A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!
Artist Rogan Brown’s paper sculptures are many times larger than the organisms that inspire them. Magic Circle Variation 5 is approximately 39 inches wide by 39 inches tall in its entirety. Brown has created multiple versions of Magic Circle, the shape of which alludes to a petri dish and a microscope lens. Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Do you remember cutting paper snowflakes in school? Artist Rogan Brown has elevated that simple seasonal art form and taken it to science class.
These large-scale paper sculptures may evoke snow, but actually trade on the forms of bacteria and other organisms. The patterns may feel familiar, but also a bit alien. You’re not looking at a replica of a microbe, but an interpretation of one. And that distinction, Brown says, is important.
“Both art and science seek to represent truth but in different ways,” the 49-year-old artist, who lives in France, tells Shots. “It’s the difference between understanding a landscape by looking at a detailed relief map and understanding it by looking at a painting by Cezanne or Van Gogh.”
Brown wants to you to feel something looking at these sculptures.
Last year, he met with a group of microbiologists to plan an exhibition on the human microbiome. He became fascinated by the hidden world of microbes and the strange shapes of pathogens. He was particularly interested in humans’ fear of the invisible microbiological world. That meeting led him to spend four months creating Outbreak entirely by hand.
Outbreak, which is approximately 58 inches long by 31 inches tall, was exhibited in London in 2014. Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Outbreak took four months to cut and build. Brown writes on his website that the slow process of cutting mimics the “long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth and decay.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown
A detailed view of Outbreak shows the delicate forms Brown cut by hand. He says he works with paper because it “embodies the paradoxical qualities that we see in nature: its fragility and durability, its strength and delicacy.” Courtesy of Rogan Brown
He starts each construction by sketching detailed designs and then mocking them up in larger pen and ink drawings. Then he begins to think in 3-D. Each structure is composed of layers of paper, which are stacked using foam board spacers. This floating effect allows him to build a complex colony of organisms that appear to grow beyond the confines of their housing.
In Cut Microbe, that growth is chaotic. The whip-like appendages of the creature branch outward in an invasive way. Those legs, Brown writes on his website, were inspired by the flagella of Salmonella and E. coli, tiny appendages that help the bacteria move.
Cut Microbe, left, was cut entirely by hand. The entire sculpture, right, measures approximately 44 inches tall by 35 inches wide. Brown says it was inspired by Salmonella and E. coli. Courtesy of Rogan Brown
In Magic Circle, the architecture is more constructive, ordered — there are colonies of intricately shaped forms that evoke the collaborative, constructive network of a coral reef. It also evokes microbes and diatoms.
Magic Circle borrows from the forms of bacteria, microbes, diatoms and coral. Brown needed a laser to cut some of the more intricately designed shapes. Courtesy of Rogan Brown
Some of Brown’s work is sliced meticulously by hand using a scalpel. Others, like the one above, are also cut using a laser. The end result is a fragile paper sculpture that borrows from what we can see as well as the artistic imagination.
“We live in a world dominated by science,” Brown says. “Art needs to work hard to keep up or use the language and imagery of science for its own ends.”
This TED-ed series called Getting Under Our Skin is looking at this very topic. Browse through the selection of videos below to learn more about what may interest you. Enjoy the summer, stand up straight, be healthy and get savvier every day!
One effective method of learning new languages is simply listening to music sung in that language.
There is something appealing to our senses in doing that – books, magazines, movies and other sources aside. While speaking with a colleague the other day about learning new words in German by listening to music, I was struck by this internal question: what songs would I choose if I were asked to make a list of songs in English to help a foreigner learn new words and phrases.
For starters, I would choose songs that asked life’s biggest and most common questions, questions that deal with life-long obsessions, myths and even daily reality. One of the most pervasive topics in songwriting through the generation has been oneness:
Here are three of my personal heroes in this regard, three songs that capture a universal expression of the one.
ONE WORD (Joe Cocker), which tells a beautiful story of the meanings of peace in our life – meanings both commonly understood, and also oftentimes misunderstood;
ONE LOVE (Bob Marley), which speaks of the one-ness we experience in being together and comforting each other in times of need; and
ONE (U2), a song about discoveries we may be led to make through the inner journey of our lifetime. For starters.
