Saturday, 8 March 2014

On Music and Memories

What if I scanned the brains of 200 people for activity patters while they listened to various types of music? What if I also got them to create lists of their music preferences, to find correlations between music preferences and brain activity. What if I then worked backwards to connect these patterns to Affect states resulting from other experiences?

Here's what I'm getting at - What if musical preferences are merely side products of neural plasticity and neural responses to other auditory stimuli? You're exposed to certain auditory stimuli as an infant. These stimuli are positively or negatively reinforced through cultural context. What if our music preferences are not merely learned, but conditioned? We are machines after all. I'm talking neural plasticity. The basis of learning. Neural networks strengthen synaptic connections or form new ones over time. They're never static.

And here's where we face the problem with connecting models of learning with models of neuroscience. Nerve cells fire at the rate of milliseconds. Overt learning behaviour models deal with seconds, minutes, hours. But I argue that there must be reinforcement involved in music preferences. You not merely like a piece of music, you learn to like it. If you like Metallica or even beer, we know that it's because your nerve cells that processed that type of sensory input have strengthened their connections over time. My arguement is that it could be because these same nerve cells were responsible for processing other stimuli, that were strengthened for some reason. So these neural networks are either growing more connections, or firing quicker. Or both.

Why would they strengthen their connections? Who knows? Maybe because the semantic feedback associated with these other stimuli led to chemical changes in your body that were favuorable to you. In other words, they made you feel good. Or then again, maybe there is a genetic element. Maybe a group of genes, on being environmentally activated, help reinforce the strengthening of certain connections that favour certain stimuli, or inhibit connections that would have made you despise certain other stimuli.


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