Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quantum States and the Music State: Paradox?

The Paradox

What if two facts are true simultaneously? Example: "We learn from history that we do not learn from history," wrote Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in 1832. Another is Murphy's Law: "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." One of my favorites is Schrodinger's Cat...  

This made me laugh:

Art (c) Jeff Kubasak in "Common Genus January 2012"

(just in case)

Simply put, Schrodinger created a "thought experiment" to help folks in the 1920s deal with "modern" quantum physics (think Einstein). He wanted to illustrate that objects which could (theoretically) exist in two different physical states assumed one state or the other once observed.  The experiment lasted one hour and (theoretically) sealed a cat into a metal box with some simple equipment that might or might not kill it. Schrodinger's point was that the cat will be in one state or the other when the box is opened, but not both, that is, both simultaneously alive and dead. Seems silly, but quantum physicists deal with such things all the time, and the issue with the cat was meant to demonstrate the logical fallacy that some quantum particles can be in two states simultaneously.

Before going further, to clarify: we're not discussing objects whose state is changed by observation, just objects whose state could simultaneously be two ways until observed. That is, what have we really learned from history? That we've ignored the lessons of history (failed to observe them)?

Why does this matter to you? Bear with me...

A Musical Thought Experiment

As a thought experiment, let's (theoretically) lock a listener in a windowless soundproof booth for an hour with a hip-hop sound track playing at +75dB. In our experiment we predict that the poor soul will be either asleep or awake when we open the booth at the end of the hour, but not simultaneously asleep and awake. (Yes: I have met people who can fall asleep to hip-hop, and you can imagine for yourself what their "normal" waking state must be like.) What state is the listener in at the end of the hour?

OK: I admit that it's stretching the analogy a bit -- from a quantum particle to a human being -- but bear with me here....

Music has predictable physiological effects. We know that certain kinds of sounds trigger release of certain hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. With this knowledge, we can (theoretically) predict how listeners will respond to music. Except that it doesn't always work that way; some folks fall asleep to nature sounds and some to jackhammers, right?

Here's where it gets interesting.

Whatever your musical preference might be, you can't change your physiological response. Try it. Put on some house music or hip hop (or swing if you were born in the mid-1900s) and try to resist the effect of that amazing beat. Play new age piano or harp music (or Mantovani) while you work out and see if your end-of-workout physical results are the same as the music you normally use (and if you normally work out to new age or smooth jazz, try working out to disco or hip hop and see if there's a difference). Listening against your preference is bound to annoy you, it's true, so please don't torture yourself! But if you approach this as an experiment, you may be surprised.

Now, here's where it gets more interesting: you can be in two states at once -- a bit more complex than alive or dead and it involves time travel of a sort.

You can, simultaneously in the present moment and in the past and future.

Before we get to "why," here's how....

Being in two states at once

The various effects of music, which work in real time (that is, in this moment), coexist with the part of our mind that thinks analytically about the past and the future. For example, have you ever been driving home thinking about what's for dinner and whether you need to stop at the store on the way while at the same time listening to and maybe singing along with a favorite tune? We used to call this "left and right brain" -- (the "left" brain is thinking about the drive and dinner and the shopping list while the "right" brain engages with the music) -- and that's still an apt analogy, although modern neuroscience is starting to leave the left/right metaphor behind in favor of a more holistic one, which I'll explain in a moment. The point is that both states exist within us simultaneously, independent of observation. We humans are, in fact, each a unique, living, breathing paradox.

So why would you want to be in two states -- past/future and present -- at once? Let me ask that another way: why would you want to use less than half your capability?

The "civilized" world generally rewards left-brain analysis and productivity much more substantially than right-brain creativity. Creative folks just don't go into careers where thinking outside the box is not welcome -- much better to stay under the radar at work and have a hobby at home. "Starving artist" and "Internet millionaire" are a part of our lexicon...and why? Because these terms tend to be true: the trend has been toward rewards for conformity, with tacit admission that an occasional outlier will advance the accepted ways of doing things in some really wonderful way. Let's face it: even Amazon and eBay really aren't that groundbreaking, but they are better than having to go to a bookstore or hold a garage sale, so they made their creators wealthy. Society is willing to reward out of box thinking provided it is still mostly within the acceptable realm, so Jeff Bezos is rewarded for re-inventing his industry (publishing and fulfillment) and Pierre Omidyar for transforming his (auctions). Neither was as great a step forward as, say, the printing press or the notion of exchanging good and services of value, but both are equally good examples of how our society rewards innovation.

Here's the "why..."

What could happen in the world -- or to YOU -- if you engaged both halves of your brain? Since your mind is already capable of being in two states at once, wouldn't it be a good idea to use it fully? How would my occupation be advanced by my full presence instead of merely my analytical/production appearance? How would I be outside of work if I were more fully present? What kinds of new opportunities are open to fully-present folks?

How, I hear you saying, shall I do this?

Fully Engaged in Being

We know that, if you engage in your music you can fully engage your mind. Therefore, if you fully engage your music you have also fully engaged YOURSELF.

Here's why the left/right analogy is breaking apart -- leaving the brain itself behind if you will. It turns out that HeartMath (and other research institutes) are learning that the "right brain" actually has a lot of similarities to what has been called the "autonomic nervous system." This is the part of your human system that functions below the level of consciousness to beat your heart, breathe, digest food and...wait for it...experience emotion. These systems are very "real time" and work independently of whatever you are "thinking" about (left brain). They are also intricately tied up together, so that a piece of music with a house beat will increase your heart and breathing rates and get you moving (fight or flight response), whereas your mother singing you a  lullaby will have the opposite effect. Music is one possible access point, not just to the creative sub-consciousness and everything else stored there, but to command and control of our "autonomic" physical machinery. 

I'll say it again: listening to music can change the rate at which we breathe, the rate of our heartbeat, the focus we bring to mental tasks, our physical endurance, our perceptions of enjoyment or displeasure, and our feelings (emotions) just to name a few of the basics. Music can, in fact, give the whole human system a literal tune up: we can use music to become more connected to other human beings or to isolate from them; to throughly investigate our responses to fear or pain or trauma or grief or joy; to smoothly experience overwhelming events such as weddings or funerals; to learn facts quickly and reliably recall them instantly. It's a fact: human beings have responded to sounds for as long as we have been able to hear them.

Embracing the Paradox

I believe that the best way to deal with a paradox is to embrace it. Perhaps there are some of you who require evidence-based studies before embracing a new idea, and I respect that, but the evidence emerging from the amazing paradox of the seven-billion-member human race may not reach you in time to make a difference in your life. Plus, science has difficulty creating evidence when two equally valid responses to a stimulus exist. So why wait? Make some of your own evidence. It costs you literally nothing to try: Spotify, Pandora and Songza are all waiting for you (yes, we musicians would appreciate your purchase if you find something you really like, and you can find most of our music on iTunes or CDBaby).

Try this simple two-state experiment: for just one of the "left-brain" tasks you must do every day, give yourself a musical sound track. If you already have a sound track for one or more of such tasks, create more sound tracks to support you with the stuff you currently do without music. (Clearly, there will be some tasks where music would interfere; don't do this for those tasks!) Chart your performance of those tasks versus doing them without a sound track. See if anything changes. I promise you: it will.

Putting your intention behind supporting your "right brain" (actually, most of the sensory/physical part of you, which is literally most of you!) with real-time music can vastly improve your life. If you aren't experiencing improvement, don't give it up, just change the music you chose; after all, you don't want your music to work against completion of a task. After a while, you may find your preferences intuitively pair music and activity in a way that works for you. This is embracing the paradox of being a dual-state human: your entire system works for you when supported in this way. In time, if you really lock in to the playlists you build for working out, doing the dishes, etc, you will find that your brain remembers the music and your body responds to it even when you think about it!

