Originally Posted by SirTralala
sean, Im not worried, this discussion is becoming quite interresting. I only understand half of the science, but when looking at it from a more philosophical/evolutionary point of view, good thing !
One thing to consider is the conscious mind vs the unconscious (which is indirectly what Thomas was referring to) Your unconscious mind is orders of magnitude faster than your conscious mind. It's running your nervous system and conducting countless tasks every second.
We also have an equivalent of "stored procedures" (a database term) where many of the things we do regularly are stored for quick and unconscious access - that's how we learn to play complex guitar parts while singing (for example). The stored procedures are partly run by the unconscious, so we seem to be able to do them without thinking. This really kicks in when we encounter danger - evolution has ensured we have lots of stored procedures which are instantly available when we encounter danger. We cant control many of these responses - they happen much faster than our conscious mind can arbitrate.
This is why so many people are still literally terrified at the thought of a harmless spider crawling on their skin, or touching a harmless snake, despite the conscious mind knowing no harm will result. It's why dogs instantly attack snakes, even if they've never seen one before. Our responses to such potential dangers have been been hard-coded via evolution.
We should be far more terrified of driving motor vehicles than spiders or snakes, because (by comparison) motor vehicles cause a huge number of serious injuries and fatalities. But evolution hasnt yet had the time to embed such responses - evolution is a very slow process. In my country (Australia), there are huge numbers of wildlife roadkill, especially kangaroos. The kangaroos havent learnt how to avoid cars...and by the time they do, we probably wont be using motor vehicles any more!
The unconscious is very much in charge when we process sounds. A lot of this processing is focused on two factors: determining if a sound is prey or foe and deciphering human speech. We cannot consciously control our immediate reactions to auditory events. Our reactions occur faster than our conscious minds can process. Similarly, we cannot control the limitations and shortcuts taken by our auditory system, which are exploited very successfully by lossy algorithms such as MP3.
Our conscious mind's attention can only focus on very small chunks of data at any particular point in time. Much smaller than most people realise - our minds make all kinds of assumptions and interpolations to get around this physical limitation and the limitations of our senses/nervous system. These limitations/assumptions/interpolations especially apply to sight and hearing, which is one reason that psychoacoustics exists - our perception
of sound is often different to measurement data derived from tools. This is also why magicians and illusions can baffle even the brightest minds. But our unconscious is less limited because it doesnt need to "think" - our unconscious is mostly limited by the physical limitations of our autonomic senses/nervous system, as opposed to the constraints of the feedback loops required for conscious processing. Think of your conscious mind as a hyperactive butler providing services to the unconscious, assisting the unconscious to interpret incoming data and implementing decisions. Google "readiness potential" if you want to learn about some of the spookier ways this manifests - for over 20 years now, multiple tests have (arguably) shown we commence motor movements before we consciously decide to commence the movement
. This is being used in development of brain>computer interfaces for people like Stephen Hawking. Here's a good link
which examines the issues for/against the resulting philosophical and physical conundrums (which are the continuing subject of much argument among philosophers and scientists). New advances in brain imaging techniques are really opening up this terrain, but the arguments continue to divide. The famous biophysicist Francis Crick spent his career pursuing this. Crick's frequent collaborator Christoph Koch recently released an excellent book
which is beautifully written in easy language for non-scientists. Great book.
Needless to say, there is a lot going on when we listen to music....and most of it is beyond our control. To understand how and why, look back to our very distant past and consider why we can hear at all. Also bear in mind that we process (and store) music a bit differently to other sounds
(which is one reason why pure sines arent the best way to determine what we perceive
we hear when listening to music in studios etc).