that means I’m stupid, since some study or other showed convincingly that most stupid people think they’re smart; or, were the tests stupid? Does it matter, for individuals guiding their lives? Just go learn! Now!