Hemispheres of Music

“Find the thing that excites you the most and go after that … find the thing that you’re natural and really good at, and then exaggerate it…”

I came across this 2010 interview with Steve Vai, and something he said struck me.

— Steve Vai

He says that some of the best musicians don’t know music theory and can’t read or write.

“If you tell Jeff Beck to play an F# on the G string, he might not know what it is…”

—Steve Vai (rather out of context, but still…)

This is a possible example of where musicality is a right-hemisphere activity whilst the symbolic representation happens on the left. I am simplifying and talking metaphorically as I have not done any brain scans, but it feels apt. Of course, Steve Vai does both—and on steroids, so there’s that.

Unwitting Carnivores?

Children are ethically indisposed to think it’s wrong to eat animals. This article from the Journal of Environmental Psychology published a year ago looks into the schism and cognitive dissonance assuaging mechanisms in play.

This study relied on a small sample size (n=176), between the ages of 4 and 7 years living in a metropolitan area located in the southeastern region of the United States. The sample was otherwise diverse.

As this study was limited in geographic scope (see WIERD on a tangential note), it noted that eating habits vary by culture. For example, eating horse (or dog) meat is not condoned in the United States, but it is acceptable in many other places.

In summary, the childer were shown cards each with a picture of an item, whether a French fry, a horse, a cat, a fish, a tomato, and so on. At the start, they were asked to identify the item represented on the card. Next, they were asked to put the card into one of two bins, each decorated to approximate an animal or vegetation. Finally, they were asked to sort the cards into two areas, one represented by false teeth indicating edible products and a rubbish bin representing inedible items.

The subjects did a fair job of identifying the card items. They had very high image recognition of these particular animals. On the lower end of recognition were hamburger (ground beef patty), almonds, and shrimp. There was a difference between the older children and the younger children, but this may relate to the added acculturation their age would bring.

Without delving deeply into details, in this study, most 6- and 7-year-olds classified chicken, cows, and pigs as not OK to eat. The interesting cognitive trick is that these children also classified these derivative food items as non-animals thus removing the cognitive dissonance. No longer classified as an animal, their ethical framework remained internally coherent.

In discussing the results, many children were ill-informed about the source of various food products. Language games obscured the source. No one should eat a cow, but beef is fine—a hamburger is fine. Hot dogs grow on trees, don’t they?

This reminds me of the story wherein a chicken and a pig are conversing, and the chicken suggests that it and the pig go into the restaurant business. The pig considers the proposition and declines by the rationale that it would be committed but the chicken would only be involved. Children may believe that hot dogs are a by-product like eggs, fur, or feathers—don’t get me started on the down used in pillows, jackets, and comforters—rather than grasping that the animals yield these products at the expense of their lives.

Some people grow up and realise the inconsistency of their ethics and actions, but they find any number of ways to reconcile their actions, noting that the activity is normal and natural.

FULL: DISCLOSURE: For the record, I eat chicken, turkey (on festive holidays in lieu of chicken), and I eat beef (that’s cows, for the uninformed). I also consume some animal byproducts, i.e., chicken eggs and cheese. I also wear leather. I was a vegetarian for about three years until I opted to become a chickenatarian. My life partners goaded me into eating beef, and so I’ve since added that. In all cases, I feel bad for eating defenceless, sentient beings. I’m not sure it serves as any consolation that I limit my consumption to these three animals—or even if it were only one. For the record, I don’t particularly like the taste of turkey or beef, but it’s not offensive like pork, coffee, or alcohol. Chicken, I like. Sorry chickens.

Video: Homer Simpson’s (not so) ethical dilemma

For the record, this is post number 500 on Philosophics. Perhaps I should write a post about it.

Trust and Performance

Apologies in advance for another business-oriented post, but it ties in well with the latest McGilchrist content. Simon Sinek is the presenter, and he asks how the Navy pick the members of Seal Team Six—as he says, “the best of the best of the best of the best,” which happens to align with the way my toddler might tell me how very, very, very, very much she likes something.

Simon is an adept communicator with a high woo factor, but this isn’t about him. I’ve cued this video to a place where Simon illustrates the assessment mindset employed to separate the wheat from the chaff in the minds of the Navy command. I’ve effectively recreated the chart Simon draws, and I use it as a reference.

Performance is on the Y-axis and Trust is on the X-axis. Effectively, they assess competency on and off the battlefield, respectively. He describes Performance as capturing “Do I trust you with my life?” and Trust as “Do I trust you with my money and my wife?” Perhaps he’s reflecting the sentiment of the generation managing the Seals. Not judging.

His point is that no one wants an untrustworthy low-performer (bottom left) and everyone wants a trustworthy high-performer (top right). He goes on to say that high-performing, low-trust members are toxic to the team. The team is better off with a relatively moderate performer that is otherwise trustworthy. I suppose the rest is a wash.

