Watch an Auroratone, a Psychedelic 1940s Film, Featuring Bing Crosby, That Helped WWII Vets Overcome PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions

As Lisa Simp­son once mem­o­rably remarked, “I can see the music.”

Pret­ty much any­one can these days.

Just switch on your device’s audio visu­al­iz­er.

That wasn’t the case in the 1940s, when psy­chol­o­gist Cecil A. Stokes used chem­istry and polar­ized light to invent sooth­ing abstract music videos, a sort of cin­e­mat­ic synes­the­sia exper­i­ment such as can be seen above, in his only known sur­viv­ing Auro­ra­tone.

(The name was sug­gest­ed by Stokes’ acquain­tance, geol­o­gist, Arc­tic explor­er and Catholic priest, Bernard R. Hub­bard, who found the result rem­i­nis­cent of the Auro­ra Bore­alis.)

The trip­py visu­als may strike you as a bit of an odd fit with Bing Cros­by’s cov­er of the sen­ti­men­tal crowd­pleas­er “Oh Promise Me,” but trau­ma­tized WWII vets felt dif­fer­ent­ly.

Army psy­chol­o­gists Her­bert E. Rubin and Elias Katz’s research showed that Auro­ra­tone films had a ther­a­peu­tic effect on their patients, includ­ing deep relax­ation and emo­tion­al release.

The music sure­ly con­tributed to this pos­i­tive out­come. Oth­er Auro­ra­tone films fea­tured “Moon­light Sonata,” “Clair de Lune,” and an organ solo of “I Dream of Jean­nie with the Light Brown Hair.”

Drs. Rubin and Katz report­ed that patients reli­ably wept dur­ing Auro­ra­tones set to “The Lost Chord,” “Ave Maria,” and “Home on the Range” — anoth­er Cros­by num­ber.

In fact, Cros­by, always a cham­pi­on of tech­nol­o­gy, con­tributed record­ings for a full third of the fif­teen known Auro­ra­tones free of charge and foot­ed the bill for over­seas ship­ping so the films could be shown to sol­diers on active duty and med­ical leave.

Technophile Cros­by was well posi­tioned to under­stand Stokes’ patent­ed process and appa­ra­tus for pro­duc­ing musi­cal rhythm in col­oraka Auro­ra­tones — but those of us with a shaki­er grasp of STEM will appre­ci­ate light artist John Sonderegger’s expla­na­tion of the process, as quot­ed in film­mak­er and media con­ser­va­tor Wal­ter Fors­berg’s his­to­ry of Auro­ra­tones for INCITE Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Media:

[Stokes’] pro­ce­dure was to cut a tape record­ed melody into short seg­ments and splice the result­ing pieces into tape loops. The audio sig­nal from the first loop was sent to a radio trans­mit­ter. The radio waves from the radio trans­mit­ter were con­fined to a tube and focused up through a glass slide on which he had placed a chem­i­cal mix­ture. The radio waves would inter­act with the solu­tion and trig­ger the for­ma­tion of the crys­tals. In this way each slide would devel­op a shape inter­pre­tive of the loop of music it had been exposed to. Each loop, in sequence, would be con­vert­ed to a slide. Even­tu­al­ly a set of slides would be com­plet­ed that was the nat­ur­al inter­pre­ta­tion of the com­plete musi­cal melody.

Vets suf­fer­ing from PTSD were not the only ones to embrace these unlike­ly exper­i­men­tal films.

Patients diag­nosed with oth­er men­tal dis­or­ders, youth­ful offend­ers, indi­vid­u­als plagued by chron­ic migraines, and devel­op­men­tal­ly delayed ele­men­tary school­ers also ben­e­fit­ed from Auro­ra­tones’ sooth­ing effects.

The gen­er­al pub­lic got a taste of the films in depart­ment store screen­ings hyped as “the near­est thing to the Auro­ra Bore­alis ever shown”, where the soporif­ic effect of the col­or pat­terns were tout­ed as hav­ing been cre­at­ed “by MOTHER NATURE HERSELF.”

Auro­ra­tones were also shown in church by can­ny Chris­t­ian lead­ers eager to deploy any bells and whis­tles that might hold a mod­ern flock’s atten­tion.

The Guggen­heim Muse­um’s brass was vast­ly less impressed by the Auro­ra­tone Foun­da­tion of America’s attempts to enlist their sup­port for this “new tech­nique using non-objec­tive art and musi­cal com­po­si­tions as a means of stim­u­lat­ing the human emo­tions in a man­ner so as to be of val­ue to neu­ro-psy­chi­a­trists and psy­chol­o­gists, as well as to teach­ers and stu­dents of both objec­tive and non-objec­tive art.”

Co-founder Hilla Rebay, an abstract artist her­self, wrote a let­ter in which she advised Stokes to “learn what is dec­o­ra­tion, acci­dent, intel­lec­tu­al con­fu­sion, pat­tern, sym­me­try… in art there is con­ceived law only –nev­er an acci­dent.”

A plan for pro­ject­ing Auro­ra­tones in mater­ni­ty wards to “do away with the pains of child-birth” appears to have been a sim­i­lar non-starter.

While only one Auro­ra­tone is known to have sur­vived — and its dis­cov­ery by Robert Martens, cura­tor of Grandpa’s Pic­ture Par­ty, is a fas­ci­nat­ing tale unto itself — you can try cob­bling togeth­er a 21st-cen­tu­ry DIY approx­i­ma­tion by plug­ging any of the below tunes into your pre­ferred music play­ing soft­ware and turn­ing on the visu­al­iz­er:

  • Amer­i­can Prayer by Gin­ny Simms
  • Ave Maria, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Clair de Lune, played by Andre Kosta­lan­etz and his orches­tra
  • Going My Way, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Home on the Range, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Moon­light Sonata, played by Miss April Ayres

via Boing Boing / INCITE

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How the 1968 Psy­che­del­ic Film Head Destroyed the Mon­kees & Became a Cult Clas­sic

Short Film “Syd Barrett’s First Trip” Reveals the Pink Floyd Founder’s Psy­che­del­ic Exper­i­men­ta­tion (1967)

The Psy­che­del­ic Ani­mat­ed Video for Kraftwerk’s “Auto­bahn” (1979)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Neuroscientists Reconstruct a Pink Floyd Song from Listeners’ Brain Activity, with a Little Help from AI

Any­one who’s worked in an oper­at­ing room knows that many sur­geons like to put on music while they do their job, and that their work­ing sound­tracks often include sur­pris­ing artists. It hard­ly requires a leap of imag­i­na­tion to assume that there are more than a few scalpel-wield­ing Pink Floyd fans out there — scalpel-wield­ing Pink Floyd fans who will sure­ly feel their musi­cal taste vin­di­cat­ed by a study that involved play­ing “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall (Part 1)” to patients under­go­ing epilep­sy-relat­ed neu­ro­surgery. After­ward, with help from arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, the researchers were able to recon­struct the song from those patients’ record­ed brain­waves.

That this turns out to be pos­si­ble offers “a first step toward cre­at­ing more expres­sive devices to assist peo­ple who can’t speak,” writes the New York Times’ Hana Kiros. “Over the past few years, sci­en­tists have made major break­throughs in extract­ing words from the elec­tri­cal sig­nals pro­duced by the brains of peo­ple with mus­cle paral­y­sis when they attempt to speak. But a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the infor­ma­tion con­veyed through speech comes from what lin­guists call ‘prosod­ic’ ele­ments, like tone.”

It is the musi­cal ele­ments of speech, one might say, that have so far elud­ed repro­duc­tion by exist­ing brain-machine inter­faces, whose sen­tences “have a robot­ic qual­i­ty akin to how the late Stephen Hawk­ing sound­ed when he used a speech-gen­er­at­ing device,” as Robert Sanders writes in Berke­ley News.

