Tracker Pixel for Entry

​The Song Remains the Same

by Dr. Elizabeth Nawrot | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Live and Learn | March 9th, 2015

I’m trying to think “intervallically.” No, it’s not the new math or a metaphysical dimension in the space-time continuum. I’m just learning to play the piano. I never took piano lessons growing up, and when I tried it for the first time as an adult, it didn't take. I memorized the individual notes in every piece, but each additional song I learned replaced the one before it. After nearly two years, a handful of music books and dozens of pieces of music, I could perform a grand total of one song: the one I had just learned (it was a thankfully brief recital). This time around my teacher is getting me to see musical intervals, that is, the relationship between the notes, the chords and the structure of the music. For me, thinking intervallically means finding the patterns in the music.

Across disciplines, in humans as in nature, the pattern is preeminent. In the eye, a single red, green or blue “cone” can’t see color; only the pattern of signals from all three allows us to discriminate wavelengths. Look closely at Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” and you see nothing but individual specks of color. But step back to reveal how the dots create patterns and you have a masterpiece. In cells, one amino acid left off of a nucleotide chain, or one too many copies of a gene along a chromosome undoes the pattern and can lead to devastation for the organism. In the brain, a single neuron can’t tell us anything about how we think or achieve consciousness. But the overall pattern and location of neuronal activity reflects whether we are awake or asleep, depressed or elated, if we are looking, listening or remembering, perhaps even if we are lying.

We know that memory works best when you create a pattern to connect the information. Ironically, we know this because the pioneering psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus failed to find the limits of his memory because he was trying to remember meaningless nonsense syllables. We extend memory when we connect or “chunk” items together into patterns, making new wholes out of the individual parts. The movement of individual drops in the ocean doesn’t describe the action of a wave. Physicists know that particles behave differently when viewed as discrete entities versus a continuum of waves.

Even highly practiced skills like reading depend not on the individual items like letters, but the context of the sentences and words. You can manage to read your aunt’s scribbled handwriting or even sentences where entire words are jumbled up: “tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

Patterns are so important that our brain seems programmed to search for them, sometimes finding patterns where none exist or switching between alternate interpretations of a pattern that doesn’t change. A simple line drawing of a 3D cube will seem to flip-flop in depth as our brain searches for the “correct” meaning from the unchanging pattern.

Carl Jung said that humans have a tendency to find “archetypes” or meaningful patterns that persist over time: for example, masculine and feminine, or good and evil. In social psychology, stereotypes are ways of thinking about people or situations that are built on patterns of information, often an incomplete pattern and sometimes leading to dire consequences such as prejudice and discrimination. Recently a department store was forced to remove holiday wrapping paper from shelves because a shopper complained that upon close inspection the pattern looked like tiny swastikas.

Even children and infants respond to patterns such as those in language and music. When a four-year-old says, “Uh oh, I breaked the glass!” he has demonstrated the pattern for forming past tense in English, despite not yet attending “grammar” school or having diagrammed a single sentence. And long before they learn any particular language, babies recognize and respond to the musical qualities of speech. That sing-songy “motherese” we use when talking to babies emphasizes the melodic pattern; the words are irrelevant. It’s a good thing too, because I doubt the lullaby would be as effective if babies understood the lyrics “When the bough breaks the baby will fall…” The melody, the pattern of notes, is what gives the emotional meaning. As with reading, musical notes can be inserted or deleted, and whole melodies transposed into another key, but the pattern remains the same and both adults and infants recognize it as such.

And so I am trying to get my brain to convince my fingers to find the patterns hidden among these 88 keys. Or perhaps it’s my fingers that need to convince my brain? All I know is that this is going to take some time and lots of effort. You know what they say about how you get to Carnegie Hall, right?

[Editor’s note: Dr. Nawrot is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Development Lab at MSUM. She earned a Masters degree and a Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley, and has been working on her M.r.s. and M.o.M. degrees for nearly 20 years.]

Recently in:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Policy, not law, has torn more than 2,300 children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border. Although immigration reform has been a heated topic for decades, the policy of zero tolerance began with a…

Stand-up comedy can certainly be a cutthroat business. Despite the fact that everyone loves to laugh, humor is highly subjective. What splits one person’s sides may offend the other. More than one comic has watched a show (or…

Thursday, June 21, 8 p.m.-11 p.m.Hotel Donaldson, 101 N BroadwayJake Ingamar may be best known as a solo acoustic, indie singer-songwriter/pedal steel player. For the very first time, he’s plugging in and is going full blown…

Just last week Raul and I were driving a rental car on the backroads of Mallorca, a small Mediterranean Island off the coast of Spain. Not gonna lie, my nose may or may not have been pressed hard against the window admiring the…

Ireland Has Sent Pope Francis and The Vatican A Dear John Letter: “It’s Over!”The Irish people and the Vatican have been developing a huge cultural grand canyon for decades over the issues of gender identities,…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

Every year the Fargo Moorhead area celebrates its love of food with Restaurant week. Each restaurant involved prepares a special menu to showcase the best of what they have to offer. This year there are seventeen restaurants…

Front Street Taproom has struck up a relation with local record shop, Vinyl Giant. There are two events where turntables are set up and people can play their records. Every Wednesday they host Vinyl Night from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m.…

Scaring up early buzz as a premiere in the Midnight section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” is the horror film of the year. Anchored by the vital performance of Toni Collette as grieving,…

By Tayler Klimektklimek@cord.eduCome one, come all to the 59th anniversary of the Midwestern Invitational Art Exhibition! This tradition celebrates each year with a preview and awards selection the first night of its showing, with…

Projects have a tendency to take on a life of their own once they’ve reached a certain point. When the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre was established in 1946 to offer other local opportunities for artistic expression outside…

Fargo has its share of people who are passionate about stand-up comedy, even if the success of clubs devoted to it has been mixed. Despite the fact we have seen places like Courtney’s Comedy Club and Level 2 Comedy Club close…

By Ben Myhrebenmyhre35@gmail.comHow lucky we are in the FM area that we have so many craft breweries, but did you know that we also have two cider houses? Cottonwood Cider House is one of those cider houses and is just a short…

Best Local CelebrityCarson WentzBest Stylist / BarberJed Felix, Everett’s BarbershopBest Salon / Barber ShopEverett’s BarbershopBest Tattoo Parlor46 & 2 TattooBest Tattoo ArtistMeg Felix, No Coast TattooBest Gift ShopZandbroz…

By Melissa Martinmelissamartincounselor@live.comThink back to one of your worst small decisions. Then answer the following questions:How did you make the decision?What happened after the decision?When did you know it was the worst…

Last Word

​Keeping FM C.L.E.A.N

by HPR Contributor

By Paul JensenFargo, as the most populous city in the state with 120,000 inhabitants, added nearly 6,000 20-to-34-year-olds in 2015, just over five percent of the total population. Fargo is attracting well-educated young…