One of the reasons I don't listen to music throughout the day is that music changes my mood. Music is designed to manipulate your body chemistry and your mind. The songs that manipulate your emotions most effectively rise to the top and become hits. I don't want music manipulating me in ways I haven't planned.

The one situation in which I intentionally listen to music is when I exercise. That works great because I load my iPod with only the songs that energize me. The music puts my body immediately into exercise mode. I'm like Pavlov's dog when I get to the gym; I'm not in the mood to exercise until I put in my headphones and hit play. Three notes later I'm totally in the mood.

The thing I try to avoid throughout the day is listening to random music that jerks my mood around until it doesn't fit with whatever task is at hand. I don't want to get pumped up before I try to sleep. I don't want to hear a sad song before I try to work. I don't want a song stuck in my head when I'm trying to solve a problem, and so on. The problem is not the music but the mismatch between the music and my activities.

This made me wonder if life is full of non-music sounds and noises that could be organized to tune our bodies for whatever task is ahead. For example, I wonder if the sound of a deer walking over leaves would arouse our hunter-gatherer brains and make us more alert. I wonder if hearing sounds of the ocean would relax us. And what about sounds that make us curious, such as the sound of a key in a lock, or sounds that excite us, such as a Ferrari engine revving up? I'll bet we have sounds that stimulate almost every type of human emotion or attitude.

A recent study showed that it is easier to be creative in the midst of crowd noise such as you might hear at a coffee house. I discovered this phenomenon myself when I owned a restaurant. I wrote almost an entire book sitting in a booth every day in the middle of the lunchtime bustle. I couldn't figure out why it was so easy to write in a noisy atmosphere. It was counterintuitive, but it worked sensationally.

I wonder if a systematic study of common sounds and how they affect the brain could give us a tool to tune ourselves to any specific task. I'd have one set of sounds to keep me alert, another to improve my problem solving, and another to make me more creative. I might have sounds that make me happy, sounds that motivate, sounds that make me risk-averse or risk-tolerant, and sounds that literally make me stronger.

Music is just one way to tune your body. With the help of brain scans and systematic studies we can figure out how a wide variety of sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even concepts affect our minds. Armed with that knowledge, your conscious mind could orchestrate your surroundings to tune your body and emotions to fit any kind of task.

We do versions of this already, of course. When we are tense we know to go outside and enjoy some nature. When we are grumpy we know some junk food might help our mood. But how much more effective would we be if we had data telling us exactly which stimuli creates which reaction? I think the difference in effectiveness could be enormous.

The barriers I see to this future are twofold. For starters, it must be expensive to do studies involving brain scans.

The second barrier is the superstition of mind. Even the most rational among us believe we have something called a "mind" that is capable of something called "free will" which all feels a bit like magic. We have a sense that our minds can cook up thoughts and ideas on its own, without the benefit of external stimulation. The belief is that we can think ourselves into whatever frame of mind we need. We think we can use our "willpower" to overcome sadness, or focus on what is important, whatever. My view is the opposite. I believe our internal sensation of "mind" is nothing but the end result of external stimulation interacting with our DNA. By my view, we are moist robots and we have five senses that act as our operator interface. To me, it makes no sense to try and think my way to happiness when I can just take my dog for a walk and come back feeling great.

We'll be a lot happier when we stop believing in magic and start figuring out which types of stimulations create which reactions.

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Feb 8, 2013
I think the casinos have done the best job of figuring out what type of stimulations create what kind of reactions. It's always dark in a casino so that you lose track of time, the carpet patterns are complicated, keeping your attention on the games, the lights and sounds generated a feeling of excitement.

But even though I can be influenced, I still believe in the magic of free will.
Feb 8, 2013
Why do we need studies? They might be useful, but it seems to me that you, Scott, me, and most other folks have done a good enough job figuring out what music/activities/etc. will put us in the right mood without them. Not to mention, given your low opinion of experts, I wonder if it would really be an improvement to have them trying to run our lives (Whats that? You're not having them try to run our lives? You're having them choose our music, tell us when to go outside and a dozen other things aren't you?)

And Im not sure that I want my sensory stimuli to be designed by scientists rather than by artists.

So, once again, Im going to have to shake my head at your prediction of how wonderful the future will be once such-and-such happens.
Feb 8, 2013
No magic... Just vibrational frequency. All things vibrate at specific frequencies and interfering vibrations (sound / light / impact / thought / radio waves) alter your frequency hence alter your output.
Feb 8, 2013
I'm with you that a study needs to be done...which only requires funding...which only requires figuring out who would benefit financially (I've learned much from Dogbert over the years).
I'll need to think through who could make a buck from this...putting the study together and gathering the requisite scientific types is a slam dunk once you have the money lined up.
Feb 8, 2013
According to Scott, stop believing in magic and ban the Pied Piper of Hamelin from manipulating your body chemistry and moods. Forget willpower and instead use your free will to select your mood through appropriate songs or activities.

According to Scott, thinking or willpowering your way to happiness is the wrong approach. On the contrary doing something (an external world activity) or listening to good music (also an external world activity) increases happiness. It's the old "I smile (for no reason other than to force myself to be happy) therefore I'm happy" trick.

However before you create happiness you first have to think and will your way to do an external activity such as smiling or walking the dog. Without those magical thoughts willpowering your actions, you are just like a machine. Therefore you need both willpower (forcing yourself to choose to do something) AND an activity. Think about it: if Music tunes you, who is tuning Music?
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Feb 8, 2013
Several disjointed and rambling thoughts -

The author Orson Scott Card has a pandora channel that he says helps him get into a creative writing vibe. I suspect it's a commercial relationship though, not that that's bad.

I design marching band shows and work a lot better at a picnic table in a campground. Another friend who does the same thing goes to a park. Another hikes to a remote spot with his laptop. It works for us.

A large group of musicians believes and teaches that music has no inherent emotional content, only that which is socially constructed within a specific culture. I don't believe that, and there's some research showing that cultures who have never heard western music (african mountain tribes) hear the same moods as westerners.

So the effect already exists, as do the other effects you describe, and the research is out there. (You'd be surprised at the straws that get grasped at by doctoral candidates.) We react in specific ways to sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes - and probably to fluctuations in electrical fields.

Finally - there was this book I read in junior high called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which a totalitarian regime (if I remember right) used headphone sounds to scramble non-compliant thoughts in the population. Now I teach junior high and I observe that young people use headphone sounds to create their own bubble of reality.

That means we're more than half way there.
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