You can hear a clip of “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall (Part 1)” as gen­er­at­ed from the researchers’ AI work with brain­wave data in the Euronews video above. Indis­tinct though it may sound, the song will come through rec­og­niz­ably even to the ears of casu­al Pink Floyd fans (irked though they’ll be by the video’s accom­pa­ny­ing it with the cov­er image from The Dark Side of the Moon). They may also feel the urge to con­tin­ue lis­ten­ing to the rest of The Wall, espe­cial­ly “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” with its school-choir deliv­ered dec­la­ra­tion that we don’t need no mind con­trol. But as for just-dawn­ing tech­nolo­gies that allow us to con­trol things with our minds — well, that would­n’t be so bad, would it?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Neu­rosym­pho­ny: A High-Res­o­lu­tion Look into the Brain, Set to the Music of Brain Waves

Music in the Brain: Sci­en­tists Final­ly Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Ded­i­cat­ed to Music

Hear a Neu­ro­sci­en­tist-Curat­ed 712-Track Playlist of Music that Caus­es Fris­son, or Musi­cal Chills

The Neu­ro­science of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instru­ments Are Fun­da­men­tal to Music

How Pink Floyd Built The Wall: The Album, Tour & Film

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Much of What You See Is Actually a Hallucination?: An Animated TED-Ed Lesson

All of us have, at one time or anoth­er, been accused of not see­ing what’s right in front of us. But as a close exam­i­na­tion of our bio­log­i­cal visu­al sys­tem reveals, none of us can see what’s right in front of us. “Our eyes have blind spots where the optic nerve blocks part of the reti­na,” says the nar­ra­tor of the new ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above. “When the visu­al cor­tex process­es light into coher­ent images, it fills in these blind spots with infor­ma­tion from the sur­round­ing area. Occa­sion­al­ly we might notice a glitch, but most of the time, we’re none the wis­er.” This absence of gen­uine infor­ma­tion in the very cen­ter of our vision has long cir­cu­lat­ed in the stan­dard set of fas­ci­nat­ing facts.

What’s less well known is that these same neu­ro­log­i­cal process­es have made the blind see — or rather, they’ve induced in the blind an expe­ri­ence sub­jec­tive­ly indis­tin­guish­able from see­ing. It’s just that the things they “see” don’t exist in real­i­ty.

Take the case of an elder­ly woman named Ros­alie, with which the video opens. On one oth­er­wise nor­mal day at the nurs­ing home, “her room sud­den­ly burst to life with twirling fab­rics. Through the elab­o­rate drap­ings, she could make out ani­mals, chil­dren, and cos­tumed char­ac­ters,” even though she’d lost her sight long before. “Ros­alie had devel­oped a con­di­tion known as Charles Bon­net Syn­drome, in which patients with either impaired vision or total blind­ness sud­den­ly hal­lu­ci­nate whole scenes in vivid col­or.”

This leads us to the coun­ter­in­tu­itive find­ing that you don’t need sight to expe­ri­ence visu­al hal­lu­ci­na­tions. (You do need to have once had sight, which gives the brain visu­al mem­o­ries on which to draw lat­er.) But “even in peo­ple with com­plete­ly unim­paired sens­es, the brain con­structs the world we per­ceive from incom­plete infor­ma­tion.” Take that gap in the mid­dle of our visu­al field, which the brain fills with, in effect, a hal­lu­ci­na­tion, albeit not one of the elab­o­rate, some­times over­whelm­ing kinds induced by “recre­ation­al and ther­a­peu­tic drugs, con­di­tions like epilep­sy and nar­colep­sy, and psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders like schiz­o­phre­nia.” At the end of the les­son, the nar­ra­tor sug­gests that inter­est­ed view­ers seek out the work of neu­rol­o­gist-writer Oliv­er Sacks, which deals exten­sive­ly with what opens gaps between real­i­ty and our per­cep­tions — and which we here at Open Cul­ture are always pre­pared to rec­om­mend.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Oliv­er Sacks Explains the Biol­o­gy of Hal­lu­ci­na­tions: “We See with the Eyes, But with the Brain as Well”

