Scientists Create an Interactive Map of the 13 Emotions Evoked by Music: Joy, Sadness, Desire, Annoyance, and More

Most of our playlists today are filled with music about emo­tions: usu­al­ly love, of course, but also excite­ment, defi­ance, anger, dev­as­ta­tion, and a host of oth­ers besides. We lis­ten to these songs in order to appre­ci­ate the musi­cian­ship that went into them, but also to indulge in their emo­tions for our­selves. As for what exact­ly evokes these feel­ings with­in us, lyrics only do part of the job, and per­haps a small part at that. In search of a more rig­or­ous con­cep­tion of which son­ic qual­i­ties trig­ger which emo­tions in lis­ten­ers — and a mea­sure­ment of how many kinds of emo­tions music can trig­ger — sci­en­tists at UC Berke­ley have con­duct­ed a cross-cul­tur­al research project and used the data to make an inter­ac­tive lis­ten­ing map.

The study’s cre­ators, a group includ­ing psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Dacher Kelt­ner (found­ing direc­tor of the Greater Good Sci­ence Cen­ter) and neu­ro­science doc­tor­al stu­dent Alan Cowen, “sur­veyed more than 2,500 peo­ple in the Unit­ed States and Chi­na about their emo­tion­al respons­es to these and thou­sands of oth­er songs from gen­res includ­ing rock, folk, jazz, clas­si­cal, march­ing band, exper­i­men­tal and heavy met­al.” So writes Berkley News’ Yas­min Anwar, who sum­ma­rizes the broad­er find­ings as fol­lows: “The sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence of music across cul­tures can be mapped with­in at least 13 over­ar­ch­ing feel­ings: Amuse­ment, joy, eroti­cism, beau­ty, relax­ation, sad­ness, dreami­ness, tri­umph, anx­i­ety, scari­ness, annoy­ance, defi­ance, and feel­ing pumped up.”

Many lis­ten­er respons­es can’t have been ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing. “Vivaldi’s ‘Four Sea­sons’ made peo­ple feel ener­gized. The Clash’s ‘Rock the Cas­bah’ pumped them up. Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Togeth­er’ evoked sen­su­al­i­ty and Israel (Iz) Kamakawiwoʻole’s ‘Some­where over the Rain­bow’ elicit­ed joy.

Mean­while, heavy met­al was wide­ly viewed as defi­ant and, just as its com­pos­er intend­ed, the show­er scene score from the movie Psy­cho trig­gered fear.” The cul­tur­al influ­ence of Hitch­cock, one might object, has by now tran­scend­ed all bound­aries, but accord­ing to the study even Chi­nese clas­si­cal music gets the same basic emo­tions across to Chi­nese and non-Chi­nese lis­ten­ers alike.

Still, all respectable art, even or per­haps espe­cial­ly an abstract one such as music, leaves plen­ty of room for per­son­al inter­pre­ta­tion. You can check your own emo­tion­al respons­es against those of the Berke­ley sur­vey’s respon­dents with its inter­ac­tive lis­ten­ing map. Just roll your cur­sor over any of point on its emo­tion­al ter­ri­to­ries, and you’ll hear a short clip of the song lis­ten­ers placed there. On the penin­su­la of cat­e­go­ry H, “erot­ic, desirous,” you’ll hear Chris Isaak, Wham!, and a great many sax­o­phon­ists; down in the nether­lands of cat­e­go­ry G, “ener­giz­ing, pump-up,” Rick Ast­ley’s immor­tal­ized “Nev­er Gonna Give You Up” and Alien Ant Far­m’s nov­el­ty cov­er of “Smooth Crim­i­nal.” Anwar also notes that “The Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran’s inescapable hit, “sparks joy” — but if I have to hear it one more time at the gym, I can assure you my own emo­tion­al response won’t be quite so pos­i­tive.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Daniel Lev­itin Shows How Musi­cians Com­mu­ni­cate Emo­tion

Watch Clas­si­cal Music Get Per­fect­ly Visu­al­ized as an Emo­tion­al Roller Coast­er Ride

The Ther­a­peu­tic Ben­e­fits of Ambi­ent Music: Sci­ence Shows How It Eas­es Chron­ic Anx­i­ety, Phys­i­cal Pain, and ICU-Relat­ed Trau­ma

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

An Inter­ac­tive Map of the 2,000+ Sounds Humans Use to Com­mu­ni­cate With­out Words: Grunts, Sobs, Sighs, Laughs & More

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.

