From Musical Consonance to Styles of Thought

An article published in Physical Review Letters, reported on in Science News, describes a mathematical model of how neurons can distinguish consonant sounds (say, a C-major chord) from dissonant ones (say, D-E-F). A simple network of neurons, behaving like neurons behave, produces qualitatively different outputs depending on the quantitative differences in the sound frequencies it receives as inputs.

Very interesting as an example of an information processing system with emergent information processing capacities.

I suspect something, at least metaphorically, similar might go on in the processing/experience of consonant ideas. At first I’m tempted to say “least that part of consonant or resonant ideas that we want to ascribe to consonance in the external world” but I think you could take it further and imagine the development of structures along similar lines for the detection of “constructed” consonance. Eventually, one could arrive at mechanisms for implementing “styles of thought” that would not be limited to algorithmic systems that “crank through a set of data” in the same way every time. Rather, we could talk about styles of thought in terms of the kinds of thoughts, tropes, logics, metaphors that would appeal as consonant with “everything else I believe.” Or, the flip side of this would be to move toward mechanisms for cognitive dissonance.

 Just a highly speculative bit of musing, but clearly news of this research did strike a chord with some stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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