One of the reasons I don't listen to music throughout the day is that music changes my mood. Music is designed to manipulate your body chemistry and your mind. The songs that manipulate your emotions most effectively rise to the top and become hits. I don't want music manipulating me in ways I haven't planned.

The one situation in which I intentionally listen to music is when I exercise. That works great because I load my iPod with only the songs that energize me. The music puts my body immediately into exercise mode. I'm like Pavlov's dog when I get to the gym; I'm not in the mood to exercise until I put in my headphones and hit play. Three notes later I'm totally in the mood.

The thing I try to avoid throughout the day is listening to random music that jerks my mood around until it doesn't fit with whatever task is at hand. I don't want to get pumped up before I try to sleep. I don't want to hear a sad song before I try to work. I don't want a song stuck in my head when I'm trying to solve a problem, and so on. The problem is not the music but the mismatch between the music and my activities.

This made me wonder if life is full of non-music sounds and noises that could be organized to tune our bodies for whatever task is ahead. For example, I wonder if the sound of a deer walking over leaves would arouse our hunter-gatherer brains and make us more alert. I wonder if hearing sounds of the ocean would relax us. And what about sounds that make us curious, such as the sound of a key in a lock, or sounds that excite us, such as a Ferrari engine revving up? I'll bet we have sounds that stimulate almost every type of human emotion or attitude.

A recent study showed that it is easier to be creative in the midst of crowd noise such as you might hear at a coffee house. I discovered this phenomenon myself when I owned a restaurant. I wrote almost an entire book sitting in a booth every day in the middle of the lunchtime bustle. I couldn't figure out why it was so easy to write in a noisy atmosphere. It was counterintuitive, but it worked sensationally.

I wonder if a systematic study of common sounds and how they affect the brain could give us a tool to tune ourselves to any specific task. I'd have one set of sounds to keep me alert, another to improve my problem solving, and another to make me more creative. I might have sounds that make me happy, sounds that motivate, sounds that make me risk-averse or risk-tolerant, and sounds that literally make me stronger.

Music is just one way to tune your body. With the help of brain scans and systematic studies we can figure out how a wide variety of sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even concepts affect our minds. Armed with that knowledge, your conscious mind could orchestrate your surroundings to tune your body and emotions to fit any kind of task.

We do versions of this already, of course. When we are tense we know to go outside and enjoy some nature. When we are grumpy we know some junk food might help our mood. But how much more effective would we be if we had data telling us exactly which stimuli creates which reaction? I think the difference in effectiveness could be enormous.

The barriers I see to this future are twofold. For starters, it must be expensive to do studies involving brain scans.

The second barrier is the superstition of mind. Even the most rational among us believe we have something called a "mind" that is capable of something called "free will" which all feels a bit like magic. We have a sense that our minds can cook up thoughts and ideas on its own, without the benefit of external stimulation. The belief is that we can think ourselves into whatever frame of mind we need. We think we can use our "willpower" to overcome sadness, or focus on what is important, whatever. My view is the opposite. I believe our internal sensation of "mind" is nothing but the end result of external stimulation interacting with our DNA. By my view, we are moist robots and we have five senses that act as our operator interface. To me, it makes no sense to try and think my way to happiness when I can just take my dog for a walk and come back feeling great.

We'll be a lot happier when we stop believing in magic and start figuring out which types of stimulations create which reactions.

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Feb 14, 2013
Put together two thoughts.

Sounds calm us, inspire us, motivate us.

We have evolved as a pattern recognition engine, able to recognise stimuli which signal danger, opportunity or society actions.

When you are a teenager, your brain seems to set up many of these patterns. The music you listen to as a teenager sticks with you the rest of your life.

I suggest that your brain has linked certain sounds with certain experiences. When you hear that sound, you visualise that experience.

This is different for everyone and is also society and age related (I relax to the blues, younger people like punk). The question is how much of this is simply society and how much is related to individual experiences. I suspect that most people in a country react to the same stuff.

The other question is what sets up these patterns. I suspect broadcast media has a lot to do with it - if we suddenly changed danger in movies from harsh cello to soft violin we would find it odd, but a new generation who grew up with it would simply associate the two.

It seems to me there is massive scope for manipulation simply by understanding this stuff. It can go a lot further than making us react appropriately in movies.

Feb 14, 2013
Heres a interesting article on bark beetles, and how a particular sound from the beetle itself drives the beetles crazy... The idea is to use the sound to eradicate the beetle from the pine trees the beetle feeds off of... Im curious if this can work on other species.