Performance is typical left-hemisphere fare: how much, how many, how fast, and so on. Companies have a million and one ways to measure performance.

Trust is a resident of the right hemisphere. This is an intuition and can’t be measured.

As Simon points out, even without explicit metrics, if you ask each team member who’s the highest performer, they’ll all point to the same person. Correspondingly, if you ask who’s the most trustworthy, they’ll all point to the same person as well. I can’t say that I trust this judgment, and thankfully, they do document whatever performance measures they have determined are appropriate. This option is not available for trust, so they have to rely on intuition. I don’t know if they also rely on consensus. I will grant that if all of the members do point to the same person as having the highest level of trust–presuming some performance threshold has been met–and the goal is to find a leader for that team, this person would make a fine leading candidate. If this person happened to be the highest performer then great, but being the best leader doesn’t require being the highest performer.

A sports coach doesn’t even need to excel at the sport s/he is leading. Their function is to motivate and inspire the team. Of course, in the case of the seals, I’m presuming this role is more of a player-manager. Still, the cohesion factor should be taken into account.

Trust is a heuristic that can’t be measured, and it’s fairly simple to find examples of people who appeared to be trustworthy but turned out not to be. It’s also conceivable that a trustworthy person may be misunderstood and perceived as trustworthy.

My question relates to the object of trust. When I think of police officers in the United States, I think that their trust is in each other, but at the expense of society. So they will generally protect each other even when they are morally and legally in the wrong. This is not the trust we want to foster for the public good. But since in my opinion policing is not about the public good but rather maintaining the status quo power structure, this is not a problem for their hiring managers.

Bang the Jrum Slowly!

I was riding a chrain down a shchreet banging a jrum and eating shrimp.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

If you keep up with English language morphology—and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t?—the opening sentence is a phonetic respelling of ‘I was riding a train down a street banging a drum and eating shrimp’ but for a new generation. Dr Geoff Lindsey created a video, which includes material drawn from his book English After RP: Standard British Pronunciation Today. But don’t be fooled by the RP reference. There is plenty of relevance to the shifts in General American English if ever there was such a thing.

As noted previously, the principle of least effort tends to be a guiding factor for language morphology, and we’re witnessing the conservation of effort driving this shift.

Technically, what’s happening is that, traditionally, we performed some lingual gymnastics gliding (or not) from an alveolar consonant to a post-alveolar shift. The new fashion is to shift the entire structure into a post-alveolar space. Lazy wins. Of course, I’ll expect to hear from vocal prescriptivists, the traditional grammar Nazis, who will insist, “If I see a T in train, I’m going to pronounce it like a T, dammit. No ch-ch as in choo-choo for this ‘adult’.”

I’ve summarised the italicised words in a table.


Traditionally—which is to say the language spoken by older native English speakers—, the consonant clusters are pronounced pretty much as written. One would pronounce the T or TR in train; the DR in drum; and the STR in street. Shrimp had already made the shift, so we can think of it as a trendsetter.

Notice how the T in train shifts to a CH sound (/t͡ʃ/) or how the D in drum shifts to a J sound (/dʒ/). As the video shows, Michelle Obama is a bit ahead of the change curve, as she’s already shifted the S in street to a post-alveolar-friendly Sh Ch (/ʃt͡ʃ/), replacing the ST with a Sh-Ch combination, the S becoming Sh and the T becoming Ch. This trend has not caught on more broadly, but it seems it may be inevitable and allows us to keep this in a nice and tidy box.

In the video, there is a clip recounting a story of a seven-year-old just learning to write (and evidently into Star Wars) who wrote the following.

IMAGE: Watch out for the stormtrooper as written by a 7-year-old native English speaker

Notice that he is trying to capture a quasi-phonetic rendition of the word TROOPER that he hears (correctly) as CHROOPER. Again, this might cause grammar Nazis to go on a rampage. I don’t expect any spelling back-formation reformation to follow suit. We’ll just add this to the “English is not a phonetic language and has a lot of spelling exceptions” adage.

If you are a native English speaker, is this something you notice? If you speak English as a second language, have you noticed this trend? Which camp are you in? Old school or new school?

English Weak Forms

I have been so utterly distracted by YouTube this weekend. In this case, it’s a video by Dr Geoff Lindsey explaining weak forms of the English language.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

Much of my work life involves speaking either with non-native English speakers or speakers of English who may be quite well versed in English and yet have a certain rigidity in their execution. Along with local accents, this makes the language feel unnatural to a native speaker.

A common challenge is the adoption of weak forms. Following the principle of least effort, language speakers are lazy. In fact, one may extrapolate this morphology to predict where language may drift next. One example that comes to mind is the American habit of uttering flap Ts over ‘real’ Ts that require slightly more effort to produce.

