Today’s pop songs are often criticized because of their bland, boring and unoriginal lyrics and melodies. But is that really the case? And more importantly: if it is, why do we put up with it?
Songs by the dozen
As I mentioned earlier, the human brain is a wonderful thing. It is capable of decoding all of the information around us at an astounding rate. A daunting task! Lets give our brains a break shall we? Lets give it some more enjoyable data to process:
Remember all those great pop songs? Frighteningly similar aren’t they?
The I V vi IV chord progression
The amazing people at Hooktheory analyzed 1300 songs and found that we do favor certain “sounds” above others. This popular “I V vi IV” chord progression can be found in thousands of songs because it feels natural to us. We don’t know why, we just like it a lot!
I know, (over-)analyzing music is wrong. But there are some lessons to be learned. Indeed, for once pop culture might actually learn us something! 😉 As chaotic as we might seem in our decision-making, there are a lot of patterns going on inside our heads. Understanding how the human brain, body or society work is ultimately down to finding and explaining these patterns.
We like patterns! Our brain likes to find them even when there aren’t any to be found. This podcast by Scientific American explains, very briefly, two studies that asked participants too look for trends in artificial stock market data and images in video static. In both cases the subjects found patterns were there weren’t any, this is called illusory pattern perception.
The reason for this pattern seeking behavior is simple. Our brain needs to process a lot of data, which is oftentimes incomplete. Detecting patterns can also be helpful from a survival perspective. Being able to pick out changes in your surroundings is key to being able to act quickly in a dangerous situation.
It gets worse! You’re brain is not only scanning your senses to detect patterns, but it’s also making stuff up. The amount of raw data available to parse is enormous. Whereas the processor in your computer would (slowly) start processing it bit by bit, our brain performs a different trick. It assumes its smart enough to select only the most important information and fill in the blanks by logical deduction. Good luck with that!
As any student that has tried to apply this same methodology to their studies can confirm: this isn’t a flawless system. But it does allow us to quickly react to our surroundings and make intelligent decisions based on incomplete data. A field in which robotics still have a long way to go. For instance, it’s because of this system that we can (mentally) track a pedestrian that momentarily is obscured by obstacles along the line-of-sight.
Based on past experiences our brain creates a complex model of the way everything around us interacts. But this modus operandi also makes our brain susceptible to deception. We often overestimate our ability to grasp what’s going on in our surrounding, a vulnerability that is exploited by magicians and pickpockets around the world.
What can you take away from this? Your brain is a powerful beast, learn to respect it and learn the limits of its powers. Nervous for a presentation and certain that everybody will notice it? It probably isn’t (entirely) true, your mind is just very good at convincing you.
Brain–computer interfaces (BCI’s) are the future of interfacing with the machines around us. As crowdfunding and open source software are gaining in popularity, this wonderful world is now coming to enthusiasts around the world.
OpenBCI, the EEG Arduino shield
This Kickstarter project is a prime example of how the field of electronics is becoming more open. This easy-to-use EEG shield for the Arduino gives almost everyone the possibility to measure their brain activity.
The $ 215,438 backing OpenBCI shows that lot of people believe in these kind of projects. It’s easy to see why, for under $ 300 you get an EEG starter kit that easily compares in quality to commercial systems that are a lot more expensive.
Earlier Kickstarter projects, such as Melon, got funded successfully as well. The difference was that these products were more playful and offered fewer possibilities. This first “scientific” device is indeed a major breakthrough.
These kind of projects, to me, make studying electronics so interesting and worthwhile. It’s a field that is (still) rapidly evolving and is offering exiting new opportunities to everyone willing to put in some time and effort.