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Professional musicians are not right-brained
A study finds that while musical newbies exercise the brain's so-called creative hemisphere, pros have moved on.
- Professional jazz musicians are seen in EEGs as using mostly their left brain hemisphere, which is considered the logical/analytical side.
- The right hemisphere may be more suitable to the sort of creative invention required of people still learning how to play.
- Is the study's conclusion about jazz, or is it about competence?
The cliché is that creativity happens in the right hemisphere of the brain, while more analytic activities go on in the left. While this isn't entirely untrue, it's an over-simplification of how the brain works. In fact, according to a new study from Drexel University's Creativity Research Lab, expert jazz performers are more likely to use the left side of their brains.
Setting the stage
Image source: Kounios, et al
The study, "Dual-process contributions to creativity in jazz improvisations: An SPM-EEG study," is published in the journal NeuroImage. It was led by David Rosen of Secret Chord Technology, a new startup that bills itself as "an A.I. software platform that uses advanced analytics based on our globally acclaimed research on the neuroscience of music enjoyment to give you insights that will help you cut through the noise." In other words, they say they have the ability to predict whether or not people will like a given piece of music, based on neuroscience. It's an interesting topic in its own right.
For the study, Rosen and Drexel psychology professor John Kounios recorded high-density electroencephalograms (EEGs) from 32 jazz-guitar players. The researchers used EEGs for tracking brain activity because fMRIs more commonly used for neuroscientific investigations of music require participants to be laying down while watching their hand in a mirror as it plays a keyboard — a weak representation of the actual experience of performing.
Some of the players in the study were highly experienced while others were less so, more like students of the form. Speaking of the form, the word and genre "jazz" encompasses a wide range of musics, from Dixieland, to improvisational bebop-based styles, to tightly orchestrated band arrangements, to free-form painting with sound. While the study doesn't specify what it means by "jazz," it does quote Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, pointing the discussion firmly in the bebop direction.
Each player was provided lead sheets — simple melody-and-chord notation — for six jazz tunes. They were instructed to improvise for about two minutes around each of these melodies, playing along with pre-recorded drums, bass, and piano accompaniment as their performances were recorded. The 16-bar tunes were constructed to be all of a similar playing difficulty, and they were all at 144 beats-per-minute, a pretty brisk tempo, especially for less experienced players.
On the right, students. On the left, pros.
Image source: Dominik Scythe/Unsplash
Afterward, the recordings were rated by four expert jazz musicians for player categorization, creativity, and other qualities. Combining these ratings with EEG measurements and analysis revealed two things:
- EEG measurements for those performances rated as high-quality (the most competent and professional) indicated that most of the accompanying activity was in the brain's left hemisphere.
- The less-expert performances were characterized by activity in the right hemisphere.
The study explains pros' left-brain activity as evidence of their performing in an enhanced state of flow: "This aligns with theoretical models of jazz improvisation which posit that an individual is performing at his or her peak of arousal and ability when entering a flow state."
Image source: Massimo Sartirama/Unsplash
"If creativity is defined in terms of the quality of a product, such as a song, invention, poem or painting, then the left hemisphere plays a key role. However, if creativity is understood as a person's ability to deal with novel, unfamiliar situations, as is the case for novice improvisers, then the right hemisphere plays the leading role." — John Kounios
Jazz, particularly bebop-based jazz, is a special case in music in at least one key regard, as Kounios' comment suggests. Improvisation in this type of music is felt by many to be inherently more intellectual than creative, concerned primarily with the strategic — some might say "mathematical" — accurate deployment of existing musical scales and motifs rather than the creation of something genuinely new. Much emphasis in this form is placed on memorization and technique, which fits perfectly well with the study's left-brain findings. This type of jazz playing may be closer to recitation than creation— its creativity comes in the choices made as to which elements to recite.
For students and less-experienced players, on the other hand, it's all new, and theirs is much more an experience of genuine right-brained exploration and creativity, as they fumble their way toward understanding the form and learning how to produce its auditory elements. While often less successful for listeners, this is at the heart of creativity: turning bits of the known into something new. Of course their right hemispheres are active.
The professional musician's brain
For any type of music — perhaps any type of art — it may well be that the experienced performer is always going to be working more from their left hemisphere. Years of practice produces competence, and perhaps more importantly, familiarity, with the material to be performed. There's little exploring to be done, just competent execution. It can still be fascinating to watch a true musical great perform, their every gesture being forehead-smacking evidence of almost unbelievable skill.
Creativity, though, is its own show, and worthy of appreciation. At a high-school choir concert, for example, there's little taken for granted: The singers are right there in the moment, on-edge for fear of mistakes, and fully charged-up. It's nothing short of exciting.
Fortunately, there doesn't have to be a trade-off between the two. Our greatest musicians never stop pushing at the boundaries of their own skills, repeatedly stranding themselves in the unknown without a map except for an unquenchable thirst for that new, thrilling sound they've never before heard.
- Sharks prefer jazz over classical music; are probably super chill ... ›
- A Tale of Two Brains, Coherent and Unified - Big Think ›
- All Pop Music Since 1880 in One Clickable Map - Big Think ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
A new study finds that some people just want privacy.
- Despite its reputation as a tool for criminals, only a small percentage of Tor users were actually going to the dark web.
- The rate was higher in free countries and lower in countries with censored internet access.
- The findings are controversial, and may be limited by their methodology to be general assumptions.
