Saturday, May 31, 2008

Elastic interactive

I had one of those connective moments this morning, when two disparate ideas coalesce. I'll try to elaborate on it and see if there's anything there. It was really just a flash, and I haven't worked through all the implications. I read a study some few years ago in which these researchers took fMRI's (brainscans) of people who considered themselves Republicans or Democrats while they were reading quotes from the opposing sides major candidate. I believe this was '00, so it would've been Bush and Gore. The scans showed that there was major activation in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain. The basic conclusion was that we respond emotionally to the opposing side before even rationally deconstructing what they've said.
I know I have this experience when I read Jeff Jacoby, the token conservative on the Boston Globe's editorial page. When I see he's written something, I have this moment of slight venomous emotion before I've read the piece. I've emotionally started to salivate at the thought of his bullshit. Sometimes he does make good points, other times I'm all ready to write a letter to the editor myself. Of course, that never actually happens, but you get the idea.
That's not the point. A few months back I read this piece somewhere on the internet about music criticism or somesuch, and this guy was writing about how our personality shapes how we approach music. It's like what we identify with as our thing and what we identify as the other is the starting point for how we appreciate music.
It kind of hit me this morning that this is the same type of phenomenon, so that because we've identified some band as hip or as a sell-out or whatever is going to emotionally influence how we rationally break down the aesthetics of the sound. Obviously, postmodernism has long brought into question what rational really means, and neuroscience is showing us that the postmodern idea is really true. There exists no purely rational thought, and the emotional signals won't even necessarily show up in our consciousness as feelings or anything. They might just be electrical signals in the brain that warp the thinking process and keep us from truly apreciating a band or music or a film or whatever.
Now also there are limits to this. It's not that Bush and Gore are objectively both right, and the opposing sides just don't see what's the what. True also in the realms of art, but it's just good to realize that there is more going on underneath the thoughts of 'this shit sucks' or whatever than just a pure opinion. I guess that was all kind of obvious. Identity shapes our likes and dislikes, but the idea that it might also be behind denying or over enthusing I think is relevant. I was trying to get farther into that, but I'm just not feeling it.

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