So about that link…



Yup, this is the post I promised you guys (or guy, actually, since so far as I know, this is being read by me and one of my friends down in Phoenix, and maybe a depressed house cat in North Piddle, Grafton Flyford, Worcester, U.K.  . . .

But enough about low readership! Onwards and upwards! The link that I attached to my first post should have led you to an interesting little video showing an experiment that Bobby Mcferrin demonstrated as a speaking guest at a panel of the World Science Festival.

The subject of the panel was  Notes and Neurons, and the question asked was something along the lines of, ‘What, if anything, about music is universal to all humanity? and if there IS a universality to music, what does that have to do with our brains?’.

Bobby’s experiment had to do with what he thought of as the universality of the pentatonic scale. No matter where he went in the world, he said, he could repeat his little social experiment (follow the link to see what that experiment is) and people would respond in exactly the same way.

I was quite impressed upon first seeing the video. The audience (and I) were anticipating notes without being led to them, almost as if there was some sort of universal set of basic notes. Then I thought about it.

This is not to say I think Bobby is wrong. As a matter of fact, I believe him. And it’s not because I trust him more than any other person I don’t know.

The reason I believe him when he says that he can get any group of people anywhere in the world to respond in exactly the same way is because his experiment is fundamentally flawed.

He leads his audience: He creates a cognitive link between where he is standing and a note, demonstrating the note until people in the audience catch on. He then creates a cognitive link between another place and another note, again, demonstrating it until the audience catches on. Then he demonstrates the inter-play between the two notes and essentially creates a keyboard out of the floor, jumping from one note to another.

The reason this is flawed is that he essentially creates a mathematical construct, like the interval problems we all had to solve in childhood, i.e.- solve for the blank: 2, 4, _, 8 (the answer is 6). The fact that the audience fills notes in on its own once the construct is established isn’t surprising, it just feels that way.


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