Brain Scans Reveal Music Appeals Thru Repetition With Variation!
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The great thing about the invention of brain scans is that they allow journalists to write articles about anicient topics as if they are news.
And that's a good thing! There are a lot of important and interesting subjects that aren't "new," that aren't "growing" or "soaring" or "increasing" or all the other words that headline-writers feel obligated to use, but are still interesting. Fortunately, now there are brain scan studies coming out each month that reveal stuff we already kinda knew but are worth revisiting.
Here's a model example from the NYT last month: "To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons." I doubt if there's much of substance in it that, say, George Bernard Shaw wasn't writing about in his music reviews in the 19th Century, but it's still worth repeating about why some music is better than other music.

One thing I noticed in this article was that one of the experiments mentioned involved vocalist Bobby McFerrin, who presumably has, like a lot of artists, some time on his hands. (His hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was back in 1988.) McFerrin is a ridiculously musically talented guy with ten Grammies, and I think studying the talented can be a useful shortcut in science.

For example, I went to a scientific conference in Russia in 2001 with a number of German ethologists who studied human nature by filming hundreds of hours of normal people in various situations for evidence about common facial expressions, body language, and so forth. (Here's my article about Frank Salter videotaping would-be patrons approaching the bouncers behind the velvet rope at an exclusive night club.) My suggestion was that they could save time by videotaping a few professional improvisational comedians who make their living by exaggerating normal human reactions. For example, the old improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? with Wayne Brady and others is a trove of common but unexpected reactions.

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