De-Mystifying Mindfulness: A Free Online Course by Leiden University

From Chris Goto-Jones–now Dean of Human­i­ties and Pro­fes­sor of Phi­los­o­phy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Victoria–comes a free course which was named ‘one of the best online cours­es of all time’ in 2020. The course descrip­tion for De-Mys­ti­fy­ing Mind­ful­ness reads:

Inter­est in med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful­ness, and con­tem­pla­tion has grown expo­nen­tial­ly in recent years. Rather than being seen as mys­ti­cal prac­tices from ancient Bud­dhism or eso­teric phi­los­o­phy, they are increas­ing­ly seen as tech­nolo­gies root­ed in evi­dence from psy­chol­o­gy and neu­ro­science. Mind­ful­ness has become the basis for numer­ous ther­a­peu­tic inter­ven­tions, both as a treat­ment in health­care and as a means of enhanc­ing well-being and hap­pi­ness. For mil­lions around the world, mind­ful­ness has become a life-style choice, enhanc­ing and enrich­ing every­day expe­ri­ence. Mind­ful­ness is big busi­ness.

But, what actu­al­ly is mind­ful­ness? Is it real­ly good for you? Can any­one learn it? How can you rec­og­nize char­la­tans? Would you want to live in a mind­ful soci­ety, and would it smell like san­dal­wood? What does it feel like to be mind­ful? Are you mind­ful already, and how would you know?

Evolv­ing from the pop­u­lar Hon­ours Acad­e­my course at Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty [in the Nether­lands], this inno­v­a­tive course com­bines con­ven­tion­al schol­ar­ly inquiry from mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines (rang­ing from psy­chol­o­gy, through phi­los­o­phy, to pol­i­tics) with expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing (includ­ing spe­cial­ly designed ‘med­i­ta­tion labs,’ in which you’ll get chance to prac­tice and ana­lyze mind­ful­ness on your­self). In the end, the course aims to pro­vide a respon­si­ble, com­pre­hen­sive, and inclu­sive edu­ca­tion about (and in) mind­ful­ness as a con­tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non.

You can take De-Mys­ti­fy­ing Mind­ful­ness for free by select­ing the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a cer­tifi­cate, you will need to pay a fee.

De-Mys­ti­fy­ing Mind­ful­ness will be added to our list, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

Philoso­pher Sam Har­ris Leads You Through a 26-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion

How Mind­ful­ness Makes Us Hap­pi­er & Bet­ter Able to Meet Life’s Chal­lenges: Two Ani­mat­ed Primers Explain

Stream 18 Hours of Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions

Lis­ten to Bill Mur­ray Lead a Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion on How It Feels to Be Bill Mur­ray

How to Take the Perfect Nap, According to Cognitive Scientist Sara Mednick

Nap­ping is seri­ous busi­ness, despite the fact that when some of us think of naps, we think about preschool. We’ve been taught to think of naps as some­thing to out­grow. Yet as we age into adult­hood, so many of us find it hard to get enough sleep. Mil­lions cur­rent­ly suf­fer from sleep depri­va­tion, whose effects range from mem­o­ry loss to, well… death, if we cred­it the dire warn­ings of neu­ro­sci­en­tist Matthew Walk­er. “Sleep,” Walk­er says, “is a non-nego­tiable bio­log­i­cal neces­si­ty.”

In light of the lat­est research, nap­ping begins to seem more like urgent pre­ven­tive care than an indul­gence. In fact, sleep expert Sara Med­nick says, naps are a “mir­a­cle drug” that “increas­es alert­ness, boosts cre­ativ­i­ty, reduces stress, improves per­cep­tion, sta­mi­na, motor skills, and accu­ra­cy, enhances your sex life,” helps you lose weight, feel hap­pi­er, and so on, all with­out “dan­ger­ous side effects” and with a cost of noth­ing but time.

