Home / Stuff / Neuroharmonics


Dr. Martin B. Chase;
Chris Bateman, BSc, MSc;
and Spiral Lobster, KSc.

1. Abstract

Neuroharmonics represents a theory that the interaction between humans and music can be modeled as emergent behaviour produced by three primary factors. These three factors are the template, which represents a degree of familiarity with the form of the music, the focus which represents the images produced in an individual by the music and the kick, which is the physiological response the music evokes in the hearer. I have attempted to write this paper using E-prime2.

2. Introduction

2.1 Background

The theory of neuroharmonics has been developed over a period of three years, although the observations that the model developed from go back at least ten years, and probably more. An important issue to be considered concerns the distortion of experimental testing by the prejudices or atypical neurology of the subjects. That is, a person who has reason to dislike a particular piece or form of music for prejudicial reasons appears likely to distort the experimental results. I welcome any feedback (personal or experimental) on the model.

2.2 Science or pseudo-science?

Whether you consider neuroharmonics to be a scientific theory depends on your attitudes to science. Its derivation consisted of several years of observation of how individuals respond to different types of music, the formulation of the model, and then the observation of how well the model could be applied to arbitrary situations.

The orthodox scientific community would probably not consider neuroharmonics to be particularly scientific3. In particular, it resembles a family of neurological and psychological models that were derived intuitively and not methodically. This short cut to working models appears to be generally dismissed in all fields, and yet the models themselves can be completely valid4. The methods used should not be an issue in determining the validity of a model such as this, i.e., a model can be scientifically validated by testing regardless of the method of derivation. Traditional herbal medicine would not generally be seen as having been derived scientifically, but it has (in many cases) been validated scientifically.

Ultimately, if you wish to dismiss this research as unscientific I would request that you go out and prove the inapplicability of the model. The fact that I cannot provide useful research statistics in this paper does not reflect on whether or not this paper should be considered science, although it does break with traditional (and fairly sensible) practices of insisting that the onus of proof be on the people presenting theories and models, and not on the reader. For this, I apologise, but you're all big boys and girls now and you can deal with it.

3. The Neuroharmonic Model

3.1 Basis of the model

In the neuroharmonic model, a person's attitude towards a piece of music can be modeled as a synergetic response between their central nervous system and aspects of that piece. Note that this model cannot say anything about an arbitrary person's response to a piece of music without first knowing something about their responses to a variety of other pieces of music. The synergetic responses come from three factors: template, focus and kick.

3.2 Template

We define a piece of music's template as the form and instrumentation of the piece. Two pieces written in the same form and with the same instrumentation are considered to have the same template. For the purpose of neuroharmonics, the human voice is considered an instrument, and all human voices are treated as different instruments. It is worth noting that post-production effects alter the overall sound of the instrumentation, and hence the nature of a piece's template.

In the neuroharmonic model, each individual possesses a set of templates through which all music is interpreted. This personal template represents the mind's ability to experience music. In general, neuroharmonics predicts that a piece of music can only be enjoyed by an individual if they have already acquired a similar template. This should not be interpreted as saying that a piece of music will be enjoyed if a similar template has been acquired, merely that having acquired a similar template should be seen as a prerequisite to the possibility of enjoying a piece of music.

For discussion on the acquisition of templates, see section 4.

3.3 Focus

We define the focus of a piece of music as the internal mental landscapes conjured up by the piece. Whilst in general this differs dramatically from person to person, neuroharmonics allows the most common responses to be considered as the focus of the piece. We call this abstraction the mean focus of a piece of music. It should not be forgotten, however, that using this simplification does not provide the luxury of ignoring differences in individual responses.

Unfocussed music describes pieces which do not (for the individual in question) generate imagery or associative experiences. We cannot say that a piece of music 'is unfocussed', because we cannot demonstrate that no listener will experience focus from it. However, we occasionally do describe a piece as unfocussed, meaning that the mean focus of the piece tends towards it being perceived as unfocussed.

In instrumental music, the focus appears to result primarily from raw associations. Typically, feelings of particular kinds of motion or images related to the sound by association appear to be generated in individuals, and these experiences combine to provide focus. External semantic information, such as the title of the piece, can modify this response.

For example, the classical piece 'Ride of the Valkyries' appears to most as more tightly focused once the listener knows its title (and/or mythical background).

In lyrical music, the focus tends to emerge principally from the lyrics. The mean focus of most love songs, for example, tends towards love or sex. Evidently, songs which use indirect associations may have multiple mean foci depending on the knowledge or perception of each individual.

For example, the song 'Ebenezer Goode' has a different mean focus depending on whether you are aware of the drugs reference in the line 'Ezer goode'. Individuals interpreting this line as 'Ezer goode' probably perceive the song to be unfocussed (i.e. nonsense). Those that interpret this line as 'E's are good' seem more likely to view the focus of the song as drugs-related.

3.4 Kick

We define the kick of a piece of music as the physiological response produced by the piece. In general, this physiological response is independent of personal templates, but those who do not possess compatible templates seem unlikely to experience the kick. The more factors combine to make the piece enjoyable, the stronger the kick appears to be. Kicks seem the result of neurotransmitter or hormone activity, and hence adrenal, gonadatrophin and endorphin kicks represent the most easily identified kicks.

The effect of the kick of a piece of music appears to have significant effects at a somatic level. Ignoring the obvious effects of the various neurotransmitters and hormones that can be triggered by a neuroharmonic kick, evidence from a laboratory in the US [reference, if I had it] demonstrates that people who have been listening regularly to relaxing, endorphin-kick based music have reduced risk or heart disease and other medical disorders.