Real­i­ty Is Noth­ing But a Hal­lu­ci­na­tion: A Mind-Bend­ing Crash Course on the Neu­ro­science of Con­scious­ness

A Beau­ti­ful 1870 Visu­al­iza­tion of the Hal­lu­ci­na­tions That Come Before a Migraine

Alice in Won­der­land Syn­drome: The Real Per­cep­tu­al Dis­or­der That May Have Shaped Lewis Carroll’s Cre­ative World

This is What Oliv­er Sacks Learned on LSD and Amphet­a­mines

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Bored at Work? Here’s What Your Brain Is Trying to Tell You

That we spend much, if not most, of our lives work­ing is, in itself, not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing — unless, that is, we’re bored doing it. In the Big Think video above, Lon­don Busi­ness School Pro­fes­sor of Orga­ni­za­tion­al Behav­ior Dan Cable cites Gallup polls show­ing that “about 70 per­cent of peo­ple are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about eigh­teen per­cent of peo­ple are repulsed.” This may sound nor­mal enough, but Cable calls these per­cep­tions of work as “a thing that we have to get through on the way to the week­end” a “human­is­tic sick­ness”: a bad con­di­tion for peo­ple, of course, but also for the “orga­ni­za­tions who get lack­lus­ter per­for­mance.”

Cable traces the civ­i­liza­tion­al roots of this at-work bore­dom back to the decades after the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion. In the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a shoe-shop­per would go to the local cob­bler. “Each of the peo­ple in the store would watch the cus­tomer walk in, and then they’d make a shoe for that cus­tomer.” But toward the end of the cen­tu­ry, “we got this dif­fer­ent idea, as a species, where we should not sell two pairs of shoes each day, but two mil­lion.”

This vast increase of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty entailed “break­ing the work into extreme­ly small tasks, where most of the peo­ple don’t meet the cus­tomer. Most of the peo­ple don’t invent the shoe. Most of the peo­ple don’t actu­al­ly see the shoe made from begin­ning to end.”

It entailed, in oth­er words, “remov­ing the mean­ing from work” in the name of ever-greater scale and effi­cien­cy. The nature of the tasks that result don’t sit well with a part of our brain called the ven­tral stria­tum. Always “urg­ing us to explore the bound­aries of what we know, urg­ing us to be curi­ous,” it sends our minds right out of jobs that no longer offer us the chance to learn any­thing new. One solu­tion is to work for small­er orga­ni­za­tions, whose mem­bers tend to play mul­ti­ple roles in clos­er prox­im­i­ty to the cus­tomer; anoth­er is to engage in big-pic­ture think­ing by stay­ing aware of what Cable calls “the why of the work,” its larg­er impact on the world, as well as how it fits in with your own pur­pose. But then, bore­dom at work isn’t all bad: a bout of it may well, after all, have led you to read this post in the first place.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Ben­e­fits of Bore­dom: How to Stop Dis­tract­ing Your­self and Get Cre­ative Ideas Again

The Phi­los­o­phy of “Opti­mistic Nihilism,” Or How to Find Pur­pose in a Mean­ing­less Uni­verse

How to Take Advan­tage of Bore­dom, the Secret Ingre­di­ent of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Find­ing Pur­pose & Mean­ing In Life: Liv­ing for What Mat­ters Most — A Free Online Course from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

Lyn­da Bar­ry on How the Smart­phone Is Endan­ger­ing Three Ingre­di­ents of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Lone­li­ness, Uncer­tain­ty & Bore­dom

Why 1999 Was the Year of Dystopi­an Office Movies: What The Matrix, Fight Club, Amer­i­can Beau­ty, Office Space & Being John Malkovich Shared in Com­mon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Turning the Pages of an Illuminated Medieval Manuscript: An ASMR Museum Experience

Page turn­ing is to ASMR as the elec­tric bass is to rock.

The Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um’s pop­u­lar Autonomous Sen­so­ry Merid­i­an Response video series (find it here) has seen episodes devot­ed to icon­ic Sec­ond Wave fem­i­nist mag­a­zines and a cou­ple of late 20th-cen­tu­ry pop up artist’s books, but the parch­ment pages of this medieval antiphonary — or choir­book — make for some tru­ly leg­endary sounds.