If this sounds like hype, con­sid­er the qual­i­ty of the source – Dr. Sara Med­nick, a pro­fes­sor of Cog­ni­tive Sci­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine (UCI) and a fel­low at the Cen­ter for the Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of Learn­ing and Mem­o­ry. Med­nick runs a “sev­en-bed­room sleep lab at UCI,” notes her site, that works “lit­er­al­ly around-the-clock to dis­cov­er meth­ods for boost­ing cog­ni­tion through a range of dif­fer­ent inter­ven­tions, includ­ing nap­ping.”

Maybe you’re sold on the ben­e­fits and sim­ple plea­sures of a nap — but maybe it’s been a few years since you’ve sched­uled one. How long, exact­ly, should a grown-up nap last? The ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son above, script­ed by Med­nick, answers that ques­tion with a short course on sleep cycles: how we move through dif­fer­ent stages as we snore, reach­ing the deep­est sleep at stage 3 and con­clud­ing a cycle with R.E.M. The length of the nap we take can depend on the kinds of tasks we need to per­form, and whether we need to wake up quick­ly and get on to oth­er things.

Med­nick expands sub­stan­tial­ly on her evi­dence-based advo­ca­cy for naps in her book Take a Nap! Change Your Life. (See her dis­cuss her research on sleep and mem­o­ry in the short video just above.) In the book’s intro­duc­tion, she tells the sto­ry of her “jour­ney from skep­tic to nap advo­cate.” Here, she uses uses a dif­fer­ent metaphor. Naps, she says, are a “secret weapon” — one she reached for just min­utes before she stood up at the Salk Insti­tute to present research on naps. “I nev­er imag­ined,” she writes of her jour­ney into nap­ping, “that a healthy solu­tion to fac­ing life’s mul­ti­ple chal­lenges could be as sim­ple and attain­able as a short nap.” Giv­en how much sleep we’re all los­ing late­ly, maybe it’s not so sur­pris­ing after all.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Sleep or Die: Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Matthew Walk­er Explains How Sleep Can Restore or Imper­il Our Health

What Hap­pens To Your Body & Brain If You Don’t Get Sleep? Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Matthew Walk­er Explains

Dr. Weil’s 60-Sec­ond Tech­nique for Falling Asleep

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

How Tibetan Monks Use Meditation to Raise Their Peripheral Body Temperature 16–17 Degrees

Tibetan monks in remote regions of the Himalayas have long claimed near mirac­u­lous pow­ers through yog­ic prac­tices that resem­ble noth­ing you’ll find offered at your local gym, though they may derive from some sim­i­lar Indi­an sources. One such med­i­ta­tive prac­tice, a breath­ing exer­cise known as tum­mo, tum-mo, or g‑tummo, sup­pos­ed­ly gen­er­ates body heat and can raise one’s periph­er­al body tem­per­a­ture 16–17 degrees—a dis­tinct­ly advan­ta­geous abil­i­ty when sit­ting out­side in the snow-capped moun­tains.

Per­haps a cer­tain amount of skep­ti­cism is war­rant­ed, but in 1981, Har­vard car­di­ol­o­gist Her­bert Ben­son was deter­mined to take these ancient prac­tices seri­ous­ly, even though his first encoun­ters with west­ern prac­ti­tion­ers of tum­mo pro­duced results he deemed “fraud­u­lent.” Not ready to toss cen­turies of wis­dom, Ben­son decid­ed instead to trav­el to the source after meet­ing the Dalai Lama and receiv­ing per­mis­sion to study tum­mo prac­ti­tion­ers in North­ern India.

