Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Sunday, August 28, 2005

my essay

The text New World New Mind deals with the way we perceive and interact with things and with the concept that our physical and mental bodies serve as a filter to protect our conscious minds from an overwhelming flood of information. The authors Ornstein and Ehrlich propose that we have developed our senses in a way that has served us well so far but that the time has come to change in reaction to the new hazards challenging our existence.

With the change in our capabilities we also need a change in our consciousness.

We use our brains in much the same way that our senses are used to limit our perception, to categorize and stereotype in the pursuit of quick fast judgements.

“The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection that which is likely to be practically useful.”(A.Huxley 1952)

Stereotypes allow us to find out a lot about the item without having to expend much effort. In a similar way to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, we compare people we meet to other people we already know in order to gain a quick impression of them. The matching of categories to experiences work well in societies that have not changed much but modern society requires more flexibility then in the past. Huxley states that “every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he or she has been born- the beneficiary insomuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other peoples experiences, the victim in so far as it confirms in him the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness…so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things.”

One of the ways we can “rewire our mind” is by changing the way we think about things. Categories are one way we convert muddled information into meaningful concepts. NWNM gives the example of how a dog and a cat seem more closely related then the dog and an aeroplane. This may seem accurate when thought of in basic two dimensional forms, as in children’s book illustrations, but in real life the relationships would vary depending on closeness of the subjects, whether they were all made from the same material, relative size, etc. for example if the cat was sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft and the dog was outside then the cat and aeroplane would seem more closely related. If the dog and plane were made from diecast metal like monopoly pieces then they would seem more closely related to each other then a flesh and blood cat. Of course these are just reordering the importance of the categories rather then divesting with them altogether

Musical categories are highly fluid and subjective. One person may for example categorize classical music according to composers, believing that the difference between each is enough to separate them, whereas another may instead divide according to the physical aspects such as whether it is played by an orchestra, quartet or chamber group. Yet another person may divide classical music according to the style, eg baroque.

If you go into a music store such as JB HiFi you would find that the items are divided into categories within which items are arranged alphabetically. The categories include sections titled “popular” “chart” “alternative” “metal” “urban” “classical” and “blues and world music.”
Obviously the standard categories can get a bit more specific then that but when we get too fine a division between sections some artists do not fit clearly into one division. This would be fine if they could simply place it in both, but because of cost and efficiency reasons it is better to avoid categories that create uncertainty in the user. This is where the magic of virtuality and computers comes into play. Computers allow us to create categories that share items with other categories, without having to have multiple copies of the item. It is the virtual equivalent of a sign in a cd rack in a record store saying “this item can be found in a another section, because we thought it fitted that category better, but people keep on looking for it here so this is a note to tell you where to find it.” Computers allow us to create categories that work outside the sphere of the mind, and because the computer can process data more efficiently then the mind it allows these categories to still be useful in their own peculiar way.

So my own “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge should somehow work in the opposite way to the standard categories. It should discourage quick judgements and require careful thought and evaluation. Categories should be constantly changing to limit stereotyping of artists. But most importantly the categories must still serve a purpose. They still have to have a use in the categorization of music, although they should serve to emphasize a different kind of thinking. Whether all this is possible is uncertain but a start can be made, and an aim stated.


music made by left handed people
songs written on Fridays
songs about children
things that make you think of islands
ones that use words that rhyme with love
A.B. (as in B.C. or A.D.)
Songs you remember where you were when you first heard them
Ones your mother likes
Things you liked when you first heard them, but now…
Things that sound like telephone wires

Popcorn has more subtlety

Hopefully my bestiary is nearly as strange as Jorge Luis Borges’. I am captivated by the capacity it retains for individual difference of perception in a way that encourages the user to change opinions and remain unaffected by others ideals. In this age of portable distraction devices no one needs to see each others music or how it is arranged. The gloriously ghastly white brick allows users to carry every piece of music they never want to hear again in their pocket, and they should not have to categorize it in a logical, boring way. Catalogues of mp3s should be the equivalent of stacks of discarded books and magazine clippings. Rather then organizing according to someone else’s opinion, music can be jumbled into categories that create relationships between items that would never have emerged previously.

The categories that music is divided into should require no background knowledge to utilise; the user should just go by feel. If it sounds like a song that would have been played by left handed people then it belongs in that category. There is no right, never any wrong, only indecision, exploration and evolution.

References: the collected works of Aldous Huxley:
The doors of perception, Heaven and Hell,
Chatto & Windus, London 1972

New World, New Mind
Robert Ornstein, Paul Ehrlich


Post a Comment

<< Home