Take a listen while reading, if you please. The lyrics to each song are under each player.
“One Word (Peace)”
A man stands on the corner holding a sign People yell at him as they drive by I wonder what they read, made them so upset I looked at the sign and all it said:
One word: Peace In the neighborhood, peace One word: peace In my own backyard, peace
A man in a foreign land kneels to pray And wonders where the bombs will fall today Our leaders tell me to fear him you see Love conquers all is what I believe
One word: Peace In the neighborhood, peace One word: peace In my own backyard, peace
Everybody’s talking about it Everybody’s got to have their say But to achieve it, there is only one way And it starts with me and the word and the word is:
Peace In the neighborhood One word: peace In my own backyard Peace One word
One word: peace In the neighborhood, peace One word: peace In my own backyard, peace
“One Love, One Heart”
Let’s get together and feel all right Hear the children crying (One love) Hear the children crying (One heart) Sayin’ give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right Sayin’ let’s get together and feel all right
Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One love) There is one question I’d really love to ask (One heart) Is there a place for the hopeless sinner Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own? Believe me
One love, one heart Let’s get together and feel all right As it was in the beginning (One love) So shall it be in the end (One heart) Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right One more thing
Let’s get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love) So when the Man comes there will be no no doom (One song) Have pity on those whose chances grove thinner There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation
Sayin’ one love, one heart Let’s get together and feel all right I’m pleading to mankind (one love) Oh Lord (one heart)
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right Let’s get together and feel all right
Is it getting better Or do you feel the same Will it make it easier on you now You got someone to blame You say…
One love One life When it’s one need In the night One love We get to share it Leaves you baby if you Don’t care for it
Did I disappoint you Or leave a bad taste in your mouth You act like you never had love And you want me to go without Well it’s…
Too late Tonight To drag the past out into the light We’re one, but we’re not the same We get to Carry each other Carry each other One…
Have you come here for forgiveness Have you come to raise the dead Have you come here to play Jesus To the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much More than a lot You gave me nothing Now it’s all I got We’re one But we’re not the same Well we Hurt each other Then we do it again You say Love is a temple Love a higher law Love is a temple Love the higher law You ask me to enter But then you make me crawl And I can’t be holding on To what you got When all you got is hurt
One love One blood One life You got to do what you should One life With each other Sisters Brothers One life But we’re not the same We get to Carry each other Carry each other
Like most students, Millenials or otherwise, mine love to stay current & be able to discuss the latest trends, so here’s a Think & Read three-pack I came up with to help the discussion flow & connect present to future technologically as well as linguistically. The texts below are taken from Content Loop, one of our latest favourites here at the ELB.
Have a fab Feb and keep your mind well fed with valuable information!
(Further reading suggested:
click the numbers pics 4 extra reads on senses, skating & L o V e <3.)
THINK about your TOP 3 most annoying habits people have connected with technology in your opinion (like spending time checking the phone during face-to-face meetings) and think of ways people should/could change those habits.
READ this article on technology etiquette for the emerging generation, write down any tricky words, phrases & questions you might have for further discussion.
THINK about the specific traits of our generation, the Millennials. (In what ways are we different from other generations?)
READ this article on how to grab the attention of Millenials via email and compare your ideas against the ideas presented in the text. Would you read mails written in the styles suggested in the text? Which style(s) would you find more appealing? Why? Why not? Be ready to speak your mind on the issues you find most relevant to you, your life & living today.
THINK about the type of content/topics/styles/genres you like to read about and describe it/them briefly. Then try to analyse why you are attracted to these types of content?
READ this text about the link between viral content and emotional intelligence. What do you agree and disagree with, and why?
1. Żywiec Beer has a unique front label which went through significant changes.
2. The Żywiec logo includes all of the most important historical symbols of the brewery. The Krakow dancing couple holds a coat of arms adorned with the crown. There are three Spruce trees and the year 1856 on the coat of arms. The name Żywiec is placed on the red sash with the golden trimming in the lower part of the mark.
3. The Żywiec logo is the most famous mark or a brand of beer in Poland and the trademark of the entire brewery.
Zywiec Logo – CLUE 5
More about beer, senses, and our DNA in the article below, posted by Alexandra Sifferlin on the Health & Family section of the TIME blog.