Benson’s research became a 20-year project of study­ing tum­mo and oth­er advanced tech­niques while he also taught at the Har­vard Med­ical School and served as pres­i­dent of the Mind/Body Med­ical Insti­tute in Boston, where he believes the study of med­i­ta­tion can “uncov­er capac­i­ties that will help us to bet­ter treat stress-relat­ed ill­ness­es.” The claims of monks who prac­tice tum­mo have been sub­stan­ti­at­ed in Benson’s work, show­ing, he says, “what advanced forms of med­i­ta­tion can do to help the mind con­trol phys­i­cal process­es once thought to be uncon­trol­lable.”

In his own exper­i­men­tal set­tings, “Ben­son found that [Tibetan] monks pos­sessed remark­able capac­i­ties for con­trol­ling their oxy­gen intake, body tem­per­a­tures and even brain­waves,” notes Aeon. Anoth­er study under­tak­en in 2013 by Maria Kozhevnikov, cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist at the Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Sin­ga­pore, “cor­rob­o­rat­ed much of what Ben­son had observed, includ­ing prac­ti­tion­ers’ abil­i­ty to raise their body tem­per­a­tures to fever­ish lev­els by com­bin­ing visu­al­iza­tion and spe­cial­ized breath­ing.”

In the short doc­u­men­tary film above—actually a 7‑minute trail­er for Russ Pariseau’s fea­ture-length film Advanced Tibetan Med­i­ta­tion: The Inves­ti­ga­tions of Her­bert Ben­son MD—we get a brief intro­duc­tion to tum­mo, a word that trans­lates to “inner fire” and relates to the feroc­i­ty of a female deity. Ben­son explains the ideas behind the prac­tice in con­cise terms that sum up a cen­tral premise of Tibetan Bud­dhism in gen­er­al:

Bud­dhists feel the real­i­ty we live in is not the ulti­mate one. There’s anoth­er real­i­ty we can tap into that’s unaf­fect­ed by our emo­tions, by our every­day world. Bud­dhists believe this state of mind can be achieved by doing good for oth­ers and by med­i­ta­tion. The heat they gen­er­ate dur­ing the process is just a by-prod­uct of g Tum-mo med­i­ta­tion

Per­haps cen­turies-old non-Euro­pean prac­tices do not par­tic­u­lar­ly need to be debunked, demys­ti­fied, or val­i­dat­ed by mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic med­i­cine to keep work­ing for their prac­ti­tion­ers; but doc­tors have sig­nif­i­cant­ly ben­e­fit­ed those in their care through an accep­tance of the heal­ing prop­er­ties of, say, psilo­cy­bin or mind­ful­ness, now seri­ous sub­jects of study and clin­i­cal treat­ment in top Euro-Amer­i­can insti­tu­tions. Just as this research is being pop­u­lar­ized among both the med­ical estab­lish­ment and gen­er­al pub­lic, we may some­day see a surge of inter­est in advanced tantric prac­tices like tum­mo.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Bud­dhism & Neu­ro­science Can Help You Change How Your Mind Works: A New Course by Best­selling Author Robert Wright

How Med­i­ta­tion Can Change Your Brain: The Neu­ro­science of Bud­dhist Prac­tice

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Don’t Think Twice: A Poignant Film Documents How Bob Dylan & The Beatles Bring Joy to a Dementia Patient

It’s often said the sense of smell is most close­ly con­nect­ed to long-term mem­o­ry. The news offers lit­tle com­fort to us for­get­ful peo­ple with a dimin­ished sense of smell. But increas­ing­ly, neu­ro­sci­en­tists are dis­cov­er­ing how sound can also tap direct­ly into our deep­est mem­o­ries. Patients with Alzheimer’s and demen­tia seem to come alive, becom­ing their old selves when they hear music they rec­og­nize, espe­cial­ly if they were musi­cians or dancers in a for­mer life.

“Sound is evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly ancient,” Nina Kraus, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, tells NPR. “It is deeply, deeply root­ed in our ner­vous sys­tem. So the mem­o­ries that we make, the sound-to-mean­ing con­nec­tions that we have and that we’ve made through­out our lives are always there. And it’s a mat­ter of being able to access them.” The ear­worms we find our­selves hum­ming all day; the songs we nev­er for­get how to sing… these are keys to a store­house of mem­o­ry.

