My Knee Looks Cool (under the Eye of MRI)

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.

Here’re my 27 knee MRI pics as a Flickr set. And here’s a post of mine about the MRI pictures of my brain! If I had an MRI in my backyard, I’d MRI everything.

OMG KNEE!

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:

T-shirt’s Front

T-shirt’s Back

Except for consciousness, granular things, abstractions, etc., let’s digitize the world!

Creative Commons License

My Knee Looks Cool (under the Eye of MRI) by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Intro to Ear Training, Fear Training, Ear Straining

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.)

Who?

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 Vika Yermolyeva). 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.

Creative Commons LicenseIntro to Ear Training, Fear Training, Ear Straining by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.douglaslucas.com.

Conceptual Feeling Tones in Writing

Absalom, Absalom! jacket art

Gone with the What?

In the first paragraph of Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner writes (in the midst of an infinitely long sentence):

and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege

I think that multi-adjective noun phrase — “grim haggard amazed voice” — and his millions like it are not supposed to convey an auditory percept to readers; they’re not supposed to convey sound data to readers’ perceptual faculties. After all, try to vocalize “William Faulkner” in all of the following configurations:

  • a grim, haggard, amazed voice
  • a grim, haggard, and not amazed voice
  • a grim, amazed, and not haggard voice
  • an amazed and haggard, but not grim voice

William venn Faulkner

I can’t do it, and if you can, you should post audio clips of the four on your blog. Until you do that, take my point as proven: the noun phrase “grim haggard amazed voice” isn’t supposed to convey an auditory percept. You’re not supposed to hear a specifically grim haggard amazed voice in your head (as opposed to a …). So, what is the phrase supposed to convey?

I think it’s intended to create for the cerebral mind the equivalent of a perceptual feeling-tone.

So far as I know, “feeling-tone” is a vague term out of physiology used to indicate a mood allegedly bundled up with a percept. On the feeling-tone view, you see a snake and you experience a feeling-tone of fright because there’s some fright tied up in the snake percept (perhaps even before it impinges on your awareness).

When you read “grim haggard amazed voice” there isn’t any resulting auditory percept, but there’s a feeling-tone you experience, right, a certain bleak mood? The interesting part is: the noun phrase is not plucking your emotions through your perceptual faculty, as the phrase “a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens” does. Rather, the noun phrase is plucking your emotions through your conceptual one — yeah, percepts and concepts can’t be demarcated cleanly and all that, okay fine, anyway — which in one sense isn’t surprising because of course we have emotional reactions to very abstract words (“freedom” for example), but in another sense is definitely surprising to me as a reader because “grim haggard amazed voice” is so abstract that it feels as though Faulkner is doing a card trick with a tall deck, each wheeling card an emotion-causing abstraction in my left brain … and not many books work that way.

This explication is totally lacking something, and surely some Modernist poetics somewhere explains it in a lot of boring detail, probably written by a poet who needed funding. If you have a better explication than I, leave it in the comments.

P.S. I think William Gibson‘s Neuromancer (written, significantly, as far back as 1984) works similarly in many spots, and some readers who walk away from the book are expecting too many of the noun phrases to be translatable back into percepts. But they’re not; for instance:

He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix

This is your (my) MRI’ed brain on Babel Krieg

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!

NES Contra Final Boss