The Beer-Smell Gene and Other Ways DNA Drives Our Senses
Beer smells like beer and a violet smells like a violet to everyone, right? Maybe not, according to the latest study that traced the way we smell to differences in our genes.
It turns out that our senses are intimately connected to our DNA, and small variations in our genes can determine whether we are partial to the smell of blue cheese, or can’t stand the taste of cilantro. That’s not such a surprise, but what is impressive is the precision with which scientists can match up sensory experiences (such as an appreciation for the spicy scent of curry) to specific stretches of DNA. We may occupy the same environment, but the way we see, smell, taste, touch and hear things may vary widely depending on our genomes.
Perhaps the best example of this gene-based sensory diversity is color blindness — people with genetic abnormalities in the types of cone cells produced in the eye have trouble seeing red, blue or green light. And research has shown that 21% of people from East Asia, 17% of Europeans, and 14% of people of African descent taste a soapiness in cilantro that makes the popular herb unwelcome in their meals. The reason? 23andMe, the company that sequences consumers‘ genes, surveyed 30,000 of their customers and traced the soapy sensation to a gene called OR6A2, which can make some people sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that flavor cilantro.
“Because our genes encode the machinery that we use to perceive the outside world, our perceptions of the outside world are all a little bit different,” says Dennis Drayna, a geneticist at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). “Think about it. You and I know what green is, or what a rose smells like, but does green look to you the same as it looks to me? Maybe, but maybe not. What you and I call green may be slightly different things. There’s no doubt this is going on, and it is going to become better understood.”
How specific is the map tying sensory experiences to genes? Here’s a brief rundown of what geneticists are learning:
Smell In a study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers traced variations in smell sensitivity to four odors to different versions of smell genes.
The scientists, from Plant and Food Research in New Zealand, tested 10 different scents in hundreds of subjects, who were provided with wine glasses containing either water or a range of diluted scents.
The four odors related to apples, violets, blue cheese and malt, and depending on the participants’ genetic makeup, their smell receptors either detected the floral scent of violets, for example, or a rancid, acidic smell that wasn’t so pleasant. Or they could either pick out the sour smell of malt — the germinated grains that form the base of beer — or be unable to smell it at all.
“These smells are found in foods and drinks that people encounter every day, such as tomatoes and apples. This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalized way,” said study author Jeremy McRae in a statement.
Taste In his research, Drayna found that about a quarter of the world’s population does not taste the same bitter sensations as the majority do. His team identified a gene that encodes the TAS2R bitter taste receptor, which is expressed in taste cells on the tongue. There are three different places where the DNA code for the gene differ, resulting in an individual being unable to taste some bitter flavors. He’s also identified specific genetic variants, called SNPs, that explain about 16% of the differences in how people perceive sweets and why some people are less able to taste sweet substances.
Sight “Every single person has had the experience where you look at something and you want to call it one color, and you’re with someone and they want to call it a different color,” says Jay Neitz, a professor of ophthalmology and a color vision researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. Neitz’s lab has done groundbreaking research into color blindness, even curing the disorder in primates.
Even among those without color-blindness, Neitz says there is a wide variety in how eyes distinguish color. “If you take the rainbow and spread out all the different colors, it turns out some colors almost everyone agrees on how they look, and there are other colors with huge disagreement,” he says.
For instance, almost everyone agrees on what yellow looks like. But if you ask someone to point to what they classify as uniquely green on a color spectrum, there’s huge variability. The same goes for red. “This is one of the things that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because people have not been able to nail [down] why this is true,” says Neitz. “It turns out that there is variability in the ratio of red and green cones in the eye that’s huge.”
These cones affect how sensitive a person’s eyes are to those colors. Normal-sighted people can contain anywhere from 30% to 95% of red cones, with the remainder being green. Neitz says a series of genetic mutations can affect whether cells destined to become cone cells in the eyes become red or green.
Scientists are looking into such gene-based differences in the way other senses are perceived too. Some researchers have identified touch genes that help distinguish hot and cold, for example, from studies of people with genetic disorders that prevent them from telling the difference, and Drayna has also looked at the significant variability in hearing among people — from those who are deaf to people with perfect pitch.