Sto­ries doc­u­ment­ing demen­tia patients in the pres­ence of music usu­al­ly focus, under­stand­ably, on those who have lost brain func­tion due to old age. In “Don’t Think Twice,” the short doc­u­men­tary above, we meet John Fudge, who sus­tained a trau­mat­ic brain injury when he fell from the white cliffs of Dover and split his head open at 24 years old. “The extent of his injuries weren’t revealed,” writes Aeon, “until decades lat­er, when doc­tors decid­ed to per­form a brain scan after John slipped into a deep depres­sion.”

He was found to have exten­sive brain dam­age, “includ­ing a pro­gres­sive form of demen­tia” called Seman­tic Demen­tia that leaves suf­fer­ers aware of their dete­ri­o­ra­tion while being unable to express them­selves. John’s wife Geral­dine “com­pares his brain to an oak tree, its limbs of knowl­edge being slow­ly trimmed away, caus­ing John great men­tal anguish.” In the short film, how­ev­er, we see how “his musi­cal abil­i­ties” are one “as-yet untrimmed branch.”

John him­self explains how he “near­ly died three times” and Geral­dine assists with her obser­va­tions of his expe­ri­ence. “It’s all there,” she says, “it’s just bits of it have sort of been blanked out…. Over the years, John’s seman­tic under­stand­ing of the world will dete­ri­o­rate.” When a young vol­un­teer named Jon from the Hack­ney Befriend­ing Ser­vice stops by, the gloom lifts as John engages his old pas­sion for play­ing songs by the Bea­t­les and Bob Dylan.

Fol­low the mov­ing sto­ry of how John and Jon became fast friends and excel­lent har­mo­niz­ers and see more inspir­ing sto­ries of how music can change Alzheimer’s and demen­tia patients’ lives for the bet­ter at the links below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

Demen­tia Patients Find Some Eter­nal Youth in the Sounds of AC/DC

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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

Accord­ing to dance/movement ther­a­pist Eri­ca Horn­thal, “dance/movement ther­a­py oper­ates on the premise that our life expe­ri­ences are held in the body, and that through the use of move­ment, mem­o­ries and emo­tions can be recalled and re-expe­ri­enced despite cog­ni­tive, psy­cho­log­i­cal, or phys­i­cal impair­ment.” The video above of for­mer dancer Mar­ta C. González shows in effect how music might acti­vate those mus­cle mem­o­ries, as a record­ing of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake sends Ms. González, a for­mer bal­let dancer, into an ele­gant rever­ie when she had been bare­ly respon­sive moments before.

The video was report­ed­ly tak­en in Valen­cia, Spain in 2019 and “recent­ly shared by the Aso­ciación Músi­ca para Des­per­tar, a Span­ish orga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes music ther­a­py for those afflict­ed by mem­o­ry loss, demen­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease,” writes Anas­ta­sia Tsioul­cas at NPR. It has since been shared by celebri­ties and non­celebri­ties around the world, an “undoubt­ed­ly mov­ing and uplift­ing” scene that “speaks to the pow­er of music and dance for those suf­fer­ing from mem­o­ry loss.”

Many such videos have made head­lines, illus­trat­ing the find­ings of neu­ro­science with mov­ing sto­ries of recov­ered mem­o­ry, if only for a brief, shin­ing instant, in the pres­ence of music. The González video doesn’t just warm hearts, how­ev­er; it also serves as a cau­tion­ary tale about shar­ing viral videos with­out doing dili­gence. As Tsioul­cas reports, “Alas­tair Mac­caulay, a promi­nent dance crit­ic for­mer­ly with The New York Times, has been chas­ing González’s his­to­ry and post­ing his find­ings on Insta­gram.” His most recent post pos­si­bly iden­ti­fies Ms. González as a dancer from Cuba, but the details are murky.