Feb 13, 2013
I propose that a moist robot that succeeds in manipulating its internal control algorithms has exercised its free will. So where did the "you-should-manipulate-your-own-algorithm" algorithm come from in the first place? You've already been pre-programmed to tinker with your own programming? And this happened by chance? Let me get this straight. Even though you *can* contemplate and even implement ways to re-program yourself, this is *still* not allowed to be called "free will" because you had already been pre-programmed to re-program? If you created a robot and gave it the necessary coding to re-program itself, haven't you given it free will? No, you say? Because the robot is only as smart of a re-progammer as the ability you've given it? But what if you were infinitely smart? I propose that an infinitely smart programmer could make robots that have free will, even though I'm not currently smart enough to understand how he would do it.
Feb 11, 2013
> I wonder if hearing sounds of the ocean would relax us.

There are a number of sleep machines that have pre-programmed sounds, like the ocean, rain, a heartbeat, etc. that claim to help people go to sleep, although I'm not sure if they've been truly studied. It's certainly worth trying. I did find this article on a study where an individual's brain waves were translated into sounds, then played back to them. It seemed to reduce insomnia.


Regardless of whether or not people believe in free will, I think pretty much everyone agrees that sounds and music can influence our mood. That's why musical scores for movies are so critical. The theme from jaws was brilliant. There are certain tones and rythms that affect almost everyone in a similar way. The deep tones of a cello work best in music that is relaxing, sombre or forboding - rarely do you hear cello used for happy, lively music. And then of course some sounds are highly subjective. For example, polka music, while up-beat, can act like nails on a chalk board to a lot of people. That's why making individual mix tapes is so popular - you can customize the music to what works for you.

Feb 11, 2013

Tell me how you sustain your composure when readers respond with such stupidity to your obvious conclusions regarding free will....]

...Sigh...I didn't want to do this. I really don't like repeating myself so I decided not to do so in this go-round on the subject of free will. But in the face of your comment that folks who believe in free will are stupid I must restate my reasons for rejecting Scotts 'moist robot' theory.

Scott is basically following scientific consensus when he says free will is an illusion, but this ignores two things.

The first is that science is geared towards finding explanations for things and, therefore, explaining behavior. It is therefore geared towards proving free will doesn't exist. It should therefore come as no surprise that, after a few centuries, it has managed to come up with a lot of reasonable seeming 'proofs' of the non-existence of free will whether or not free will actually exists.

The second is that free will is not the only thing that exists outside of science and yet can be said to exist. Love, hate, fairness and art are examples of other things that do so. Anything that motivates human thought and action can be said to exist whether or not they exist in a scientific sense.

Lastly, as to the composure you mention, am I the only one that senses in this blog that Scotts composure is starting to fray? That he's getting tired of folks disagreeing with him on this issue?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 11, 2013
I think my belief regarding free will is more in the direction of Scotts.
I do believe that free will is an illusion, but I also think that there's a reason for having that illusion. Maybe its like a level of abstraction that our brain naturally contrsucts on all these signals and forces pulling our mind in 17 diffrent directions and our internal filters trying to resist the bad ones, in an attempt to prevent us from going insane.
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Feb 9, 2013
Taking charge of one's own control panel is something everyone must do before he can seriously be considered a rational adult. But turning off the music (except when it helps you) and walking the dog aren't even much of a start. Try turning off the TV -- especially the news! Then turn off whatever mobile devices you have, except when you're actively using them.

Life is much more relaxed when you're not constantly being whipsawed by the phony emergencies both political "wings" constantly make up in order to manipulate us into giving them money and power.
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Feb 9, 2013
Tell me how you sustain your composure when readers respond with such stupidity to your obvious conclusions regarding free will. I fear to venture into the comments section when you write something concerning free will. I had a little dinner party the other evening where the subject came up; I almost tore my hair out. It was all I could do to remain quite on the subject, well sort of quiet. I was amazed that one person recognized that free will was akin to believing in god, but sadly he is a deist and didn't see a problem with that. Gambate.
Feb 9, 2013
It seems most of your posts lately have been some variation of the meat robot theme. At the root of your non-belief system is a rejection of a creator. However, if you think of it logically, accepting a creator would make your theory more reasonable.

If some intelligent entity created us, then it could have programmed us like the meat robots you say we are. The only thing standing between the purity of your philosophy vis-a-vis the concept of a creator is that most religions teach the concept of free will.