Go ahead and expand this task-based supportive music experiment to thought-based jobs, creative projects (ever daydreamed to music?), emotional processing...just about anything. Keep track of your results: Was it easier to come up with the solution to that problem? How effectively did I process that  workplace emotional injury? You can expect to experience some insight of your own as you progress. Allow yourself to have some silence, too, as you move from sound to sound or sound track to sound track.

And, by the way, it's a lot of fun doing this.

Back to that cat....

Schrodinger is best remembered for the paradox that bears his name. There are many -- in fact, we humans seem to be quite fascinated with them. Wiki has a great list of paradoxes here. I suppose that we are so compelled by them because we are, ourselves, each a living breathing paradox. It's easier to just get along without exploring the richness and power of a paradox, whether it's Murphy's Law or the reason you can both love and hate your relatives...but where's the fun in that?

If you feel encouraged to jump into your own unknown and explore the power you have there by sound-tracking your life, I look forward to hearing the playlists you assemble. You can share them with me on Spotify.

I wish you great listening.

(BTW, no animals -- or humans -- were harmed during the production of this blog)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Worth Noticing
Fathers Day, 2013

I walk more slowly now
So as not to miss the sound
Of jacaranda blossoms fallen
On this path, slowly browning,
Crushed under the sandals
I wear instead of wingtips
Or running shoes.

I walk more slowly now
So as not to miss this grass
And how it brushes my ankles, asking
To be noticed in its green summering
While gardeners neaten it
Filling the hot afternoon with a
Scent made only by fresh cutting.

I walk more slowly now
Even in the office
Between cubicle and coffee room
And rest room and meeting room, noticing how
“Busy” doesn’t inspire this new more intense
Energy that has found me.

I move more slowly now
Getting myself from waking
To rolling sideways to sitting
And carefully feeling the carpet
With my feet before pushing it down
Under my full standing weight.

I don’t want to miss a thing any more.

I used to let so many things
Go un-noticed; now is the time for noticing…
Rich soil overturned, plowed under, planted,
Harvested and plowed again…
I remember the way rich brown earth smells
And how so many miss that
When the world wants grain.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to slow enough
To catch it all.

And then the page turns, or my wife’s sweet voice
Reaches in, or an iridescent small green bird
I’ve never seen before
Shivvers stunned on the patio
The way birds do after crashing into glass
…and my thoughts sing in my wife’s sweet voice
As I lift the bird to safety – and
For one moment, I am there,
Aware of Everything –
And the next moment arrives
With all its new wonders and questions and senses
As I lean – slowly – in to it, a little melancholy
Wondering how much of the very last moment
I missed
Wondering if I’m fully prepared to be here
In this new moment
Wondering if I can somehow slow time enough
So that I will capture every wonder that remains
As I move
More slowly


copyright 2013 Wm L Protzmann

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Teach Yourself Codependence with Music!

...I would die for you baby
but you won't do the same....

Bruno Mars -- "Grenade"

We have evidence-based studies that the words we learn to music become part of our permanent memory. Think about the songs you learned as a kid: do you still remember the words and the melodies?

We also have studies suggesting that the music we listened to as adolescents is "our" music. Music we enjoyed when when we were young -- whatever it was for each of us -- evokes stronger memories and nostalgia than music from other periods of our lives.

Lastly, there's plenty of evidence-based data and an overwhelming body of "anecdotal evidence" that early childhood development enhanced by music results in ... wait for it ... more promising children.

So back to my facetious headline, and I'll phrase it again the form of a question:

Is your music teaching you what you want?

Codependence is so last century. Or not. Bruno Mars seems to have found fans willing to pay for it. If I were a psychotherapist (and I'm not) I'd fly my banner ad wherever "Grenade" appears online. Here's why:

Every -- no mistake -- every relationship animated by "Grenade" is in the codependent danger zone.

Brain researchers these days like to say that "neurons that fire together wire together." That's a powerful sound-bite. If you aren't aware that this is happening to you every time you hear your favorite songs, here's a news flash: there's a good probability that your favorite songs are neuro-plasticizing you into choices you aren't aware that you are making.

