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Thursday, September 6, 2007 -- 9:42 pm

At the risk of repeating myself, I'd like to get a few thoughts down in reaction to Huron's Sweet Anticipation because it may be a little while before I can offer a more detailed and comprehensive critique. It seems to me that, on some level, his theory misses the point, because it does very little to explain why some pieces of music are better, and more effective, than others. It can't simply be a matter of liking what we know or (more generously) liking the conventions we already know, because that would keep us from discovering and appreciating the new and great. That first night when Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was first performed, for example, changed Western music forever. And part of the power and surprise in the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth is that each of the four movements is in sonata form, except that the fourth movement, on returning to the first section, introduces the human voice -- a complete rupture with all convention, both defeating and surpassing all expectation. Huron's theory, which dictates that our enjoyment of music is based on the satisfaction of expectations and conformity with established convention, not only fails to explain how music could evolve in the first place, but fails to explain how it could be fundamentally changed by genius and insight.

In addition, Huron's reliance on convention appears to imply that the beauty we perceive in nature is an altogether different phenomenon, because the beauty of nature cannot be subject to social dicta. What convention could possibly prepare someone for Bryce canyon, for example? More generally, Huron's theory seems completely unable to account for any form of visual beauty, from art or nature; it seems to me to be too narrowly drawn to capture what's important about the experience.

Thursday, September 6, 2007 -- 9:40 pm

Every science seems to pass through a descriptive phase before it settles into the business of offering explanatory theories. Thus anatomy precedes physiology, and taxonomy preceded evolutionary biology. Is history, which in many cases seems to be little more than the accumulation and ordering of facts, a science still in its descriptive phase?

Thursday, September 6, 2007 -- 9:25 pm

It appears that my borderline sensory disorders encroach even on my perception of morphemes. Not only do I apparently sometimes decide whether consonants are voiced or unvoiced based on their aspiration, but, in learning Korean, I seem to hear a particularly breathy s sound not as an s, but as a wet and sloppy t. Just perfect.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007 -- 10:48 pm

The process of self-education is a labyrinthine and wandering thing. I embarked a few years back on the project of educating myself about quantum computers and, more generally, quantum entanglement, as one of the intellectually more challenging and fascinating puzzles of our time. I can't, at this point, claim to be anywhere near getting the hang of it, or even to have mastered the notation and vocabulary. Nor, I can say with a certain degree of confidence, is there a truly suitable book on the subject that explains the problem in the concrete, step-by-step fashion that I require, neither glossing over the crucial particulars like the typical science journalist nor assuming that the reader has already mastered the fundamentals, as is typically the case in Nature or Science. So I have the experience of continually setting aside one tome in favor of another that seems simpler, more incremental and introductory. I'm hoping that my current resting place, Feynman's (apparently celebrated) lectures on physics in three volumes, will be an adequate foundation for me to proceed. As a professor once remarked in a class I audited in college, the problem with one's education is that it can never begin -- there's always another prerequisite.