The video’s text iden­ti­fies her as the pri­ma bal­le­ri­na of the “New York Bal­let” in the 1960s, yet “there is no such known com­pa­ny and the New York City Bal­let does not list any­one by that name as one of its alum­ni.” To com­pli­cate the mys­tery of her iden­ti­ty even fur­ther, Macauley says the clips that appear to show a young Mar­ta González, who passed away in 2019, are actu­al­ly “a for­mer pri­ma bal­le­ri­na from Russia’s Mari­in­sky Bal­let, Uliana Lopatk­i­na.” So who was Mar­ta C. González? Sure­ly some­one will iden­ti­fy her, if she was a promi­nent bal­let dancer. But no mat­ter her per­son­al his­to­ry, Tchaikovsky “clear­ly evoked a strong, tru­ly vis­cer­al response,” as well as a grace­ful­ly mus­cu­lar one.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

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

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment: Psychologist Daniel Goleman Explains the Power of Focus

“Con­cen­tra­tion is one of the hap­pi­est things in my life,” says nov­el­ist Haru­ki Muraka­mi in a 2011 New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file. “If you can­not con­cen­trate, you are not so hap­py.” In this, the author of A Wild Sheep Chase sure­ly has the agree­ment of the author of Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence, the psy­chol­o­gist and writer Daniel Gole­man. But Gole­man express­es it a bit dif­fer­ent­ly, as you can hear — in detail and at length — in “Focus: The Secret to High Per­for­mance and Ful­fill­ment,” an Intel­li­gence Squared talk based on the book he pub­lished eigh­teen years after the best­selling Emo­tion­al Intel­li­genceFocus: The Hid­den Dri­ver of Excel­lence.

Atten­tion, Gole­man tells us, is under siege, not least by devices “devised to inter­rupt us, to seduce us, to draw our atten­tion from this to that.” He quotes the famed econ­o­mist, polit­i­cal sci­en­tist, and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist Her­bert Simon’s obser­va­tion that “infor­ma­tion con­sumes atten­tion. Hence a wealth of infor­ma­tion cre­ates a pover­ty of atten­tion” — but he does­n’t men­tion that Simon made it near­ly fifty years ago, long before the inven­tion of most of what besieges our atten­tion today. (Then again, even medieval monks com­plained of con­stant dis­trac­tion.) Most of us can feel, on some lev­el, that to the extent we have trou­ble focus­ing, we also have trou­ble per­form­ing at the lev­el we’d like to in our pro­fes­sion­al and social life.

What can we do about it? After offer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal expla­na­tions of what’s going on with our abil­i­ty to focus (or lack there­of), Gole­man sug­gests strate­gies we can use to mas­ter our “emo­tion­al dis­trac­tors” and work out the “men­tal mus­cle” that is our atten­tion. (This anal­o­gy with phys­i­cal exer­cise would get no argu­ment from Muraka­mi, who runs as rig­or­ous­ly as he writes.) Though “mind-wan­der­ing is absolute­ly essen­tial for cre­ative insight,” as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed here on Open Cul­ture, the crit­i­cal skill is to bring our mind back from its wan­der­ing at will. This we can prac­tice through Bud­dhist-style breath­ing med­i­ta­tion, a sub­ject to which Gole­man has since devot­ed a good deal of research, and just one of the prac­tices that can help us live our lives to the fullest by allow­ing us to see, hear, con­sid­er, and engage with what’s right in front of us.

As Gole­man lays out a suite of atten­tion-build­ing tech­niques and their ben­e­fits, he touch­es on the­o­ries and find­ings from cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy that have by now been pop­u­lar­ized into famil­iar­i­ty: the Stan­ford “marsh­mal­low test,” for exam­ple, which appears to show that chil­dren who can delay grat­i­fi­ca­tion have bet­ter life out­comes than those who can­not. Such out­comes can be ours as well, he argues, if we make a habit of “length­en­ing the gap between impulse and action” in our own habits. “I’m not a fast thinker, but once I am inter­est­ed in some­thing, I am doing it for many years,” as Muraka­mi says. “I’m kind of a big ket­tle. It takes time to get boiled, but then I’m always hot.” As for the rest of us, could­n’t we all stand to become big­ger ket­tles than we are?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Focus: Five Talks Reveal the Secrets of Con­cen­tra­tion

How Infor­ma­tion Over­load Robs Us of Our Cre­ativ­i­ty: What the Sci­en­tif­ic Research Shows

The Case for Delet­ing Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valu­able “Deep Work” Instead, Accord­ing to Prof. Cal New­port

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

How Med­i­ta­tion Can Change Your Brain: The Neu­ro­science of Bud­dhist Prac­tice

Medieval Monks Com­plained About Con­stant Dis­trac­tions: Learn How They Worked to Over­come Them

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.