The work isn’t just academic. How people sense taste and smell, for example, has a direct connection to what they eat, so testing people for these senses is becoming an important part of nutrition surveys. For example, since January 2013, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual government look at eating habits and nutrition among a representative sample of Americans, began asking participants to scratch and sniff cards containing scents of four common food items and four non-food items, and to report what they smelled. To better understand taste differences, the survey takers also apply solutions of various flavors to the tips of participants’ tongues.
“Taste and smell, our chemosensory perceptions, form the basis for what we choose to eat or drink,” said Howard Hoffman, the program director of epidemiology and statistics at the NIDCD in a statement. “Does the ability to taste and smell impact nutrition? I would say so, but in what ways and to what degree remains uncertain.”
Such data would undoubtedly be helpful to the food industry as well. Manipulating ingredients to counteract the off-putting flavors that some people taste or smell, for example, could expand the market for certain products.
And it’s not just what we eat that is affected by flavor. The Food and Drug Administration recently concluded that menthol cigarettes likely pose a greater public health risk than regular cigarettes, and Drayna’s research suggests that may be due to people’s preference for that flavor, which could induce them to smoke more heavily. “African Americans almost exclusively smoke menthol cigarettes. The menthol receptor is a temperature receptor and menthol is a chemical that activates that receptor, so it produces the perception of cold,” Drayna explains. “Africans have quite a different version of this gene than non-Africans, so we are working to see whether that genetic difference is actually responsible for a perception difference.”
Even beyond the food industry, custom scents are already being exploited by retailers to attract consumers. As Business of Fashion reports, Bloomingdales hired global scent marketing company ScentAir to create different scents for its various departments, such as a coconut fragrance for the swimwear racks and a lilac scent in the lingerie area. Since scent is evocative of emotions and memories, store executives hope that being reminded of pleasant experiences at the beach will entice customers to purchase swimwear.
That connection between the senses and our experiences — to moods, emotions, and memories — is part of our sensory world, and ultimately work in combination with our genes to determine how we perceive everything from foods to scents. “There’s a strong environmental component to food preferences that doesn’t have to do with genetics, but experience,” says Drayna. “But genetic differences are real, and probably very common and we have a lot more to learn from them.”
This school year is rapidly drawing to a close, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful summer and to reassure you that the ELB is going to still benefit from new thoughts in the summer, just like before. After all, life’s lessons never seem to go on holiday like we do. They are always there, for us to take our pick and share. 🙂
I am writing this post below, to share some thoughts with you, yes, as I have been known to do, on prejudice and intolerance, the lack of which will help us maintain and cultivate broad-mindedness. Or open-mindedness, if you will. 🙂 Now, what is different about this post is that, in truth, it hasn’t happened yet, by which I mean that the activities I will describe and the links I am about to recommend below are going to be put to work with the students in one of my adult learners groups later today for the first time. Imagine their surprise when I will disclose to them the existence of this article at the end of the class. 🙂 I will be back with impressions in a little while, so hang on.
“Things Should Be as I Think”
“I KnowBest About This (Whatever This Might Be)”
The first two activities I have come up with sprang from a dialog I witnessed at a class one week ago between two of my students. The general topic of the dialogue was good manners around the world, and the more specific aspect discussed was ways of spending Christmas in Poland. I was surprised to discover how certain one of these students was about THE way of spending Christmas in Poland, the one and only PROPER way. The discussion turned out to be very insightful, as it showed that even open-minded people can have strict ideas and views on certain topics. There is, or there may be prejudice, my dears, even in areas we least expect it to appear. The good part is that once exposed hovering around some ideas in our minds, it can easily go out in a splash, like a candle blown out by a kid at bedtime.
– that you were offered an all-inclusive opportunity to travel to an area in your country or to an area that you have never visited beforein a poor country. What would you choose and why?
– that you were living in a slum (a poor urban area in a big city, sometimes found in developing countries). How would you feel? What would your celebrations/ anniversaries look like? Would you miss anything?
– that you are a CNN reporter who is given an assignment to interview one of the following people: a trainer from India, an Australian writer or a famous person in your country. Who would you choose to interview and why?