In English, one says the words, butter, water, doctor, and sister as /ˈbʌtə/,/ˈwɔtəɹ/, /ˈdɒktə/, /ˈsɪstə(ɹ)/ whilst in American English, using the flap T sound, one says (respelt in parentheses) /ˈbʌdəɹ/ (buhd-er), / ˈwɔdəɹ/ (wahd-er), /ˈdɔkdɚ/ (dok-der), /ˈsɪsdər/ (sis-der). Whether the pronunciation of the R is rhotic or non-rhotic is another issue altogether.

But this is about something a bit different. It’s about weak forms, particularly vowels that can be weakened from the strong vowel sound to the shwa (/ə/) sound. It turns out that we do this a lot. In fact, more often than not. Rather than a rehash from the video, I’ve cued it to where Tom Hiddleston recites Lord Byron’s So We’ll Go No More a Roving.

So, we'll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
   And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
   And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
   And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
   By the light of the moon.

As it happens, much of the difference between native English and English as spoken by non-natives is the hyper-diction heard by choosing the strong rather than the weak form of certain words.

Seeing the World As It Is

Cubism reminds us that we don’t see the world as it is. We see pieces, and we fill in the gaps. From the front, we can’t see the back. From the top, we can’t see the bottom.

Video: YouTube Video

The illusion that, if we can see something clearly, we see it as it really is, is hugely seductive.
John Ruskin makes the point that clarity is bought at the price of limitation. He paints a scenario wherein we are asked to imagine viewing an open book and an embroidered handkerchief on a lawn. From a quarter mile away, the two are indistinguishable. Moving closer, we can see which is which, but we can neither read the book nor trace the embroidery. Closer still, we can read the text and trace the embroidery, but we can’t see the fibres of the paper or the threads of the kerchief. And we can’t simultaneously focus on both and see detail in each. Focusing on the book, we can look closer and see the watermark, the hills and dales in the paper’s surface. With a microscope, we can see more still, as infinitum.

But at which point do we see it clearly?

I’ve created a YouTube short. I have to admit that I dislike the format. Sixty seconds isn’t really enough time to convey a concept. There’s too much missing context, and no time to elaborate. Nonetheless, I was reading The Master and His Emissary and wanted to share a point. I don’t feel I succeeded. I posted it anyway, and here it is.

To Be or Not to Be (Free)

I recently posted a YouTube Short video titled You Have No Free Will, but this is still debatable.

Video: You Have No Free Will

The premise of the belief in free-will is that human decisions are made approximately half a second before we are conscious of them, and then the conscious brain convinces itself that it just made a choice. This sounds pretty damning, but let’s step back for a moment.

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If you’ve been following this blog these past few months, you’ll be aware that I feel the question of free will is a pseudo-question hinging primarily on semantics. As well, there’s the causa sui argument that I’d like to ignore for the purpose of this post.

There remains a semantic issue. The free will argument is centred around the notion that a person or agent has control or agency over their choices. This means that how we define the agent matters.

In the study this references, the authors define the agent as having conscious awareness. Since this occurs after the decision is made, then the person must have had no agency. But I think an argument can be made that the earlier decision gateway is formed through prior experience. Applying computer metaphors, we can say that this pre-consciousness is like embedded hardware or read-only logic. It’s like autopilot.

In business, there are various decision management schemes. In particular, the conscious but slow version is for a person to be notified to approve or deny a request. But some decisions are automatic. If a purchase is over, say 50,000 then a manager needs to sign off on the request. But if the purchase is under 50,000, then the request is made automatically and then the manager is notified for later review if so desired.

I am not saying that I buy into this definition, but I think the argument could be made.

You might not know it by the number of posts discussing it, but I am not really concerned about whether or not free will really exists. I don’t lose any sleep over it. At the same time, I tend to react to it. Since I feel it’s a pseudo-problem where tweaking the definition slightly can flip the answer on its head, it’s just not worth the effort. On to better things.

Some Republican Perspectives

No, as Robert Smith quips, not the so-called Republican party in the United States. Real Republicans. The consensus seems to be that Queen Elizabeth served the role admirably and well. For most people, she was just the figurehead of an institution. Sure, the institution carries a lot of baggage, but she was mostly not complicit in creating more. She was pretty much a likeable mum.

But as with benevolent dictators, we don’t know where the benevolence ends. Why not just stop here and not keep rolling the dice? I don’t suppose that Charles has the same brand cache. In any case, family lineage is no system of succession—in State or Commerce, I might add. The world needs fewer dynasties, not more.

In this first piece, world-class writer, Philip Hall, shares his perspective on the dissolution of the Monarchy.

Bring the powerful to heel, don’t glorify monarchs and privilege

by Philip Hall (ARS Notoria)

The idea that Charles III is divinely appointed to rule over us is ridiculously far-fetched. Yet, ultimately, it is the metaphysical idea of the divine right of kings that gives King Charles III his political legitimacy… (click image to continue)

In the next video, Alex O’Connor (AKA Cosmic Skeptic), has some thoughts of his own on the monarchy.