I'd suggest you join the late L. Ron Hubbard (no, I don't mean you should become 'late' in the way Slartibartfast meant it when he said it to Arthur Dent) in establishing your own religion: The Church Of The Meat Robot. Your religion would have much in common with other religions with the exception of the soul and free will. You could teach people to accept their inner un-ness and their total inability to have any creative thought or the free will to act upon any creative thought, of which they have neither.

Perhaps you could have an annual 'Lemmings March to the Sea" event, where your followers could symbolically follow you off the cliff into the ocean, thereby proving that they did not have the free will to resist your remarkably uncreative set of stimuli. You could follow this up with a demonstration of your hypnotic abilities, and get your followers to sign over all their earthly belongings to you. Ka-CHING!!

Your philosophy has always seemed contradictory to me. It takes creativity to come up with the concept that there is no creativity, and free will to decide to push it out into the world rather than give it a decent burial, as one would a dead goldfish, by flushing it down the twa-lay, as the French would say.

But as long as your belief in no creativity continues to allow you to create new Dilbert cartoons daily, then I have no problem with your rather charmingly incoherent philosophy. Keep up the good non-creativity, Scott.
Feb 9, 2013
At the university I went to, they had a special facility for taking tests. Most professors would send their tests to this "testing center" so they could reserve all of their class time for lecture. This testing center was basically one big room (a former library) with desks from wall to wall and proctors wandering around.

There was also a smaller room upstairs, open when they had enough workers, called the Music Room. It was the same concept but with soft jazz or classical music piped in. I should say that I went to a conservative, religious university that believes emphatically in free will.

I can see the logic in your position - you would say that they piped in music to program our moist robot minds to do well on tests (the university doesn't want their students to fail). I say that by playing music, they were removing an obstacle to free will. That is to say, that free will is an attribute of our spirit and our physical body sometimes gets in the way. By consciously exposing ourselves to certain stimuli, we are trying to bring our body(and its emotions) in line with our spirit's free will.

You will probably think that I am proof texting my religious beliefs into this, but I could say the same for you and your determinism. I am saying that both of our beliefs amount to the same things - we listen to music to help us do the things we want to.
Feb 9, 2013
Japanese !$%* zen monks ("emptiness monks") created Suizen, the art of playing the shakuhachi flute to attain self realisation. It is music without emotional content. While listening to it I create my own moods and my own music. As a European it was a bit weird sounding at first, but as a musician I quickly understood what it was trying to do. If you are worried that music is controlling you, as Scott clearly is, then type Shakuhachi into youtube and listen to some of the results. You might find that you are in fact master of your own emotions.

Or not.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 9, 2013
Classical music helps me concentrate, but I find all other types of music distracting. Brookstone has a device that does part of what you are after. I bought it for the white-noise generator to help me sleep. It has 16 different sounds in four categories. The categories are relax, sleep, renew and therapy. From memory, 1/2 are based on cognitive science research, and have been shown in the lab to encourage specific types of brain waves. It is called "Tranquil Moments". I just did a google search with keywords brookstone, tranquil, and moments, and it popped right up if you are interested. I can only vouch for the white-noise function.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 8, 2013
I'm sitting here in a quiet room at home trying to refocus on work. I have two projects to finish in the next three hours. That is easily doable if I can just...get them done. I would love to know exactly what I need to do focus when I need to do so. Maybe I should go to a coffee shop...
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 8, 2013
I have a problem in just listening to music in the background. I must totally listen to it, and so do not have the radio on while driving or reading or exercising. I cannot listen and do much of anything else, even sleep. I have to analyze and absorb what is playing, and cannot physically relax. It is often very frustrating. In having had a certain amount of performance training, music is a language that engages me and requires attention.

It is said that music is a basic creative human force, probably older than organized language and that is why it affects us so strongly. Music grabs me by the mental lapels and demands I listen. I dream in music. I prefer some styles of music to others, of course. Certain types of music do not require much attention – they are not meant to provoke thought and are low-level musical babbling brooks, relaxing to some.

I appreciate all music, and do not disdain any of it completely. it is all interesting, but on different levels. If you research how musical forms have evolved, as on a branching bush-like structure, you will see very strange inter-breedings. Maybe in some way it is alive and long lived, evolving along with us, as a symbiote. That is kind of a creepy thought.