Don't get me wrong: I have no issue with you expressing your commitment in such powerful terms. Many of us are prepared to die for our beliefs, or for our families and significant others. There's a certain kind of honor in that and I have no problem teaching myself how important it is to feel that deeply.

My issue is that, in "Grenade," the singer accuses his significant other of not feeling the same way he does: "I'd die for you...but you won't do the same." Check out the complete lyric here.

As "Grenade" gets embedded in your brain, so does a subconscious message that it's OK to be in a one-way relationship. Maybe you're already familiar with such things; in that case "Grenade" functions as a kind of affirmation that codependence is OK. Maybe you're just learning about relationships and the message of "Grenade" becomes a subconscious measuring stick, similar to the way the tune for "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" acts as a key for recalling correct alphabetical order. 

If you weren't aware of this until now, good: you have a chance to make a conscious choice about the message in the music. If you were aware of this already, good: you are already making choices about your musical diet.

Let's try another. I love Coldplay's music, but the song "Fix You" is a total whiner. But wait but wait! It's beautiful and entrancing! Yes...and it has a powerful message: our relationship can start with me trying to repair whatever is broken about you. That's a noble goal, but the truth is that nobody is going to get fixed until they themselves take some action to do so.

The singer in "Fix You" tries to make the point that his love is strong enough to cushion the fall of his lover's rebound, and worse yet he attempts to convince his lover that self worth is all about giving this new relationship -- with him -- a try. Wrong-O: this guy's already screwed up by thinking he's going to be able to fix his new S.O. (who most likely is screwed up, too, for thinking anyone else can be the fix she -- or he -- needs).

This is going to sound so old-school of me, but I just have to say it:

Are these the kinds of messages we want our kids to hear?

Here's a challenge: take a quick inventory of the music you love, especially songs with words, and then focus on the lyrics. Both the words and music are already a part of you: you remembered them.

Think carefully about the lyrics to your favorite music. Can you do this objectively? Ask yourself: Can I see someone else singing those words to a third person, as in a movie? Can I see the possibility of something satisfying resulting from that movie, or something dissatisfying? If you can't "put it on the screen" you may want to talk with a close friend about how meaningful your music is to you, even if the lyrics give you a feeling of satisfaction, to help put a little objectivity into your music. I promise you that doing so will promote your objectivity, and that's a good thing.

I also promise you that this can be hard work. Being able to separate myself from a musical message is a powerful tool that took me years to master, and I've been deeply engaged in music for almost 50 years. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate music, but I have to tell myself to make a choice when it comes to viewing lyrics objectively. Here's how....

If I could talk to the singers in "Grenade" and "Fix You" I'd ask them to get help before they hurt themselves or anyone else. It sounds like "Grenade's" S.O. already has the right idea and I hope she/he gets the hell out of that trap fast before becoming collateral damage. I'm more concerned with the S.O. in "Fix You" who's about to repeat another disturbing romance without healing from the last one -- this isn't a good spin cycle.

I hear you saying: "Bill, you're full of it!!!! How can a simple song do that??!!!" Think about the commercial jingles you sing (to yourself!): do advertisers know how well this works? Duh.

It's about your choices -- the musical ones. If you now have a deeper awareness of -- or some curiosity about -- what those choices mean to you then I've done my job. Let me know how it goes!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Being three dimensional in a two-dimensional world

Imagine for a moment that you're giving a presentation or speaking one-on-one with someone about a topic that interests you, and you suddenly realize everything you're saying is going unheard. You look back at blank stares, or at a personal gaze aimed anywhere but into your own eyes.

Perhaps you have something vitally important to post on your favorite social media site -- some insight you've worked really hard to achieve, or a poignant moment to reveal -- and you craft a pithy post, only to have it go virtually unseen or overwhelmed by the latest political blather, crude joke or pet pic.

Is there wisdom in the world that would probably benefit each of us? Of course. Are more and more of us seeking something more than a flat, banal and reasonably safe slide through life? I hope so....