On a lighter note, the Cure’s Robert Smith tells us how he really feels in this compellation compiled in 2021.

If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them—rather, read them, but you know what I mean because you’re clever like that.

Left-Brain, Right-Brain

The hemispheres of the brain have functional differences. I created a short-form video on YouTube, so it’s less than 60 seconds.


If you see a face in this image (in the accompanying video), you can thank the right hemisphere of your brain. The right hemisphere is about unity and the whole—a Gestalt. It fills in missing pieces to construct a whole. And it’s usually pretty good at it.

Think of the right hemisphere as Zen. It’s about experiencing the world as presented. It experiences the world without judgment, without attachment, without naming. It’s about openness and options.
The left hemisphere is about division and parts. Where the right hemisphere wants to open up, the left wants to close down. And it’s about creating maps and symbols, then re-presenting these.
Where the left hemisphere of the brain is focused on the trees, the right hemisphere sees the forest or the woods.

The left hemisphere is what creates our sense of self and individuality whilst it would probably not be unfair to characterise the right hemisphere as the Buddhist notion of selflessness and an undivided universe, where ‘self’ is an illusion.
The left hemisphere is literal whilst the right is metaphoric. It is also the realm of poetry and empathy.

Moral Binaries

At heart, I’m an Emotivist. Following Ayer, I don’t believe that morals (and their brethren ethics) convey more than, “I like this, and I don’t like that.” Stevenson’s Prescriptivist extension makes sense, too: “I think this is good, and so should you.”

It seems that Hilary Lawson and I share this perspective. He makes the further point, one I’ll surely adopt, that morals and ethics are effectively ‘designed’ to shut down argument and discussion. It’s akin to the parent telling the kid, “Because I said so”—or “because it’s the right thing to do”.

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I’m a moral non-cognitivist, but people have difficulty enough grasping relativism and subjectivism, so I’m only going to reference moral relativism here. As a moral relativist, right and wrong were both subjective and contextual. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. I won’t derail this with obvious examples. Once one adopts a position, they enjoy the luxury of turning off any critical thinking.

I’ll presume that morals predate religion and deities, but now that the thinking world has abandoned the notion of gods, they’ve replaced it with morals and ethics—and nature, but that’s a topic for another day. The faith-based world retains a notion of gods, but that is fraught with the same relativism of my god is right, and your god is wrong.

As Hilary notes, we’ve transferred the authority, per Nietzsche, from gods to morals in and of themselves, so it again becomes a device for the unengaged. He notes, as I do, that some absolute Truth is a fool’s errand. Echoing Donald Hoffman, what we need is fitness—what Lawson calls usefulness—, not Truth, which is inaccessible anyway—even if it did exist, which of course it doesn’t.

He cites the position Wittgenstein arrives at in his Tractatus. There is and can never be a place where language—words and symbols—intersect with ‘reality’, so the best we can do is to talk about it in a third-person sort of way.

As I consider the works of McGilchrist, it feels like Lawson is establishing moral simplicity as a left hemisphere function. Seeing beyond this is a right hemisphere activity, so that’s not promising. There seem to be few right-brain thinkers and then it comes to convincing the left-brain crowd. In a poor metaphor, the challenge is rather like trying to convey the maths of special relativity to the same crowd. They are going to tune out before they hear enough of the story. The left-brain is good at saying, ”la la la la, la la, la”.  

Without getting too far off track, a major challenge is that systems of government and laws are facile left hemisphere-dominant activities. These are people in power and influential. Rhetoricians have right hemisphere dominance, but they understand that their power depends on defending the status quo that has elevated them to where they are. As Upton Sinclair said, “’It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This holds true for women and non-binary others.

In closing, Lawson asserts that apart from comic book supervillains, people tend to do what they believe to be good, and yet all goods are not created equally, nor all bads. And in the manner that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s good is another’s bad.

This moral discourse is not benign. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to steep this in contemporary politics, but this is being propagandised in things like the Ukraine conflict or the Covid response. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. This is divisive and creates a rift. That governments are propagating this divide is even more disconcerting, especially when they unapologetically backtrack only a few months later in the wake of people suffering economic impacts, including getting fired, for opposing a position that has turned out to be wrong and that was being asserted in the name of science and yet with little empirical support. These people are politicians and not scientists but attempting to hide behind science like a human shield, it serves to erode trust in science. Trust in science is a separate topic, so I’ll leave it there.

I recommend watching the complete video of Hilary Lawson to gain his perspective and nuance. My point is only to underscore his positions and to say that I agree. What do you think about morals? Are they a device to assert power over others, or is there something more to it than this? If not moral, then what? Leave a comment.