I read that musicians have brains that work a certain way and good musicians will keep the good stuff going even if they must temporarily play the bad stuff to eat. For me there has to be conscious thought and musical reasoning behind what is being played and I connect with that, especially from solo performances. So in line with what you say in your essay, it might be difficult to manipulate my moods in obvious ways through music.

The effect I feel, and I am sure many others so infected can also, reaches over hundreds of years. The spirit of a dead composer is brought back in an almost scary way. I hear Scarlatti performed and connect with a vigorous, inventive mind long dead. The logic of Bach is like an interweaving of geometric patterns in shades of brown. The eventual insanity of Schumann is an ever-thickening thread once you notice. The chord and rhythmic innovations within ragtime and novelty piano, and solo instrument jazz works exude joy of life to me in a freshness of modern spirit. Atonal works are to me birds in bizarre color patterns.

There are thoughts in there, and I listen. The best thoughts urge action, and I can’t wait to get to the music to play some of it myself. Sheet music is something magic, static in itself but a gateway to plunge through. In the best situations, it is as if I am not even myself playing but a ghost in the piano is moving through me. I am sucked out of time, sliding down one spoke into a nexus into which previous spokes connected. It is such a deep feeling that it occurs separately from a mere present. This musical entity, benignly insidious, might exist in a differing time frame.

Oliver Sacks wrote many studies that relate the deep and mysterious musical abilities that emerge from those considered mentally abnormal or damaged. I have often wondered if music itself is trying to survive the sickness and remedy it.

Can the feeling behind music be used toward social manipulation, good or bad? Human emotions such as anger, fear, and love have long been corrupted for monetary gains. I think musical taste is still too diverse and personal to have it tamed that way completely. There would be a revolt. In society overall, the musical inspiration for one person might be just noise to another person. I think that is a hopeful sign, and may musical diversity long endure.
Feb 8, 2013
I can vaguely remember one of the vehicles in an old Dean Koontz novel, "Demon Seed" being the use of "subliminals" to control people's moods. There was a sentient home security system that fell in love with the lady of the house, and it would influence her with subliminals so he could get her to behave the way it wanted her to behave. ...and by that I mean, making a baby with the home security system. It must have been a very multi-talented system, huh?
Feb 8, 2013
Since our brains, for the most part, wire themselves according to our experiences, I don't think any study could form an authoritative playbook of stimulus-mood. Going outside and enjoying nature, for instance, probably has a lot to do with early childhood experiences -- the kind of complete care-free escape that only a kid can experience. No walls, no clocks, no homework... pure freedom. You don't have that experience? You don't get that stimulus-response. I would guess that music works that way, too. My wife has a taste for aggressive music and it puts her in a particular mood. That music is a total deal-breaker for me.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 8, 2013
"But how much more effective would we be if we had data telling us exactly which stimuli creates which reaction? I think the difference in effectiveness could be enormous.
The barriers I see to this future are twofold. For starters, it must be expensive to do studies involving brain scans."

The money is there and the research gets done. You just have to ask the advertisment industry for their results.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 8, 2013
"A recent study showed that it is easier to be creative in the midst of crowd noise such as you might hear at a coffee house."
It's the same for me. I work in an office with a lot of desks and not many cubicle walls. The background noise is just perfect for now and again snapping out of a problem and dive in from another direction. But somehow I seem to hold a minority opinnion in my office. Everyone else complains about the noise.
Feb 8, 2013
Along the lines of Mark Naught's comment, anyone remember the "Twinkie Defense"?

Seriously though, isn't allowing yourself to be moved by your experiences of your environment what life's really all about anyway? I can't wait to see how I feel next!

Sometimes you have to block out things that are trying to sway your thoughts or your mood or your chemistry in ways that don't suit you, but other times it's nice to just go with the flow - welcome it all and see where it takes you.
Feb 8, 2013
Our minds may simply be complex chemical reactions (CCRs), but when you tell people about that some of them interpret it as meaning they are not responsible for their behavior and therefore should not be punished for bad behavior. They become more likely to continue behaving badly. (Their CCR is altered by the explanation).

Of course, we punish them anyway, because that's how our CCRs roll.

My point is: STOP IT. We get it. People are machines. There is no free will. Blah, blah, blah. Agreed. BUT, it's better for all of us, except perhaps certain scientists, if we don't know it!

(My CCR is programmed to believe that it could potentially come to harm if other CCRs are altered to believe they are not responsible for their actions. This post is the result of a self-defense mechanism that has evolved over billions of years to take preventive action upon seeing a potential threat to my CCR's well-being.)
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