Monday, February 26, 2007

Jazz and Abstraction

In a recent post, Dyske Suematsu says that Japanese people like jazz more than Americans do, and this is because Americans are uncomfortable with abstraction, and don't appreciate instrumental music.

Most Americans do not know what to do with abstraction in general. To be able to fully appreciate abstraction, you must be able to turn off your thought, or at least be able to put your thought into the background. This is not as easy as it might seem. In modern art museums, most people’s minds are dominated by thoughts like: “Even I could do this.” Or, “Why is this in a museum?” Or, “This looks like my bed sheet.” Etc.. They are unable to let the abstraction affect their emotions directly; their experience must be filtered through interpretations.

I agree that most Americans are more comfortable with representational art than abstract art, and like pop music with lyrics better than instrumental jazz. But jazz used to be much more popular in America than it is today. What happened? Did Americans have a greater ability to appreciate abstraction in the past? How did they lose it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Light and Glass

I got the camera out and noticed that the reflection of a ceiling lamp could be lined up with the pattern on the glass of my front door. The camera flash makes the glass sparkle.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


The Psychology of Security, an article by Bruce Schneier, is worth reading even if you aren't very interested in security, because it lists and explains a lot of mental biases that cause people to think illogically, such as the anchoring effect. (Start at the section called Risk Heuristics if you don't want to read the whole thing.) These biases are kind of like "bugs" in the human "operating system."

To me, the oddest thing about these bugs is that we are usually unaware of them. It is kind of like the tone-deafness that afflicts some of the American Idol contestants, causing them to believe they are good singers even though they are horrible. The problem combines poor performance with inaccurate evaluation of one's own performance. But unlike tone-deafness, the bugs described in Schneier's article seem to affect almost everyone. That is the weird part. Imagine living in a world where 99% of people perceived music the way that the very worst American Idol contestants do. Most people would not notice anything wrong, but a few people would be very annoyed and wear earplugs a lot.

Well, it turns out that we do live in such a world, except musical perception is not the problem. It is the various types of everyday judgements listed in Schneier's article that we all keep getting wrong.