Use the words below to frame or express your own idea about your outlook on the world, on personal success, values and lifestyle:
passion (a sense of) purpose humour the voice within generations
inhibitions failures disabilities problems
(passing on) legacies (ways of )speaking sensitivity (to various issues)
Would you cross out any of these words as unnecessary? How about adding anything else to the ones you selected? Explain.
Watch the recently published TED video below (one of the 29,409 vids currently on the TEDx Youtube channel), in which the stand-up Indian comedian from Bangalore, Sandeep Rao, uses the concepts in Activity 2 above, to shape his own view of life and living.
Do his views differ from yours? In what ways?
This is another video to watch and analyse, which is the second part in a CNN series called Talk Asia. It is a very special video to me, because it is a brief, 9-minute guided tour of the Indian universe described in one of my favourite books, Shantaram, a tour given by the author himself, the Australian-born, controversial and very charming Gregory David Roberts.
There are a zillion questions I could think of asking after watching this video, but the ones that I would probably go for at my class, a few hours from now, are:
Can Christians, Muslims and Hindus celebrate together? Can people, in other words, celebrate together if their beliefs, background, and outlooks are very different?
Would you like to be able to be “adopted” by a society that is very different from the one you were born in?
Do you think you would be able to “adopt” someone who comes from a society very different from yours? How would you welcome them into your world as you know it?
How long do you think a society can last? Can societies disappear completely or do they change into something else? What can they change into, if they do and how are these changes possible?
A number of documentaries I watched recently on BBC Knowledge and Discovery have led me to an interesting net-surfing experience, in search of more info on two topics that I, among many others, find absolutely fascinating: the plasticity of the human brain – its causes and effects, as well as its connections with feelings like empathy. Listed below you will find some interesting links and quotes I came across during my search. Feel free to add to it any other sources/ links you consider of relevance.
1. You can watch a short video on the BBC Virtual Revolution Blog from 2009,in which Baroness Susan Greenfield approaches the question: Is the web changing us? The transcript is available on the site. Here’s an excerpt:
One of the most important issues I think, as well as the good thing about IQ going up, is the issue of risk. Obama said that the current financial crisis is attributable in part to greed and recklessness. Now greed are recklessness occur as part of something called a frontal syndrome, when the frontal part of the brain is less active in various conditions.
Could it be – and also this frontal part of the brain only comes on stream in late teenage years – could it be, given the brain is so obliging in the way it adapts, that if you’re putting it in a situation where you are living for the moment in a rather infant-like way with lots of sensory experiences, that that could be being changed? And I think that’s one of the things that would be very interesting to look at.
My final issue is identity, and it does stun me, Twitter for example, where the banality of some of the things that people feel they need to transmit to other human beings. Now what does this say about how you see yourself? Does this say anything about how secure you feel about yourself? Is it not marginally reminiscent of a small child saying “Look at me, look at me mummy! Now I’ve put my sock on. Now I’ve got my other sock on,” you know? And I’m just being neutral here, I’m just asking questions, right… What does this say about you as a person?
2. On Top Documentary Films you can read about and watch for free brilliant documentaries. Take another great series by the same insightful Susan Greenfield, called Brain Story.
The greatest numbers of documentaries on this site belong to the categories of Science (350) and Society (304). However, these are only 2 of the 25 categories you can browse, so plenty of resources to delve into.
3. On the topic of visual illusions, I think it is safe to presume that we all prefer and appreciate watching well-produced special effects in pretty much any kind of movie. The quality of the special effects in a science fiction movie is, for instance, what makes the difference between an A and a B movie for me. Hollywood award ceremonies never fail to highlight the best special effects in movies on a regular basis. This being said, I was surprised to find out that Harvard University also has an awarding ceremony called: “The Best Illusion of the Year Contest”! 🙂
Here‘s the winning illusion for 2011. The effect is called “silencing by motion” and its source is Professor Michael Bach’s “Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena”.
Click this link to visit Professor Bach’s site and get access to 101 such illusions and phenomena.
4. The link up next leads to a 2012 scientific research study from the biannual journal Essays in Philosophy whose intriguing title instantly caught my eye: “On Being Stereoblind in an Era of 3D Movies”, by Cynthia Freeland. Put on a scientist’s hat, or any other kind that is comfortable and feel free to investigate its content.
5. Can we adapt to unimaginable situations? How does our brain deal with catastrophes beyond our worst nightmares? Such questions are the subject of a movie that reached the Polish cinemas this month and that I warmly recommend, called The Impossible (2102).
Last but not least on today’s list, the following article from the Health section of the Times investigating “How Disasters and Trauma Can Affect Children’s Empathy” can be placed in the same category of the effects that surviving catastrophes can have on the human brain and the human behaviour – in this particular case, on kids aged 6, 9, and 12. I selected below some of the findings of the studies discussed in the article.
“There are developmental differences in empathy,[…] and younger children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as older ones because the prefrontal regions in the brain responsible for such control are less mature. Faced with extreme stress, their self-regulation capacities regress even further. “Adverse events appear to cause six-year-olds to revert back to selfish ways typical of early childhood,” the authors write. Even in situations with less tragic consequences, but which are nonetheless stressful, such as living through a divorce, or getting lost in a public place, many children may resort to more immature tendencies.
By age nine, however, most youngsters have mature enough brains to not only recognize the feelings of others, but to try to mitigate bad ones. Their increased altruism during distress reflects what has been seen in many disasters, from man-made ones such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to natural catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. […]
While the results support the intuitive sense that the personal experience of pain can increase compassion, there are cases when it can have the opposite effect. Indeed, research shows that if suffering occurs too early in life, when young brains are not equipped to process the experience, or if the pain is too overwhelming, it can make people less sensitive and more focused on self-preservation, such as often occurs in cases of child abuse and neglect. “Painful experiences may increase empathy and care, provided that one can regulate one’s own emotion,” Decety says. The findings suggest that our social and biological structures may be biased toward cooperation and empathy for others: “Without caring for others, we would not survive as a species,” he says.
It would be interesting to compare the findings of this article with the development of Lucas, one of the heroes in The Impossible, who is only 10, in the face of the sixth deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, the 2004 tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, affecting Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and the Maldives and killing nearly 300 000 people. The earthquake which caused the tsunami was the 3rd largest in recorded history measuring a magnitude of 9.1–9.3.
Compared to being caught right in the middle of it, it is much easier to make sense of “the impossible” from a desk in the living-room or from a cinema seat,which is why I wish you all safe trips to the cinema :), tsunami-free vacations and peaceful school experiences, no guns involved…
May you be safe, show empathy, and, regardless of situation, always navigate through unpredictable changes with fresh new breaths of faith!
Possible general outline for a conversation class on the topic of music
1. Personal opinions and definitions:
What is music for you?
When is the best time to listen to music?
Can you listen to music while working/ studying/ sleeping?
What is more important in a song: the music or the lyrics?
What words can be heard in songs today that have not been used in songs before?
2. Global artists or personal local heroes?
What are your favourite bands?/ Who are your favourite singers?
Covers or original versions?
On my students’ recommendation, we watched the video of a cover version of a song that got more views than its original:
According to sales records, Beyonce is considered the most accomplished global singer in 2012. What is your opinion about this? Is there an ultimate global singer/ band today? Why?/ Why not?
3. What effects can music have on people?
Can music save lives?
Does music make people recover/ relax/ cry/ laugh/ sleep?
Follow this link to an NPR recording on why songs make us cry and play it to the students before moving on with the discussion. With lower-level groups it is worth pre-teaching some of the new vocabulary (“hair standing up on end”, “weep”, “powder kick”, “aching ballad”, “appoggiatura”, “frisson”, “to tap into”, “a violation of expectancy”, and so on).
The Ballad of the Tearful: Why Some Songs Make you Cry
British singer Adele won six Grammy Awards on Sunday night, including one for her aching ballad “Someone Like You.” What is it that makes a song like hers such an emotional powder keg?
You know the feeling. It’s one like this: “Your hair’s standing up on end, shivers going down your spine, a lump coming into your throat, even tears running down your eyes,” says John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Sloboda has studied physical reactions to music and found that one musical ornament in particular triggers a strong emotional reaction.
It’s called an appoggiatura, from the Italian word “to lean.” And while it’s tough to define, it’s not unlike a grace note. It’s sometimes dissonant and resolves into a main note. The Wall Street Journal, which wrote about the appoggiaturas in Adele’s song, says it can be easily heard when Adele sings the word “you” in the chorus. Have a listen:
According to Sloboda, that little vocal dip in there on the word “you” — that’s the key to triggering an emotional response in a listener.
Tears are universal
“Our brains are wired to pick up the music that we expect,” says Sloboda. So when we’re listening to music, our brain is constantly trying to guess what comes next. “And generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it’s strange and unexpected.”
When Adele bounces around the note on “you,” there’s a tension that is then released, Sloboda explains.
“The music taps into this very primitive system that we have which identifies emotion on the basis of a violation of expectancy,” he says. “It’s like a little upset which then gets resolved or made better in the chord that follows.”
All Things Considered host Melissa Block put Sloboda’s theory to someone with a bit of insider knowledge about Adele’s song: Dan Wilson, who co-wrote “Someone Like You” with Adele.
Wilson says he first heard of the term appoggiatura in the Journal article. “[The article] sort of talked about how Adele and I had used this secret trick about putting appoggiaturas in, but I didn’t know what that was.”
He has another theory about the song’s rolling emotions.
“A good song allows us, the listeners, to walk through the songwriter or composer’s thoughts and emotions as they wrote the song,” he says. “That’s why when you listen to The Replacements, you get this kind of giddy drunk feeling, probably because they were drunk when they recorded and wrote their song.”
“With Adele, we wrote this song that was about a desperately heartbreaking end of a relationship, and she was really, really feeling it at the time, and we were imaginatively creating,” Wilson says. “That walked her back through that experience. And when you and l listen to that song, we walk through her shoes through that heartbreaking experience — but it’s in our imagination. And so instead of being devastating, we’re like children play-acting. We get to have an imaginative experience.”
“Hey, if I had a scientific method for making a heartbreaking hit, I would do it every day,” Wilson says with a chuckle. “But it’s not so easy.”
You can find out how you can apply the 12 principles in John Medina’s book, Brain Rules, in the context of a meeting by reading his answers to the questions below, first published in an interview for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) magazine Convene, and later re-posted on his blog, on January 30th.
Which of the 12 Brain Rules has the most impact on meetings? Well, probably, the biggest one would have to be about attentional states. This rule is very simple: People don’t pay attention to boring things. So if you really want to have a lousy meeting, make sure it’s boring. If you want to have a lousy classroom, make sure it’s boring. And if you want to vaccinate against the types of things that really do bore the mind, we have some understanding of that.
So how do you design a good meeting? Here are the top three “brain gadgets” that probably have a bearing on the question. First, the human brain processes meaning before it processes detail. Many people, when they put meetings together, actually don’t even think about the meaning of what it is they’re saying. They just go right to the detail. If you go to the detail, you’ve got yourself a bored audience. Congratulations. Second, in terms of attentional states, we’re not sure if this is brain science or not, but certainly in the behavioral literature, you’ve got 10 minutes with an audience before you will absolutely bore them. And you’ve got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, “Am I going to pay attention to you or not?” The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out. And since most people have been in meetings – 90 percent of which have bored them silly – they already have an immune response against you, particularly if you’ve got a PowerPoint slide up there.
How do you then hold attention? This is what you have to do in 10 minutes. You have to pulse what I just said – the meaning before detail – into it. I call it a hook. At nine minutes and 59 seconds, you’ve got to give your audience a break from what it is that you’ve been saying and pulse to them once again the meaning of what you’re saying.
What is the third “brain gadget”? The brain cycles through six questions very, very quickly. Question No. 1 is “Will it eat me?” We pay tons of attention to threat. The second question is “Can I eat it?” I don’t know if you have ever watched a cooking show and have loved what they are cooking, but you pay tons of attention if you think there’s going to be an energy resource. Question No. 3 is highly Darwinian. The whole reason why you want to live in the first place is to project your genes to the next generation – that means sex. So Question No. 3 is “Can I mate with it?” And Question No. 4 is “Will it mate with me?”
It turns out we pay tons of attention to – it actually isn’t sex per se, it’s reproductive opportunity. [It is also] hooked up to the pleasure centers of your brain – the exact same centers you use when you laugh at something. Oddly enough, I think that’s one of the reasons why humor can work. If you can pop a joke or at least tell an interesting story, it’s actually inciting those areas of the brain that are otherwise devoted to sex. You don’t become aroused by listening to a joke. I’m saying those areas of the brain can be co-opted. You can utilize them, and a good speaker knows how to do that.
What are Questions 5 and 6? “Have I seen it before?” and “Have I never seen it before?” We are terrific pattern matchers. There is an element of surprise that comes when patterns don’t match, but the reason why that happens is because we are trying to match patterns all the time.
Is there a Brain Rule that addresses whether you should try to control the use of laptops and phones during a meeting session? I have this rule response, based on data, and then I have a visceral response, also based on data. In other words, I’m about ready to tell you a contradiction. Are you ready?
Yes, I am.
Alrighty. I do believe what you can show is that there are attentional blinks. The brain actually is a beautiful multitasker, but the attentional spotlight, which you use to pay attention to things, [is not]. You can’t listen to a speaker and type what they are saying at the same time.
What you can show in the laboratory is that you get staccato-like attentional blinks. Just like you come up for air: You look at the speaker, then when you’re writing, you cannot hear what the speaker is saying. Then you come up for air and hear the speaker again. So you’re flipping back and forth between those two, and your ability to be engaged to hear what a speaker is saying is necessarily fragmented. At the same time, if your speaker is boring, you could have checked out anyway. So you see, in many ways it depends upon the speaker.
How so? If the speaker is really compelling and is clear and is emotion- ally competent, and has gone through those six questions, letting you come up for air every 10 minutes, I’ve actually watched audiences put their laptops away just to pay attention.
I have a style that is purposely a little speedier. And the rea- son why is that it produces a tension that says, “I need to pay attention closely to him or I’m going to lose what he’s saying.” I don’t make it so fast that it’s unintelligible – at least I hope I don’t. But I do make it fast, and occasionally I see comments that say, “Great speaker, but you know, you were too freaking fast.”
Hello, there, English learning enthusiasts wherever you are!
It is my pleasure to introduce a new post by ELB guest blogger, Aaron Knight from New York. His post is an excellent resource that complements the previous article on brain matters I recently published on the ELB. You are invited to explore more great posts by Aaron at this link. Enjoy!
How your brain learns English (and how it doesn’t)
I sometimes worry that the lessons I write contain too much information.
“Information” includes anything that can be written as a “rule”: grammar rules, explanations of the difference between two words, etc.
It’s OK to learn information about English. But it’s much, much more effective to become used to English through repeated speaking and listening. Here’s why:
Your brain isn’t one big container that can be improved just by dumping more information into it.
Instead, imagine that your mind has two separate “buckets”. One part of your mind (the Knowledge section) stores information. Another separate part of your mind (the Performance section) controls things that you’re able to do, like draw a picture, drive a car, or speak a language.
When you learn information about English, it goes into the Knowledge section of your brain. But the parts of your brain are separate. Your knowledge might grow, but that doesn’t necessarily improve your ability to use English.
Experience improves performance
You know how to gain Knowledge about English: by reading textbooks and listening to teachers. But how do you improve your Performance?
By listening, speaking, reading, and writing. You improve by doing.
As you listen to natural English, you will naturally start to copy the patterns that you hear, even if you can’t quite explain what they mean.
As you speak English, you’ll get used to speaking in a certain way. The words will come out more automatically.
Why knowledge still helps
I still write explanations for all of my lessons. Why? Because a little bit of knowledge can be helpful. When you concentrate hard on something that you’ve learned, you can temporarily improve your speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
The improvement is only temporary. When you stop concentrating, you’ll go back to your old habits. But by hearing and speaking correctly, you can slowly train your Performance brain to continue the new habits.
The important point is to treat information as a tool. Learn some rules, but just a few at a time. Then be sure to practice them until they’ve become natural to you.
What do you think? Do you agree with my little theory? Are you guilty of paying too much attention to rules and information? Answer in the comments!