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” & Bach’s “Prelude in C Major” Get Turned into Dazzling Musical Animations by an Artist with Synesthesia

Colour is the key­board, the eyes are the har­monies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touch­ing one key or anoth­er, to cause vibra­tions in the soul.

—Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky

We may owe the his­to­ry of mod­ern art to the con­di­tion of synes­the­sia, which caus­es those who have it to hear col­ors, see sounds, taste smells, etc. Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, who pio­neered abstract expres­sion­ism in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, did so “after hav­ing an unusu­al­ly visu­al response to a per­for­mance of Wagner’s com­po­si­tion Lohen­grin at the Bol­shoi The­atre,” the Den­ver Muse­um of Art notes. He was so moved by the moment that he “aban­doned his law career to study paint­ing at the pres­ti­gious Munich Acad­e­my of Fine Arts. He lat­er described the life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence: ‘I saw all my col­ors in spir­it, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.’”

Kandin­sky nev­er heard Coltrane, but if he had, and had access to 3D ren­der­ing soft­ware, he might have made some­thing very much like the short ani­ma­tion above from Israeli artist Michal Levy. “Rough­ly 3 per cent of peo­ple expe­ri­ence synaes­the­sia,” writes Aeon, “a neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion in which peo­ple have a recur­ring sen­so­ry over­lap, such as … envi­sion­ing let­ters and num­bers each with their own inher­ent colour.”

Levy’s con­di­tion is one of the most com­mon forms, like Kandinsky’s: “chro­maes­the­sia, in which sounds and music pro­voke visu­als.” Where the Russ­ian painter saw Wag­n­er in “wild, almost crazy lines,” Levy sees the “rol­lick­ing notes” of Coltrane’s Giant Steps as a “kinet­ic, cas­cad­ing cityscape built from colour­ful blocks of sound.”

After visu­al­iz­ing her expe­ri­ence of Coltrane, Levy cre­at­ed the ani­ma­tion above, Dance of Har­mo­ny, to illus­trate what hap­pens when she hears Bach. Dur­ing a mater­ni­ty leave, work­ing with her friend, ani­ma­tor Hagai Azaz, she set her­self the chal­lenge of show­ing, as she describes it, “the cas­cad­ing flow of emo­tion, to make the feel­ing con­ta­gious, by using only col­or, the basic shape of cir­cles, and min­i­mal­ist motion, assign­ing to each musi­cal chord the visu­al ele­ments that cor­re­spond to it synaes­thet­i­cal­ly.”

It is fas­ci­nat­ing to com­pare Levy’s descrip­tions of her con­di­tion with those of oth­er famous synes­thetes like Vladimir Nabokov and, espe­cial­ly Kandin­sky, who in essence first showed the world what music looks like, there­by giv­ing art a new visu­al lan­guage. Levy calls her synes­the­sia art, an “emo­tion­al voy­age of har­mo­ny,” and includes in her visu­al­iza­tion of Bach’s famous pre­lude an “unex­pect­ed ele­giac side­bar of love and loss,” Maria Popo­va writes. Read Levy’s full descrip­tion of Dance of Har­mo­ny here and learn more about the “extra­or­di­nary sen­so­ry con­di­tion called synes­the­sia” here.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

An Artist with Synes­the­sia Turns Jazz & Rock Clas­sics Into Col­or­ful Abstract Paint­ings

Jazz Decon­struct­ed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Ground­break­ing and Rad­i­cal?

Decon­struct­ing Bach’s Famous Cel­lo Prelude–the One You’ve Heard in Hun­dreds of TV Shows & Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagnes

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