What do half of those words mean?<p> For those who don't spend all of their time on the internet, a few of these terms might be new to you. We'll go over them first before we continue. If you do know all of these terms, you can skip ahead to the next section.<br> <br> <em>Surface Web:</em> The regular internet that you can find with a search engine. You're on it right now; unless these articles are shared in places we don't know about. <br> <br> <em>Deep Web</em>: The part of the internet not indexed by search engines. This includes things like your email inbox; you can't get there from Google or Bing, but instead have to enter a password to find it from another page. You've probably visited the deep web today, too. </p><p><em>Dark Web</em>: A subsection of the deep web that requires special software to access. While not everything there is bad, there are social media sites, email services, hidden forums, and even puzzle games down there; this is also where you would find the places for illegal markets and other, extremely nefarious, things.</p><p> <em>Tor:</em> A kind of software that allows users to browse the internet in near-total anonymity. It does this by encrypting connection data and scrambling the route a computer takes to connect to a site, thus making it difficult, but not impossible, to find who is using a particular website. The potential value of this to criminals should be evident to you. <br> <br> While it often gets bad press for how it can be used for illicit purposes, it should be said it was created and used by the United States government for often banal purposes. The leaders of the Tor Project often remind the public that "normal people" use Tor for everyday internet activities as well.</p><p> As a personal example, I once used it to get around the <a href="https://www.wired.com/1997/06/china-3/" target="_blank">Great Firewall of China</a> when I wanted to get to the regular, uncensored internet.</p>
Back to the study<p> The study observed the final destination of a random selection of Tor users to determine if they went to surface websites or more hidden areas of the internet after connecting to the Tor network. This was done by monitoring the data from entry points in the Tor network, which would allow an observer to where someone was going, but not who.</p><p> Those going to surface websites were assumed just to be using Tor for anonymity and security, while those going into the dark web were presumed more likely to be using it for illegal reasons. <br> </p><p> Despite the popular conception of Tor as a tool for criminals looking to cover their tracks, only 6.7 percent of these users went to sites defined as the dark web, which were themselves not necessarily devoted to illegal <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/only-a-small-fraction-of-the-dark-web-is-being-used-for-hidden-activity-study-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">activity</a>. </p><p> The results were further broken down by country, which revealed another layer of information. The authors noted that in countries deemed "not free" by Freedom House, the rate of possible malicious use goes down to 4.8 percent. In countries considered free, the percentage nearly doubles to 7.8 percent.</p>
What does this mean for the internet?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MBh7K5ooF2s" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> The dark web might be a little lighter than previously suggested. While it is true that there is some horrible stuff down there, this study suggests the people getting to it using the Tor network are mostly using it for legal, and perhaps even banal, purposes. This interpretation is additionally supported by the difference in usage across countries judged free and not free. In those countries with censorship, where a variety of tools must be used to get to sites like Facebook or Wikipedia, the percentage of users going towards locations on the dark web was smaller.</p><p>The authors conclude:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "The Tor anonymity network can be used for both licit and illicit purposes. Our results provide a clear, if probabilistic, estimation of the extent to which users of Tor engage in either form of activity. Generally, users of Tor in politically 'free' countries are significantly more likely to be using the network in likely illicit ways."</p><p> Additionally, they mention that the Tor network's infrastructure is predominately in free countries, which then see higher rates of its use to reach places that could advance illegal activities. This find may be of interest to policymakers looking to balance the promotion of autonomy and the freedom of information with the goal of preventing crime.</p>
What’s the catch?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2UNUMgM9Gwo" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> It has been suggested that the internet is the first thing humanity ever created that we don't fully understand. If that is true, it should surprise no one that there are objections to the methods used to study it. <br> <br> The executive director of the Tor Project, Isabela Bagueros, explained their objection to the study's methodology and assumptions to <a href="https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/11/does-tor-provide-more-benefit-or-harm-new-paper-says-it-depends/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ars Technica</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> <em>"The authors of this research paper have chosen to categorize all .onion sites and all traffic to these sites as "illicit" and all traffic on the "Clear Web" as 'licit.'</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>This assumption is flawed. Many popular websites, tools, and services use onion services to offer privacy and censorship-circumvention benefits to their users. For example, Facebook offers an onion service. Global news organizations, including The New York Times, BBC, Deutsche Welle, Mada Masr, and Buzzfeed, offer onion services.</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>Whistleblowing platforms, filesharing tools, messaging apps, VPNs, browsers, email services, and free software projects also use onion services to offer privacy protections to their users, including Riseup, OnionShare, SecureDrop, GlobaLeaks, ProtonMail, Debian, Mullvad VPN, Ricochet Refresh, Briar, and Qubes OS…...</em></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>Writing off traffic to these widely-used sites and services as "illicit" is a generalization that demonizes people and organizations who choose technology that allows them to protect their privacy and circumvent censorship. In a world of increasing surveillance capitalism and internet censorship, online privacy is necessary for many of us to exercise our human rights to freely access information, share our ideas, and communicate with one another. Incorrectly identifying all onion service traffic as "illicit" harms the fight to protect encryption and benefits the powers that be that are trying to weaken or entirely outlaw strong privacy technology."</em><br> </p><p>The critique here is justified; there are legitimate websites hidden behind layers of security which were deemed "illicit" by this study's methods. Many people are just trying to protect their anonymity when using them. However, the study's authors based their assumption on previous studies that demonstrate that these hidden sites are used for illegal activities at a higher rate than other parts of the <a href="https://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/no20_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">internet</a>.</p><p>Until a more rigorous and ethically ambiguous method of determining what people using the network are doing on these dark websites is utilized, the findings of studies like this will be general and based on broad assumptions. </p><p>Despite all of this, we can take a few things from this study: most people using Tor to explore the internet aren't using it for evil, those using it in places with limited freedom of information are even less likely to use it for such purposes, and external factors can have significant impacts on how people use a tool such as the internet. <br></p>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.