Audio design­er and per­for­mance-mak­er Julie Rose Bow­er deserves a por­tion of the cred­it for height­en­ing the aur­al expe­ri­ence for her use of the ambison­ics for­mat.

Kudos too to Nation­al Art Library Spe­cial Col­lec­tions cura­tor Cather­ine Yvard…if she ever wants a break from medieval man­u­script illu­mi­na­tion and Goth­ic ivory sculp­ture, she could spe­cial­ize in extreme­ly sooth­ing voiceover nar­ra­tion.

It’s rare to find such plea­sur­ably tingly ASMR sen­sa­tions paired with allu­sions to the some­what bar­barous process of mak­ing parch­ment from ani­mal skins, but that’s what illu­mi­na­tor Francesco dai Lib­ri, and his son Giro­lamo were work­ing with in 1492 Verona.

Our ears may not be able to detect much dif­fer­ence between the skin sides and flesh sides of these remark­ably well pre­served pages, but Bow­er does due dili­gence, as Yvard slow­ly drags her fin­gers across them.

No need to fear that Yvard’s bare hands could cause harm to this 530-year-old object.

Experts at the British Library have decreed that the mod­ern prac­tice of don­ning white gloves to han­dle antique man­u­scripts decreas­es man­u­al dex­ter­i­ty, while height­en­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­ferred dirt or dis­lodged pig­ments.

The stur­dy parch­ment of this par­tic­u­lar antiphonary has seen far worse than the care­ful hands of a pro­fes­sion­al cura­tor.

Pages 7, 8, 9 have been singed along the bot­tom mar­gins, and else­where, the goth­ic hand let­ter­ing has been scraped away, pre­sum­ably with a knife, in prepa­ra­tion for a litur­gi­cal update that nev­er got entered.

If your brain is cry­ing out for more after spend­ing 15 and a half inti­mate min­utes with these medieval pages, we leave you with the snap crack­le and pop of oth­er items in the V&A’s col­lec­tion:

Treat your ears to Vic­to­ria and Albert’s full ASMR at the Muse­um playlist here.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

5 Ways to Build an Alzheimer’s-Resistant Brain: Neuroscientist Lisa Genova Explains

Though not eas­i­ly dealt with in main­stream enter­tain­ment, Alzheimer’s dis­ease has inspired pop­u­lar works of fic­tion. Take the 2007 nov­el Still Alice by Lisa Gen­o­va, lat­er adapt­ed into a fea­ture film star­ring Julianne More. As a neu­ro­sci­en­tist, Gen­o­va brought an under­stand­ing of the sub­ject by no means com­mon among nov­el­ists in gen­er­al. Since her debut she has pub­lished four more nov­els, all of them built around char­ac­ters suf­fer­ing from neu­ro­log­i­cal impair­ments of one kind or anoth­er. But her lat­est book, last year’s Remem­ber: The Sci­ence of Mem­o­ry and the Art of For­get­ting, is a work of non­fic­tion, and in the video above she dis­cuss­es a few of its points about how to build an “Alzheimer’s-resis­tant brain.”

After briefly explain­ing the bio­log­i­cal process­es behind Alzheimer’s (and assur­ing her old­er view­ers that their day-to-day for­get­ful­ness is prob­a­bly noth­ing to wor­ry about), Gen­o­va offers five ways to ward off their effects. The first is sleep­ing, which gives glial cells, “the jan­i­tors of your brain,” time to clear away the amy­loid plaque that sets the dis­ease in motion if left to accu­mu­late.

Keep­ing a Mediter­ranean diet — full of “green leafy veg­eta­bles, the bright­ly col­ored fruits and berries, fat­ty fish­es, nuts, beans, olive oils” — has sim­i­lar­ly salu­tary effects. So does engag­ing in reg­u­lar exer­cise, which also comes with the ben­e­fit of reduc­ing chron­ic stress, a con­di­tion that inhibits the for­ma­tion of neu­rons involved in mak­ing new mem­o­ries.

