Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ideas for a lecture on hearing and music

This year my lecture on hearing and music was quite confusing, which is really a shame, because the topic is so wonderful, interesting, and potentially rich with insights! (Everybody likes music - at least some kind of music - it's a general trait, and so I hope it can be used as a "hook" in teaching).

So now I'm looking for ways to make this lecture next year a hit. So far I am thinking of the following:

1) Instead of just showing formants and spectra in the presentation download a realtime spectrogram tool (like this one for example) and use it to show:

  • whistle, plunger flute (idea of a spectrum)
  • s-sch-sh sounds (noise and the spectrum)
  • voice (with harmonics)
  • throat singing rendition (to show that individual harmonics can be boosted / damped)
  • a-e-i-o-u, ba-da (standard formants)
  • difference between a flute and a clarinet (even vs odd harmonics)
2) More on formants. Trumpet mouthpiece with a "hand-trumpet" to show that "speech-like sounds" may be generated by means other than the mouth cavity. Also this video.

3) Auditory illusions and examples from this awesome site:

4) The easiest way to explain harmonic series is actually to use a piano, pressing some keys silently, and then exciting them by striking other keys corresponding to respective undertones. But I won't be able to bring a piano in a classroom, so either I'll try to use a re-tuned guitar, or just show them part of these amazing videos:

What else? When talking about frequencies, it may be useful to demonstrate them on the spot with something like this theremin simulator. Also with 2 plunger flutes I can show just tuning (disappearance of amplitude ripples), but I'm not sure they'll be able to hear them easily without prior training. Also I will probably bring an overtone flute (kalyuka) to demonstrate first several harmonics in a woodwind instrument.

Ideally it would be great to make some kind of a mini-lab, making them generate some sounds on their laptops, but I don't yet know what to do. Maybe making them run certain frequencies with certain pulse, in a hope that it would all mix into some kind of music? Giant interactive musical box? I should think more about that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Excitation / Inhibition balance

A slide about excitation / inhibition balance. I did not invent it, but had to re-drew it from scratch. Maybe somebody will find it useful =)

(Some keywords for the web-crawlers: inhibition, excitation, balance, GABA, glutamate, death, coma, sleep, arousal, epilepsy, seizure, normal state).

Friday, August 24, 2012

Insane in the Chromatophores

Well, this is probably the best neuroscience video of the year =) Guys from the Backyardbrains went to the Woodshole Marine Laboratory, and there connected to a motor nerve in a squid. And squids can change color, you know. So what would happen if you now play some music into the nerve? Well, check it out!

This is a modification of their original demonstration with a cockroach leg:

And is reminiscent of this dancing hair cell video:

But this time it is also beautiful. Not just freaky, but also really beautiful!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Every now and then on Reddit I try to put my 2 cents in discussions on philosophy. Obviously I don't try to enter any philosophical discussion out there, but only those where I feel that some neuroscience, quantitative psychology, or evolutionary thinking may be helpful. I also always try to make the background of my thought  clear, to prevent possible misunderstanding.

And the result is usually the same: my comments are heavily downvoted. The discussion usually takes some highly theoretical direction, with lots of special words and names I never heard about. And at the same time these discussions are swarming with statements that are just proven to be false! Or, more often, with concepts that do not seem to correlate with anything in the scientific discourse for last 20-30 years already. Be it about subconsciousness, decision making, animal cognition, brain development, or game theory.

So my impression so far is that there exists a whole stratum of highly educated people who live in some artificial world, lagging behind the science, as we know it, and maybe even deliberately distancing themselves from its development. It is not that my comments there are especially nice and easy to read of course, but still the contrast between neighboring discussions of science and philosophy is really striking. Especially if you consider something like /r/AskAcademia , where humanities and sciences technically share the space, but at the same time self-select to some extent within each particular post, depending on its topic.

It is all pretty sad overall.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Brain evolution tree

Here I recolored the original image from the Internet, so that the colors matched (more or less) those from the Bear-Connors-Paradiso book. This way it is more consistent, and can be used as a part of BCP-based lecture.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Nice recommendation on poster layout

I have stumbled upon a nice blog about poster design:

While most posters they discuss in the blog are bad both before and after the changes are made (probably just because they are hopelessly bad), I really like some pieces of advice they give on the blog. Like this one for example. Poster design that promotes results and demotes boring sections: