The Science of Expectation

The science of expectation is characterized as a biological adaptation with “specialized physiological structures” that dictate when and how we experience a certain emotion such as surprise, agony, or delight (Huron 3). These emotions are evolutionarily important in that they motivate behavioral choices in accordance to what one predicts the most successful outcome will be. While expectation can be studied culturally through a multitude of scenes such as the universal game of peek-a-boo; a surprise wedding proposal; or the abrupt shutting of a door, it can also be studied most easily through the lense of music. Although not intrinsically simple, music provides a universal basis of study without any preconceived cultural notions that would dictate surprise. Thus, it is fundamentally a blank slate, and many other variables can be ignored. Entertainment in general is built upon the power of manipulation. Musicians, playwrights, and performers all have respective mediums which they use to create and manipulate an audience’s expectations. Music, however, is arguably the most difficult medium to work with because “its capabilities for representing the natural world [are] constrained” (Huron 2). Poets and playwrights may generate agonizing emotions by re-creating a recognizably sad scene, but musicians must condense these emotions into something still tangible, but through nonrepresentational sounds. 

Delayed gratification, defined in terms of musical expectation, occurs when an audience member complies completely with the performer’s will to manipulate their expectations for the most profound listening effect. To experience complete serendipity, observers of the arts must submit themselves completely to the possible manipulation or deceit of their expectations. When all preconceptions are disposed of, the audience member becomes malleable, and entertainers then have the ability to mold their perception of events and to evoke emotions such as agony, awe, and even laughter. The barrier that holds the common person at bay from this mental state of malleability, however, is patience and attention. Biologically, humans are inherently adaptive creatures; and when societal norms change, the malleability of our brains allow us to change accordingly, sometimes to our benefit and sometimes not. This particular societal change in the accessibility of technology and information has interfered with our ability to feel comfortable placing our exalted system of cues and rewards (expectation) into the hands of a performer for the purpose of alteration. Essentially, we are treading
in the unstable waters of information surplus, which negatively impacts our already obdurate persistence in immediately responding to stimuli instead of submitting ourselves to expectational manipulation.  I believe it is important to first define this inverse relationship between technological and informational surplus, and attention in more common, non-musical terms so that it may be explored in greater musical detail later.

    History has provided ample supporting evidence that time periods which foster a certain degree of affluence usually also deliver chaos and instability. Take for example, the gilded age: a period in time coined and satirized by Mark Twain as “an era of extreme social instability masked by a thin gold gilding” (Twain). Although this period of time was flocked with industrial superpowers such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, the venerable Henry Thoreau's statement regarding affluence in the transcendentalist era still applies. Thoreau believed that “most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind” (Thoreau 25). This belief is mimicked by George Maslow in his paper titled “Hierarchy of Needs,” where he portrays the fundamental hierarchy of personal growth and progression.  His hierarchy is often represented in the form of a pyramid, depicting human’s most fundamental needs of survival at the bottom and culminating with the need of self-actualization at the top. With society's’ interests continuing to fall only within the first two categories of the pyramid -a much shallower place to reside compared to the top- our culture has become luxuriously bloated.

Indeed, affluence and ease can provide an immense amount of immediate pleasure. But it “must be noted that pleasure does not trump all other values” (Huron ix). Although “expectations are not the province of music alone,” a parallel may be drawn between social symptoms of affluence specifically in the insistent need for pleasure, and similar musical symptoms (Huron 3). Listeners must morph the entrance of their souls into a shape a performer can work with, or else the inflow of material would be like attempting to fit a cubic object into a spherical hole. Audiences must “learn to be challenged, not simply pampered.” For “the best music is not necessarily music that fills its listeners with pleasure,” but challenges them to new heights of thinking (Huron ix). Furthermore, knowledge, rather than intuition, provides an ample opening for a listener to experience the controlled ecstasy music delivers. Since “culture provides a preeminent environment in which many expectations are acquired and applied . . . the context for predicting future sounds is dominated by cultural norms” (Huron 3).  

    Art can be most accurately characterized by “antifragility,” a term coined by Nassim Nicholas in his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. While the term fragile is ubiquitous, there is no exact word for the opposite of fragility, a crucial concept in the history and prosperity of music.  “Some things,” such as music, “benefit from shock; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty” (Nicholas 3) Musical “errors” differ by culture and are commonly socially contrived. Only through cultural schema have notes garnered intrinsic valence. For example, the roots of counterpoint-the interaction between multiple voices- can be traced back to the middle ages, when music was used predominantly for religious ceremonies and prayers. As the medieval monks looked to expound on their simplistic musical system, they began to add voices on top of one another in a horizontal fashion, creating interwoven melodies between vertical chords. Out of sheer preference, they decided that the parallel 4th and 5th intervals sounded hollow and less pleasing to the ear, so they deemed these “wrong notes”. Subsequently, for the next several centuries, composers were constrained by these schematic preferences. Preceding a musical transition there must be an artist who is willing to step over the boundaries of “wrong,” and redefine what it means to create beautiful music. Antifragility “loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means –crucially- a love of errors, a certain class of errors” (Nicholas 4). Richard Wagner did just that.  Wagner stirred an enormous amount of controversy for his innovative movement into the classical era, which embraced previous ideas from the baroque period, but broke the barrier into fresh and exciting territory. Purists such as Eduard Hanslick, a critic who “championed traditional forms and led the conservative front against Wagnerian innovations” may have regarded Wagner as pervasive for his use of extreme chromaticism and a complex tonality not easily identified with a single key. (Saffle 179) But Wagner was an iconoclast, and due to the antifragility of music, his purposeful “errors” actually improved upon the musical standards and encouraged his listeners to reach a new height of intelligence and a greater threshold of fragility. 

Two interrelated systems that are key in predicting and preparing for the unknown are arousal and attention. “The arousal system controls heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and many other functions associated with movement” (Huron 5). Attention, however is more nuanced, dealing with mental processes of contracting and expanding our filter on the conversations we hear, visual happenings we see, and the words we speak. Both of these systems are highly influenced by anticipation. David Huron in his research book, Sweet Anticipation, states “Arousal and attention levels fluctuate according to both the actual and the anticipated demands of the environment” (Huron 5). The coefficient of danger in this, however, is the mental deconditioning that accompanies being pampered, instead of challenged, by technology and a surplus of information that is modernly available. From an evolutionary standpoint, arousal, attention, and anticipation have all been of vital need in order to sidestep danger. Natural selection has favored those with “the capacity to form accurate expectations about future events” (Huron 3). But modernly, when each day does not bring with it dire circumstances, and life or death is no longer determined by the functionality of these three interconnected symptoms, their presence begins to fade. This poses a threat because of the direct correlation between the strength of anticipation, arousal and attention responses, and emotion. Emotions experienced as a result of anticipation are meant to encourage organisms to pursue behaviors which are normally adaptive and will reap a positive future outcome.  The threat posed by their dull and dwindling presence is that the “emotions accompanying expectations are intended to reinforce accurate prediction, promote appropriate event-readiness, and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes” (Huron 4). These symptoms are not only vital in responding to imminent danger, but also toward an artistic means of reward. Similarly, “Music making taps into these primordial functions to produce a wealth of compelling emotional experiences” (Huron 4). In this way, musicians are able to create a number of pleasurable emotional experiences, including surprise, awe, ‘chills,’ and comfort” (Huron 4). In this intrinsic state of guard and attention fostered by years of living in imminent danger, “the body typically faces a quandary: which of several possible outcomes does one prepare for? In preparing the body and mind for these outcomes, our instincts are depressingly pessimistic” (Huron 6). Huron validates his claim using the analogy of the recurring stress response in responding to a slamming door. He states that “we know the door poses no danger, but the sound of the slamming door provokes a powerful bodily response anyway” (Huron 6).  And while this can be a nuisance, “nature knows best; it is better to respond to a thousand false alarms than to miss a single genuinely dangerous situation,” Drawing a parallel to music, Huron realizes that nature's tendency to overreact provides a golden opportunity for musicians (Huron 6). Huron says that “Composers can fashion passages that manage to provoke remarkably strong emotions using the most innocuous stimuli imaginable” such as the slamming of a door (Huron 6). However with the introduction of modern ease in lifestyle, and the absence of the truly imminent danger that was constantly present in our neanderthal days, our senses toward the minute have been cauterized. Previously, composers may have taken advantage of humans’ highly perceptible response system; but now, we have been numbed to the intricacies in a world where danger is not thwarted by constant attention. Subsequently, through a process similar to natural selection, music has become less proficient (and audiences less receptive) in utilizing musical devices -such as the deceptive cadence- which may have formerly evoked strong and profound emotions, but is now merely innocuous. 

In synops of his comprehensive theory of expectation, dubbed ITPRA, Huron recounts the 5 main response systems which appear chronologically in relation to an event.  Over the grand course of evolution, certain biological processes allowed organisms yet another mechanism to ensure that some future events would more likely occur than others. This concept is called Imagination Response. According to Huron, “The Imagination Response provides the biological foundation for delayed gratification” (Huron 16). With this ability, we are able to make future outcomes emotionally palpable before they actually occur. And “In turn, these feelings motivate changes in behavior that can increase likelihood of a future favorable result” (Huron 8). These vicariously felt feelings may be accompanied by either a negative or positive valence; each will consequently motivate one's actions in accordance to their desired outcome. For example, “you might undertake a difficult journey by imagining the pleasure of being reunited with a loved one” (Huron 8). This concept is used foundationally to set the stage for the science of expectation in musical terms, specifically prolonged expectation or deferred gratification.

As a foundational principle for how expectation is fulfilled and appraised, the Imagination Response preempts other key responses such as the prediction effect, where “listeners experience positive feelings whenever an event is successfully predicted” or imagined (Huron 239). The prediction effect allows the prior theory of imagination to manifest itself musically. In order for the prediction effect to take place, however, listeners must be actively engaged in the imaginary phase of listening and anticipating events before they occur, allowing themselves to become aroused in accordance to their imagination.  Indeed, it is true that while creating predictability, performers “risk the possibility of listeners becoming bored, irritated, or habituated;” if a listener is truly utilizing their imaginary response, however, “they might exploit the prediction effect to create a pleasurable experience” (Huron 240). Most commonly, predictability is created veridically: that is, through repeated listening.  “More than 99 percent of all listening experiences involve listening to musical passages that the listener has heard before” (Huron 241). The surplus of musical content that is available modernly, contrasted by the 5 records one owned 60 years ago, has greatly contributed to how music is approached. AM and FM radio repeatedly fasten a listener to a work that immediately “becomes identified with that single recording - as though the recording itself defines the work” (Huron 241). As a consequence of this ease, novelty -however great a work of composition it is-, is hard to sell. Listening audiences are indirectly being censored to a highly constrained and ignorant view of music. Exposure is such a crucial facet in understanding how music is “organized so that observant or knowledge listeners [are] able to infer future musical events through conscious thought as the music progresses” (Huron 242). Conceptually, this is referred to as Conscious Predictability: where an audience member actively listens for and predicts events based on an educated understanding. The more educated the listener is, the more accurately he will predict events correctly, and the more pleasure he will garner from listening.  Unfortunately, both Veridical familiarity and Conscious predictability are largely ineffective tools for composers to affect the predictability of a work, for “[they] depend principally on the skill and sophistication of the listener” (Huron 234).  For this reason, many composers constrain themselves to Schematic predictability: using a “majority of works that employ familiar instruments, use a familiar scale, follow a familiar meter, play familiar harmonies, and conform to a familiar musical style.” With the presumed intentions of pleasing an audience, “composers will likely . . . [use] the most common pitch successions associated with a particular style or genre,” in western culture, that genre being popular music (Huron 242). The amalgamation of Schematic predictability -the use of familiar cultural form- and Veridical Familiarity has lead to the discounting of thousands of compositional relics that do not adhere to familiar principles. 


While the Imagination Response deals with behavioral motivation prior to an expected event, the Tension Response -the second chronological response system- deals with the stress that “commonly accompanies the rise of anticipatory arousal” (Huron 11).  In other words, “as the arousal and the attention levels move toward an optimum level in anticipation of the outcome, the physiological changes themselves evoke characteristic feeling states” (Huron 11).  Delay is a potent ingredient in the creation of tension. As we have noted before, tension rises in accordance to the prediction of when an event is anticipated to occur. Thus, the tension will increase with prolonged periods of heightened arousal or anticipation.  Due to the brain’s “disposition toward statistical learning, it is likely that the feeling of anticipation is greatest when the probability of an event approaches certainty” (Huron 306). In addition to the strategies used to create predictability noted before, composers may take other more active paths toward familiarizing a listener with their work. Specifically, composers may cater to an especially educated listener by seasoning a composition with hooks that allow for strong anticipatory feelings and conscious predictability. “For western encultured listeners, examples of strong feelings of anticipation include the feeling that a chromatic tone should resolve to a diatonic neighbor, and the feeling that a drum fill should lead to a hypermetric downbeat” (Huron 248). Furthermore, when delay is coupled with anticipation, a listener experiences a high level of certainty that an event will take place and also prolonged levels of arousal in preparation for this event. During this event, however, the when and the where may be reciprocally kept constant. For example, if we are certain that a dominant chord will be followed by a tonic, the variable “when” may be manipulated by the composer to increase stimulation prior to the resolution. In the case of a dominant chord whose “onset begins on the first beat of a 4/4 measure, the most probable points of tonic resolution include the second beat (uppermost), third beat (middle), or the downbeat of the next measure (lowest)” (Huron 306). 




According to Huron, the certainty of what will happen (the resolution to the tonic) balanced by the uncertainty of when leads to a degree of tension. “That is, a slight amount of psychological stress will arise as each moment of possible resolution approaches” (Huron 307). A similar phenomenon arises with the so-called musical suspension. A suspension usually occurs as part of a tonic-dominant progression in which the movement of the tonic pitch precedes the full tonic resolution. In this almost innocuous melodic movement, a cluster of responses are generated. Primarily, “there is a large positive prediction response. The listener’s confident prediction of this moment is realized, accompanied by a high positively valenced predictive reward. At the same time and the formerly dissonant sonority has been replaced by a chord with comparatively low sensory dissonance” (Huron 310). And while resolution to the tonic creates a positive valence by confirming the listener’s anticipations, the preceding note (the suspension) generates a moment of dissonance and prolonged expectation until the tonic is reached. In application, a cadence which contains a suspension drastically increases the strong expectation of returning to the tonic chord, delaying that motion to create a “longer and more intense period of tension” (Huron 314). Delay is therefore a potent factor in manipulating listener’s expectations and influencing the creation of tension. Consistent with each of the other factors of conscious predictability, submitting expectations to the manipulation of delay also requires a highly malleable listener. The listener must be educated enough to believe in the certainty of his expectations: that a resolution will eventually in fact arrive. 

The intentional manipulation of time in a musical phrase is characterized by rubato. While most theorists would suggest that rubato is used solely to signal the closure in musical syntax, Huron advocates otherwise (315). As noted previously, “the effect of delay in music is greatest when applied to the most predictable, stereotypic, or cliched events or passages” (Huron 334). As a result, performers are most likely to stretch musical time based on the predictability of the material to amplify the contrastive valence and evoke greater pleasure at the moment of resolution. Indeed, it is true that for Western-encultured listeners, the most predictable motion in music is the closure from V-I. Therefore, performers will most likely execute rubato signaling this “impending closure” (Huron 316). However, it is important to note that due to societal schemata, melodic closure is often coincidentally coupled with predictability, but the function of a ritardando is solely dependent only on the latter. “The history of western music is replete” with innocuous surprises that may evoke emotions such as laughter, frisson, and awe (Huron 317). These delights are only available to a listener who is observant and knowledgeable enough to infer future events, and whose senses have not been dulled by the cultural disuse of the ITPRA response systems.  

As our tension response systems dull in response to both the over-production of informational and technological stimuli and to the decrease in an evolutionary need to evaluate and qualify situations, we become conditioned to suppress our arousal and attention responses for areas which require these heightened levels of cognitive processing, such as music. In many situations where a listener has become so accustomed to suppressing their “anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortical areas,” (the areas responsible for anticipation and expectation), the listener “may direct no explicit attention to the music, and may show no awareness of the listening act” (Huron 7). In this “stream of conscious listening, the imagination and appraisal components of ITPRA are rare or attenuated” (Huron 310). That is, “the listener is not engaged in consciously imagining various possible future scenarios” (Huron 310). Resultingly, the listener does not build arousal and tension in accordance to what they predict will occur, and the music is less likely to evoke a series of “yearning” or anticipatory feelings which deliver the blissful ecstasy of music. 




Works Cited 

Huitt, W. "Educational Psychology Interactive: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs." Educational Psychology Interactive: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Valdosta State University, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014. <>. 

Huron, David Brian. Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2006. Print. 

Saffle, Michael. Richard Wagner: A Guide to Research. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print. 

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile. Random House/Nov: n.p., 2012. Print. 

Thoreau, Henry David, and J. Lyndon Shanley. Walden. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1971. Print. 

Twain, Mark, and Charles Dudley Warner. The Gilded Age; a Tale of Today. New York: Trident, 1964. Print. 

Brain Babies and Bathwater

In Martha J. Farah’s critique on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), she encourages fMRI skeptics not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” While she admits that fMRI does not read minds, she argues that it is still a viable method to inform cognitive theories, locate modular-connections that instantiate higher levels of cognition, and qualify localization with further explanation. However, one must first understand the limitations of both the technology and our ability to analyze the data retrieved. Farah promises a healthy level of skepticism to critique the criticisms, and supplies her “Kernel of Truth” within four different categories of the skeptics’ concerns. 

    In continuing with her fascination with alliteration, Farah first identifies the “gap between the neural events being studied and the images that purportedly represent them.” This she titles “Blood Vs. Brain.”  With a history of pseudoscience that leaves many scholars jaded, fMRI imaging is often dismissed as “hoopla” and criticized for its dependence on hemodynamic changes which some believe are themselves fundamentally flawed. She acknowledges these criticisms fMRI has cultivated in the field of cognitive neuroscience, and evaluates them for their worth. “fMRI is not a direct image of the brain,” says Judith Horstman. Blood oxygenation levels are indirectly correlated to neuronal activity through a series of high definition magnetic imaging; it is a fallacy, some argue, that affect (increased neuronal activity specific to the region of blood flow) can be assumed through these measures. Farah argues that little of what we call science involves direct “observations of the subject matter of interest.” This phenomenon is nothing new. Furthermore, “Complaints that functional neuroimages do not “show” brain activity appear to be based on a naive view of science and its methods.” Supporters of fMRI argue that correlation is not equivalent to meaningless. Therefore, just because one does not know the intermediate steps between cause and effect, it does not mean that there are none. 

    Late pop singer Michael Jackson remarks that “It don’t matter if it’s black or white.” fMRI skeptics, in terms of scan representations, boldly disagree. “Fabrication,” is a job losing word in the scientific research community; and often, the brain images produced by a research team look far more like the childhood game of “color in between the lines” than a realistic scan.  Farah and other critics argue that “the [fMRI] images are more researcher inventions than researcher observations.” Scientists and nonscientists alike have regarded “the safe use of color coding [certain modules in the brain] with suspicion.”  BOLD is not just an acronym derived from the data, but what they do visually to the images that are then available to the public eye. Images often appear like country maps, bordered to perfection, when in actuality the lines do not exist. There is not one area that performs a single cognitive function. Realistically, “differences in activity levels” (that the brain scans depict) “are tiny.” Some argue that scientists prejudicially use a color scale that favors warmer, brighter colors for representing higher activation. She relates this to the common scheme of “plotting numerical data on axes where higher numbers appear higher on the page” or adjusting a graphical scale to small changes in the Y axis look huge. Does Farah think so? Not at all. She believes that the bold colors depicting relatively tiny changes in the dependent variable are just for the convenience of the reader, much like if the Y axis of a temperature graph spanning only two degrees Celsius makes the “relevant relationships among data points salient.” Again, Farah comments that these issues are not unique to brain imaging, and so therefore neither should the critiques. 

    Phrenology is pseudoscience prevalent before humans were capable of studying living brains and is comparable to roman blood letting in efficacy. In a similar way, “functional neuroimaging has been criticized for encouraging research aimed merely at localizing psychological functions, for being incapable of testing psychological theories, for assuming a modular relation between mental and neural systems, and even being “caricatured as a form of phrenology.” Farah suggests taking a closer look into the benefits of how understanding localization in already well known areas of the brain (“on the basis of lesion studies or single cell recording in animals”) can inform us about areas still in the dark. 

    “Localization is merely a foundation,” says Farah. In building a house, one would not merely stop at identifying which tools are needed. Similarly, the functionality of fMRI does not stop at identifying which brain areas represent corresponding cognitive tasks.  Farah supplies a confident slew of evidence toward rejecting the “neo phrenology” charges coming from skeptics. She begins with a controversial debate between in the visual system: viewpoint-dependent representation vs. viewpoint-invariant representation. By using fMRI scanning methods and taking advantage of the “adaptation paradigm,” researchers can further distinguish our retina’s methods to decipher and recognize objects. Functional connectivity is the connectivity between brain regions that share functional properties. fMRI can utilize localization to pinpoint modules working coactively. These functional network of areas are complex and may change depending on the task conditions. Multivoxel pattern analysis allows researchers to gather a more detailed map of the intermediate processes from stimulation to encoding to information. In no way does this fit the description of “neo phrenology,” Farah argues rather triumphantly. 

    In further support of her belief that localization is merely a starting point, Farah begins to digest the area of localization in relevance to psychological theory. Similarly to how reaction time is not solely tested to analyze cognitive speed, fMRI is not constrained to the study of localization. The most difficult experiments to design are those involving psychological hypotheses. Farah acknowledges fMRI flaws in this area, however adopts Max Coltheart’s dismissal of these critiques. “A fairer and more realistic question is this: Can functional brain imaging contribute to confirming psychological hypotheses in roughly the way behavioral studies do?” This evens the playing field. A study identifying whether “the visual system does ‘double duty’ for perceptual processes and mental images generated from memory” confirms that fMRI can in fact confirm psychological hypotheses or at least provide progress. 

    Apart from localization, Farah begins to dissect another formidable claim. Neuroimaging shapes the way that we make hypothesis by introducing two problems, writes Uttal. Firstly, it ‘invites us to focus on a subset of the relevant data. Secondly, the mistaken idea that when all lesser peaks are reduced to invisibility by arbitrary scaling, the largest remaining peak represents the sole locale ofa particular cognitive process.”  In actuality, there is no “sole locale” of a cognitive processes. Hypotheses should be made on the microlevel, not the macro. The kernel of truth in this criticism is that early research focused on small macroscopic areas without considering iteration and functional connectivity. Hypotheses, Farah remarks, are truly selected in part based on research with other methods of neuroscience and psychology.”

    Inferring the correlation of one psychological process with subsequent brain activity is not a straightforward process. Since the brain is not a purely modular network, more than one cognitive action can produce similar activity in similar regions of the brain. Wanton reverse inference is a fallacious method of research pseudoscientists often use in which they begin with a scan and say that certain activity was caused by one specific cognitive action when in actuality, a large pool of actions could have the same effect. Some examples of this are brain -based lie detection and psychiatric clinics basing diagnoses on the premise that certain patterns of activation can be used to infer the presence of certain disorders.” Reverse inference is much more effective when paired with forward inference. Forward inference is a more logical type of assessment where a psychological or physical phenomenon is specified and then performed under scanning to see which part of the brain is activated. This is a one to one conclusion. Contrarily, reverse inference can only be made “with confidence when one knows the full range of psychological processes that could produce a given pattern of activation under the circumstances of the study.” This is highly improbable. Yet, once again these critiques are not specific to the field of neuroscience nor the technology of fMRI. 

    More skepticism comes from the large amount of statistics computed to average the data into an appropriate measurement. Statistics, like most other things, can be done correctly or incorrectly. Carole Wade argues that using statistics to blur individual differences in brain anatomy which “may make the ‘uniqueness of fingerprints or facial features seem simple by comparison,” is problematic when many subjects’ scans are aggregated to produce a single image. According to the nature of statistics, extensive use provides equally extensive probability for error. One of these potential errors arises through multiple comparisons, a problem specific to neuroimaging (that’s a first.) Imaging techniques utilize three dimensional voxels that are generally 3mm cubed. Each of these voxels “could be the site of an independent statistical test comparing the value of the BOLD response measured in that small bit of the brain between the conditions of the experiment.” If the threshold for activity of these voxels are too small, then the whole brain will light up and then researchers get to reverse infer whatever cognitive action they desire to whichever area the brain pleases them. That is why an acceptable P level of P > .001 has been established throughout the scientific community. One method to defray the error of this method is to set a priori region of interest - to “simply limit the number of comparisons by specifying in advance the regions relevant to the research hypothesis.” In a similar manner, researchers can identify which voxels are most activated by the stimulation, and then only test comparisons for those voxels. This leaves them with a much higher rate correlation effect than otherwise. The result is that the second round of data has been “enriched” by chance effects from decreasing the scope of the experiment and using points that are only inline with the hypothesis. After analyzing these critiques Farah again shouts her main disclaimer that this problem “is not unique to functional neuroimaging.”     

    The criticism that brain images are overly appealing or “unduly persuasive” are generally targeted at the scientific illiteracy of the public rather than the images themselves. Ironically, the are tailored so that the general public can easily receive them. There is harm, however, in the potential for “brain scan images to create biases in the laboratory, the clinic and the courtroom.” Also there is danger in the fact that viewers respond less dubiously when “scientific” claims are paired with brain images. Through several examples of jurors being presented information about the psychiatric state of defendants along with brain scans, Farah explains that this bias is actually unclear. She argues that “neither study found an effect of brain images over and above information delivered verbally.” 

    Neuroscience may possibly receive more credit and interest than it is scientifically worth, argues Farah. It is important to main goal-orientated and to use criticism as a mechanism toward progress. Because “a substantial minority of research is [stained with these ill-mannered methods],” these criticisms are both valid and useful. Farah argues that none of the criticisms discussed in her article constitute reasons to reject neuroimaging, but remind us that “like all other scientific methods,” it’s not perfect.  

    Another thing that is not quite perfect is Farah’s review. At the root of fMRI is the hemodynamic changes measured through magnetized oxygen molecules in the blood stream. Therefore, the most important components of testing are spatial and temporal resolution. Farah admits that “fMRI informs us about activity only in a relatively large area of brain tissue . . and can inform us only at relatively long time intervals. If we are not receiving data from enough time intervals to make the claim of cognitive causation, then fMRI cannot fully be trusted. Farah deflects strong critiques about signal noise and does not suggest the implications of multivariate pattern analysis. 





Her face was like a novel. Each wrinkle told the time. Tilted creases above her lips from her wedding day, and deep lines in her wrists from the days she chooses not to remember. Her skin was tight and the color of eggshells. The sun left ink stains on her clothes. Her ancient pyramid house lay on the corner of Adams and Washington, and each day she made the same attempt at her only joke “Wow am I really that old, I’m up here with the founding fathers.”  Each day she left her house, and immersed herself into society as best she could. The locals always laughed at her joke but each one knew that their emotion was purely sympathetic. The sympathy was definitely there but nobody quite knew why: her aging frame just screamed pity. Every once and awhile she creaked open her red-streaked door to check for a letter that never came. As far as anybody knew she did not have any connections outside of the small town. Nobody knew who or what she was expecting, but I did.

It was one of those chilled foggy January mornings where the sun hadn’t quite come up yet, and darkness was a blanket over the yellow school bus that I rode every morning. I sat on the corner of Adams and Washington reading my history textbook. I was a deep thinker I was always told, but I thought to myself, what’s the point of deep thinking if nobody can comprehend what you do? I laughed quietly at the irony of this.  I tended to think about things like that a lot. The other kids joked and jostled each other on the sidewalk intersection, which almost always ended up in a full-fledged fight, waiting for our school bus. I sat at my usual spot under the tree, which I arrived at 20 minutes early to claim. I watched Maxwell fall down, doubling over in pain. His tooth had been knocked out; I did not feel pity. Face first into the snow he went, and when he found the strength to push himself up, the snow was yellow where I expected to see red. I laughed because only I saw a small dog mark his spot next to the bark. I ruffled though my textbook waiting for something to relieve my boredom and stumbled on a page about Egypt. “Yellow”, it said, “symbolizes deep mourning in Egypt. Warriors paint themselves this color before war to remember that mourning the dead is not too far away.” Strange I thought, the school bus came hurling through the streets surely waking everybody nearby.

I stopped and waited for the rest of the kids to get on the bus, worried that one of them may start a conversation with me. I didn’t like things pushing me out of my comfort zone. “Good morning Marlene”, I whispered to the bus driver as her small black child clung to my leg as he did every day. What was it that he sees in me that the others choose not to. I stuck my hand out for a fist bump, and he missed it. The rays of golden sunlight were probably obscuring his view. I sat down and felt a slight discomfort, gnawing at my mind. Something isn’t right, I thought. I went through my checklist: first the front two pockets in my backpack, then the shoulder strap for my pack of gum, the middle pocket for my computer and then fingered, counting 3…4...5 blue binders. Done. But still there was this gnawing at my mind while the other kids frolicked through their thoughts. The tension finally subsided when I looked out the window and saw a tiny wide-eyed head peek out of the red streaked door. The old gray hair on the woman’s head was frayed at the ends in knots. Phew, I would hate to see the day that poor old fool didn’t show up. An odd day that would be. An abnormal day. She was clinging onto something tight, running through her checklist sort of how I had done mine. “Heel,” she whispered to something behind the door. Her aging yellow lab bolted out of the house, eyes sagging with some deep unfound wisdom. Their faces matched, which was peculiar because the story told by such a face as hers cannot just be simulated. Without faltering they walked the route that they did every day since I had come to this bus stop.  The window frame cut my view of the woman and her dog as the bus drove passed. That day at school we had a lockdown drill.

The sun set yellow and red that night. I craved for it to stay, but it sank into the sharp edge of the horizon. My dreams felt like silent screams. My thoughts a bunch of strings knotting at the ends. Nothing quite tied together. In the morning I arose with this unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach. Whatever I had dreamt about left a bad taste in my mind. An aftertaste that reeked of death and havoc. I knew that something had gone wrong, that the static normality in my life had ended but I was not completely sure why. It was 6:00. From my basement I ascended the stained carpet stairs to the ground level of my house. Pieces from my dream started coming back to me, as they usually do later in the day. A letter, I thought. A man or an animal. Or maybe both. I ran downstairs grabbed my headphones and flew out the door.

Slowly I walked the 1.5 miles, 8 blocks, and 1,062 steps to my bus stop. It was a near perfect day, only one cloud visible in the sky. And the crisp breeze air-dried my hair. I had always passed other closer bus stops on the course of my walk, but since I started middle school, I always went to Washington and Adams. I wasn’t really accustomed to change.  That day I was really late. I walked up to my tree and sat down, this time facing the yellow house on the corner. I started going through my checklist. When I finished, I counted the pieces of grass until I was satisfied. The chilling mid-January wind blew past and I rose the scarf up to my face.  Wide-eyed I stared into the house, and saw the curtains on the inside blow with the wind. A cloud covered the sun and cast an eerie shade on the scene. My breath was now hoarse and shallow. 

Sharp black shadows danced inside her house. Flashes of movements. as the dance continued. The man dominated. Every little while he stepped on her feet, and silent screams squeezed their way out through any flaw in the houses’ structure. A faint whimper escaped through a hole in the roof, where her house must have suffered during the rainy season. A halting bark seeped through the yellow paint, and I began to add color to this scene in my head.  I added deep red and black, as I stroked the scene with my minds’ brush. I filled in the lines, making sure to tend for the colors that had seeped out of their boundaries. Screams rattled the scene, interrupting the colors’ fluidity, staggering the brush. And then it was finished. Every color made sense, and every consequent movement of their labored dance clicked. Water-colored drops then came flowing out of my eyes; a color whose boundaries I could not tend to. Tear drops, a color of confusion, that blend all other colors together distorting the view of the house.

As I awoke from this state of lucidity, I realized the bus had left me sitting under my oak tree legs crossed. Fingers Crossed. It passed by, the children between the windows probably screaming my name, but I did not hear them for their voices were only colors now. I walked back home feeling faint and climbed into my bed. There was a certain sickness about me, and I could not get up. My eyes burned red and my nose stung, my bones ached and weakness took over me. I dreamt about colors.

The next few hours felt like weeks. I woke up intermittently, each time wishing that the haze that floated over me would dissipate. My ears buzzed, and my thoughts were once again like knots. I could not cut through the buzz in my ears well enough to hear anything, but I saw distorted images out my window. I remembered my Egypt book. Can a pyramid cast a shadow, I thought. With four equal base sides and a tip, it could only cast one on itself, not being able to leave the boundary lines of the structure. I felt feverish. Four hours had passed when I finally regained enough strength to get up. My mind ached more than my head, and my thoughts more than my body. I waddled around the room and the clock rang 6 times. Once again, I grabbed my headphones and walked to the bus stop. I was early.

I sat under my tree that clear blue day, but did not wonder about anything. No intriguing thoughts sifted through my mind, and I did not count any grass, nor books in 

my backpack. I just sat there and watched life bloom. The yellow door creaked open and the bright sky stayed bright. Her movements were slower than usual, her eyes a little less color-filled. The leather leash she now held onto was worn and frayed. I tracked my eyes further down the leash to the lab. His fur was no longer yellow, his coat had been washed away. Red streaked fur now clotted his coat, clumping his hair together in tight wads. The woman’s wrinkles creased like the last page of a story, her book had ended. Still, the two walked leaving footprints of blood in the snow. She walked onto the icy sheet on the road, dragging her dog by his neck, cutting into his fur coat, his protection. He was limping but she was too blind to notice. His third leg, now a little shorter than the rest dragged along the ice, scratching into the surface leaving pools of blood to fill in the cracks. Still she did not turn around. “C’mon Yellow”, she whispered, “you don’t want to walk today? Fine” Obliviously, she put on her hood to the yellow trench coat and turned around. Slowly she dragged the limping dog back across the sheet of ice, splashing in the pools of color, walked the steps up to her house, removed the letter from her mailbox addressed to “Rose”, and creaked shut the yellow door.  


From the Top


There's a language barrier

That keeps my audience from connecting

The dots the composer wrote

Nail me to the cross

Bar of an eighth note

Music needs a savior


The tritone of my alarm clock

That perfect fifth of May

Waking up early

440 A

EMory board

My nails produce the tone

No amp, picks, or cord


My guitar

The wood is hollow

How high does the tempo have to be for the audience to forget to swallow


The greatest compliment is to tell me that I move you

To tiers higher


I met a schizophrenic who claimed to be brain dead

I offered him a counterpoint,

Bach replaced the voices in his head



This music makes my heart sore

They say I have a staph infection

Music’s gonna kill me

Just incase

Use my case as a coffin



I strive not to impress

But rather depress

And impress upon the audience

That sometimes the best part of music is the rest





My dad says don't fret

If I press a wrong fret

It's about the feeling

Musics like an onion

Peel it back

And it's appealing


If music is a universal language

Why to my generation is it unknown

my guitar has a rosette

But it's no Rosetta Stone


I etch different clefs in my chest

Trying to find the right key to my audience’s emotions


Trying to break down the fourth Wall

My best friend never had because she was homeless


It's acoustically dry

but soaked with tears

I wish my guitar was like a mirror

People’s mouth like my sound hole gasping for air


See my luthier built an ark

For my flood of inspiration

It's a little bit small

To ride the waves of emotion


I wanna move people

Call it a mass migration

To a world where people enjoya 4 hour opera

Over instant gratification


Their eyes wide awake

Staring like fermatas

Feet tapping on the ground

Ratta tat tatta


Musics like a gift

That you have to unwrap

They say I have many talents

But I'm still a few cents flat