3.5 Synergetic responses

Whether an individual enjoys a piece of music can be modeled under neuroharmonics as the interaction of the template with the personal template, the focus with the individual's associative memory and the kick with the individual's preference in this area. For this reason, we refer to a person's reaction to a piece of music as a synergetic response. Again, it should be remembered that an individual's prejudice (for whatever reason) can distort the expected neuroharmonic responses.

4. Acquiring Templates

4.1 Template sources

Our research has demonstrated the following likely sources of template acquisition:

4.2 Neurological analysis

We choose to model the brain as a set of neural networks [reference, if I had it] that are inter-related, but each designated a specific task. Put simply, each neural network can be modeled as a memory device which takes a certain signal and generates a certain response.

For example, when a child learns to talk, they develop a neural network to deal with language. Initially, this deals with one language. Learning a second language becomes a process of developing not just a second neural network to learn that language, but developing interconnections between the original neural network (capable of reasoning about language) and the new network (containing knowledge of the new language).

Within neuroharmonics, we model a portion of the brain as a neural network trained on musical templates. In general, this network acts as a filter on any incoming information. With an incoming signal with a known template, it transmits the information onwards to the rest of the brain in a specific translated form (the dynamics of which need not be considered). With unknown templates, it transmits no signal5. Neural networks can function in such a way that something which appears similar to a known incoming signal will return a partial outgoing signal. In this way pieces of music which have templates which can be seen as similar to a known template still cause an outgoing signal to be generated. If the brain 'enjoys' the outgoing signal, the template of the incoming signal will tend to be learnt.

When an individual lacks the template for a particular style of music, the most typical response tends towards a claim that "it all sounds the same". A common complaint about specific musicians appears to be that all their music sounds the same, although this response tends to vanish once the template has been acquired. The exceptions to this generally occur in styles which are themselves formulaic (such as the blues) where even people who show signs of having acquired the template may feel that the music tends towards essentially the same form.

4.3 Exposure

Repeat exposure of a neural network to any signal appears sufficient for the network to learn that signal. In the model of neuroharmonics, we state the Principle of Exposure as follows:

Any piece of music repeatedly played to an individual without a template for that music will tend to cause the individual to acquire the appropriate template unless the template-learning network receives negative reinforcement from elsewhere in the brain.

Informally, this states that unless the prejudices of the individual prevent the template from being acquired, repeated hearing generally seems sufficient for a template to be acquired.

At first sight, this claim may appear to be saying that any piece of music, no matter how 'bad', can be enjoyed. However, it should be remembered that acquiring a template for a piece of music represents the minimum requirement for being able to enjoy it.

As an example, consider the phenomenon of 'catchy tunes'. In neuroharmonics, a catchy tune is modeled as a facet of template, since the structure of most catchy tunes can be shown to be similar. Consequently, not all catchy tunes can be enjoyed by all people. Other factors must be considered.

Note, however, that technically adept pieces of music tend to have a form and structure (and hence a template) which can be perceived as beauteous in its own right. As a consequence, it can happen that an individual enjoys a piece of music solely on account of its template. Most branches of classical music tend towards this extreme, although many can provide an endorphin kick as well.

4.4 Chaining

The most common area chaining appears to occur in tends to be the acquisition of templates from musical styles where the individual previously had no experience. Chaining happens when they experience a piece of music which appears to them as a cross-breed between a style they already know a template for and the unknown style. We state the Principle of Chaining as follows:

We define a partial-template for a specific piece of music as a template which matches some proportion of the template for that piece of music.

Any piece of music played to an individual who possesses a partial-template for that piece will acquire a new template for that piece of music unless the template-learning network receives negative reinforcement from elsewhere in the brain and provided the individual experiences a positive kick or focus experience from that piece of music.

Informally, this states that unless the prejudices of the individual prevent the template from being acquired, hearing and enjoying a piece of music that is sufficiently similar to known templates will establish that piece of music as the basis of a new template.

We call this chaining because it allows entirely new styles of music to be learnt as templates provided pieces of music can be found that draw from both currently known templates and the new template. If these bridging templates can be learnt, they provide a method of acquiring quite different templates.

5. Key Factors

5.1 Individual responses

The neuroharmonics model recognises that the importance of the three factors - template, focus and kick - varies from individual to individual. For example, songs with a romantic focus do not appeal to everyone, any more than songs with an adrenal kick could appeal to everyone. For some but not all people, one of the three factors tends to have a greater importance in determining their enjoyment. We refer to this as the key factor for that person.

Although people's preferences in types of focus and kick may change with age, there appears no evidence to suggest that a person's key factor changes. One possibility would therefore be that these key factors are linked to personality type.

5.2 Neuroharmonics and the Myers-Briggs type indicator

Comparison between a person's apparent personality type according to the Myers-Briggs type indicator and their preferred key factor (if any) shows the following correlation:

As yet, we have yet to discover any other correlation.

This paper was written by Spiral Lobster, based on materials developed by the various authors. Having recently discovered E-prime, Spiral was determined to attempt to use it to write the paper, but in his enthusiasm for the article itself actually failed to accurately apply the principles of E-prime! Thanks to Kashif for the following link about E-prime (or E', as it is commonly termed).

A free copy of Shifter to the first person to accurately translate this paper into E'.

1 Previously 'psychoharmonics', the name has been changed for clarity.
2 English with the existential operators removed. See [reference, if I had it].
3 However, I do not consider the orthodox scientific community to be particularly scientific either, so that makes us about even.
4 For example, Leary's eight circuit model of the brain appears to be a completely valid model. Because of Leary's unusual methods, it is generally ignored by the scientific community, despite the apparent isometry between Leary's model and several partial models that predate it (including Freud and Jung).
5 Note, however, that even in this model the brain can reason about the original signal information in other ways. No signal transmitted does not mean the brain is unaware of the incoming signal, merely that it does not significantly act upon it.