Emotion Key to Remarkable Ragtime Memory

 The Radiolab Blog has a fascinating podcast about American Bob Milne.  Bob is predominantly known for his piano concerts of Ragtime and Bogie-Woogie music – and was given the moniker of ‘National Treasure’ by the United States Library of Congress.  It was at one of these concerts that drew the attention of Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann. At his concerts, Bob often carries on conversations, telling stories and jokes, while simultaneously modulating key signatures over the polyrhythmic Ragtime music.  In their broadcast, Radiolab discusses with Dr. Bettermann why this is so surprising.

 

Language use and musical competency often use the same neural resources: the prototypical language areas in the left hemisphere of the brain, and the working memory circuit that keeps information available and rapidly accessible for a short-period of time.  Our ability to use language and engage with music should, on most models of the brain, be competing for these neural resources and interfere with one another.  Not so with Bob – he appears to be able to tackle both tasks with ease.  Further, while most people can approach this kind of competency in multi-tasking, it usually involves many learning trials, a process of sedimenting the learning into what psychologists call procedural memory, which may have its roots in a different brain region, the cerebellum.  But Bob can hear a tune just once, and play it back with commentary.

 

But that’s not all Bob can do.

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Is the internet changing the emotional landscape?

Internet-based emotions?Have our emotions changed over the century?  A recent and entertaining article discusses five new emotions that have come into existence with the rise of computer use in everyday life.  Though not exactly a rigorous examination, the article raises an important point: one can’t help but accept the fact that computers, and indeed the internet, are an increasing part of our daily lives – and we are going to have corresponding emotional responses to all sorts of computer-related phenomena.  Articulations of affects relating to internet-time-wasting and facebook might not, on this understanding, just be entertaining illustrations of this everyday engagement with computers, but may actually be pointing the creation of new emotional cues and behaviours.

Emotions are historical phenomena. Consider love.  To many, this emotion seems an essential part of the human condition.  Every human, from the most humble caveman to the most noble Queen has the potential (even if not exercised) to recognize and to experience love.  It can come as a shock to this view that our modern understanding of love qua romantic love (viz. the way in which love is not only as an emotional experience, but one with corresponding notions of fidelity, and sacrifice) comes from Trobadours, who expressed this idea of love in their songs and poetry in the Middle Ages.  Indeed, the way in which love has been understood has changed dramatically over the centuries: from the kind of love exemplified by Aphrodite shining her light upon Helen, to the agape-love discussed by Augustine, up to the courtly love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the romantic love of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Continue reading “Is the internet changing the emotional landscape?”