Gen­o­va names yoga, med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful­ness, and “being with peo­ple” as oth­er ele­ments of an Alzheimer’s-resis­tant life. But she saves for last the strat­e­gy per­haps most rel­e­vant to Open Cul­ture read­ers. “If you’ve lived a life where you’re cog­ni­tive­ly active, you’re reg­u­lar­ly learn­ing new things. You are build­ing what we call a ‘cog­ni­tive reserve.’ Every time you learn some­thing new, you’re build­ing new synaps­es.” All the neur­al con­nec­tions thus estab­lished will help you “dance around those road­blocks” put up by the ear­ly effects of Alzheimer’s or oth­er dele­te­ri­ous men­tal con­di­tions. This means that no mat­ter how young you are, you’ll ben­e­fit lat­er from form­ing the habit of learn­ing new things on a dai­ly basis. As for which new things you learn — 1,700 free cours­es worth of which we’ve gath­ered here — that’s entire­ly up to you.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

For­mer Bal­le­ri­na with Demen­tia Grace­ful­ly Comes Alive to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

The French Vil­lage Designed to Pro­mote the Well-Being of Alzheimer’s Patients: A Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to the Pio­neer­ing Exper­i­ment

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Hear a Neuroscientist-Curated 712-Track Playlist of Music that Causes Frisson, or Musical Chills

Image by Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

This Spo­ti­fy playlist (play below) con­tains music by Prince and the Grate­ful Dead, Weez­er and Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day, Kanye West and Johannes Brahms, Hans Zim­mer and David Bowie, Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart and Radio­head. Per­haps you’d expect such a range from a 712-track playlist that runs near­ly 66 hours. Yet what you’ll hear if you lis­ten to it isn’t just the col­lec­tion of a mod­ern-day “eclec­tic” music-lover, but a neu­ro­sci­en­tist-curat­ed arrange­ment of pieces that all cause us to expe­ri­ence the same sen­sa­tion: fris­son.

As usu­al, it takes a French word to evoke a con­di­tion or expe­ri­ence that oth­er terms sim­ply don’t encom­pass. Quot­ing one def­i­n­i­tion that calls fris­son “a sud­den feel­ing or sen­sa­tion of excite­ment, emo­tion or thrill,” Big Think’s Sam Gilbert also cites a recent study sug­gest­ing that “one can expe­ri­ence fris­son when star­ing at a bril­liant sun­set or a beau­ti­ful paint­ing; when real­iz­ing a deep insight or truth; when read­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly res­o­nant line of poet­ry; or when watch­ing the cli­max of a film.”

Gilbert notes that fris­son has also been described as a “pilo­erec­tion” or “skin orgasm,” about which researchers have not­ed sim­i­lar “bio­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nents to sex­u­al orgasm.” As for what trig­gers it, he points to an argu­ment made by musi­col­o­gist David Huron: “If we ini­tial­ly feel bad, and then we feel good, the good feel­ing tends to be stronger than if the good expe­ri­ence occurred with­out the pre­ced­ing bad feel­ing.” When music induces two suf­fi­cient­ly dif­fer­ent kinds of emo­tions, each is height­ened by the con­trast between them.

Con­trast plays a part in artis­tic pow­er across media: not just music but film, lit­er­a­ture, dra­ma, paint­ing, and much else besides. But to achieve max­i­mum effect, the artist must make use of it in a way that, as Gilbert finds argued in a Fron­tiers in Psy­chol­o­gy arti­cle, caus­es “vio­lat­ed expec­ta­tion.” A fris­son-rich song primes us to expect one thing and then deliv­ers anoth­er, ide­al­ly in a way that pro­duces a strong emo­tion­al con­trast. No mat­ter your degree of musi­cophil­ia, some of the 712 tracks on this playlist will be new to you, allow­ing you to expe­ri­ence their ver­sion of this phe­nom­e­non for the first time. Oth­ers will be deeply famil­iar — yet some­how, after all these years or even decades of lis­ten­ing, still able to bring the fris­son.