I've been fascinated for a long time at the general malaise, apathy and what's recently been called the "low information" aspect of politics. We have so much information available these days: why is the general polarization of politics getting more and more snarky and less and less "informed?" I imagine a similar fragmentation of religion back in the day, where theology simply wasn't discussed in "polite company." Mainstream religions fractured into factions anyhow, and God help you if you were even seen with "those other people" who belonged to "that other church."

Is there some kind of safety in choosing not to ask the hard questions? Does it feel more secure to just accept some things on faith -- religious or political or personal -- and throw in with others who do, too? Does strength in numbers really serve us when so many of us, quite possibly, no longer think for ourselves? Stock market and real estate "bubbles" that burst are painful and recent examples of the cycles of collective awareness: things are looking up, then things are looking down.

Does mass consciousness really matter? Sure; it's comfortable to leave the heavy lifting to others, but how does that serve you if you are part of the mass?

Example: If you are one of the few who made a lot of money trading stocks or real estate, you are also by definition out ahead of the collective awareness -- willing to think boldly before everyone else took the hint and began glomming on. In one sense, you might have been a leader, particularly if you used your early adoption to help inform others of their potential. You would have helped to shape mass consciousness. Sadly, you may have also been the brunt of the backlash when the bubble of mass consciousness burst -- part of the 1% that the 99% love to hate.

Even more tragic, you might be one who profits by making certain that "victims" (eg those who lost it in the crash) remain victimized. Think of those who are invested in making sure the downtrodden don't have a chance, in keeping a subservient populace "in their place," in profiteering from oppressing others. History is full of them.

Just like the financial 1%, there are 1% leaders in religion, politics, science and many other fields. I'm not talking about the 0.0001% (or less) who are tyrants. I'm focussed on the folks who aren't afraid to ask the tough questions, even if it means shaking the foundations of what 99% of us rely upon. These are the thought leaders willing to risk upsetting the two-dimensional apple cart of boom and bust, light and dark, good and bad -- willing to posit a third dimension where opposites aren't the only choices. These are the folks whose social media posts go virtually unnoticed. These are the folks with the quietly bruised egos. These are the people who simply must think and investigate and research and share their ideas, even though many times there's no one in the room to hear them.

Someday when you have time, read up on "the commons," or "alternative currency" for some insight on economic thought leadership today. Take a look at how micro lending is transforming third world economies. Check out organizations like The Heifer Project, that was using "pay it forward" long before that notion became a movie script.

If religion is your thing, Rabbi Michael Lerner might interest you. Or search for "redefining religion" and read what you see. There are reasons the traditional ways of faith and fellowship are morphing: we believers are starting to be aware that two dimensional thinking no longer serves us well enough...we want God to give us more than just "the old time religion." The polarization of religion between peaceful worship and killing infidels in the name of one's beliefs is shocking today...and it always has been. Faith can no longer be blind.

Fascinated by science? Read the research by Rupert Sheldrake. Or venture to the edge of matter with physicist Maria Spiropulu.

If you are already living at the boundary of what you used to accept on faith in whatever realm of endeavor holds meaning for you, then welcome to the paradox where opposites no longer attract. As you open up to the third dimension, even while you continue to live in the world of opposites, be aware that those around you whom you love dearly and are still thinking in two dimensions will offer you...ridicule, disdain, mockery and -- worst of all -- silence. But not to worry...

...there's a chance -- a small one -- that you could find a home on the three-dimensional map of the new universe. You might even find others willing to gaze across to your place from theirs, maybe even notice you there in your new enlightened aloneness. You're in great company...but most of those who've dared to boldly go there before you are, sadly, dead: Columbus, Galileo, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther himself, Mohammed, the gentlemen who signed on to America's Declaration of Independence for example...it's not a bad crowd, really....

Perhaps we will recognize one another out there in that unknown. I hope so. You may not be able to see me, but I expect you'll hear music. I will probably be close by.