via Big Think

Relat­ed con­tent:

Music That Helps You Write: A Free Spo­ti­fy Playlist of Your Selec­tions

How Good Are Your Head­phones? This 150-Song Playlist, Fea­tur­ing Steely Dan, Pink Floyd & More, Will Test Them Out

Eve­lyn Glen­nie (a Musi­cian Who Hap­pens to Be Deaf) Shows How We Can Lis­ten to Music with Our Entire Bod­ies

Why Do Sad Peo­ple Like to Lis­ten to Sad Music? Psy­chol­o­gists Answer the Ques­tion in Two Stud­ies

The Dis­tor­tion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Cre­at­ed “a McDonald’s Gen­er­a­tion of Music Con­sumers”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Is There Life After Death?: John Cleese and a Panel of Scientists Discuss That Eternal Question

“I am six­ty-five years old,” said John Cleese as he began one year’s con­vo­ca­tion address at my uni­ver­si­ty, “which is near­ly dead.” It got enough of a laugh that I’m not sur­prised to find, look­ing it up all these years lat­er, that he seem to have deployed the line many times since. “I’m now incred­i­bly old,” he said last year in a video urg­ing com­pli­ance with coro­n­avirus rules. “I’m near­ly dead. I am 81 years of age.” Nev­er­the­less, he remains decid­ed­ly non-dead (and indeed active on Twit­ter) today, though no doubt real­i­ty-based enough to accept that he’s no less mor­tal than his fel­low Pythons Gra­ham Chap­man and Ter­ry Jones, who’ve pre­ced­ed him into the after­life — if indeed there is an after­life.

That very ques­tion ani­mates the 80-minute con­ver­sa­tion above. Put on by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Divi­sion of Per­cep­tu­al Stud­ies at the 2018 Tom Tom Fes­ti­val, it places Cleese at the head of a pan­el of sci­en­tists charged with prob­ing one ques­tion: is there life after death?

Many will find the evi­dence dis­cussed here fair­ly per­sua­sive, espe­cial­ly the doc­u­ment­ed “near-death expe­ri­ences.” In these cas­es “we have height­ened men­tal thoughts when your brain isn’t func­tion­ing; we have accu­rate per­cep­tions from out­side the body; we have meet­ings with deceased loved ones who you did­n’t know had died; we have meet­ings with deceased loved ones whom you did­n’t know, peri­od; and we don’t have a good phys­i­cal expla­na­tion for this.”

So says Bruce Greyson, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Psy­chi­a­try and Neu­robe­hav­ioral Sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia, one of the pan­el’s five dis­tin­guished non-Pythons. The oth­ers are Jim B. Tuck­er, the Divi­sion of Per­cep­tu­al Stud­ies direc­tor; Edward Kel­ly, one of its Pro­fes­sors of Research; Emi­ly Williams Kel­ly, one of its Assis­tant Pro­fes­sors of Research; and UVA Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Neu­robe­hav­ioral Sci­ences Kim Pen­berthy. Their work sug­gests to them that, while near-death expe­ri­ences may not reflect the detach­ment of soul from body, nei­ther do they seem to be straight­for­ward hal­lu­ci­na­tions. The trou­ble with mount­ing a rig­or­ous inves­ti­ga­tion into such a rare phe­nom­e­non is the nec­es­sar­i­ly small num­ber of cas­es. These researchers might thus con­sid­er tak­ing on Cleese him­self as a sub­ject; after all, the man’s self-pro­fessed state of near-death has last­ed more than fif­teen years now.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Is There an After­life? Christo­pher Hitchens Spec­u­lates in an Ani­mat­ed Video

Elie Wiesel (RIP) Talks About What Hap­pens When We Die

Hear Kurt Von­negut Vis­it the After­life & Inter­view Dead His­tor­i­cal Fig­ures: Isaac New­ton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Carl Sagan Answers the Ulti­mate Ques­tion: Is There a God? (1994)

John Cleese Plays the Dev­il, Makes a Spe­cial Appeal for Hell, 1966

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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