Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 17, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ARE YOU INTERESTED?....What is it that makes something interesting? Over at The Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman glosses Paul Silvia on the subject and tells us there are two primary attibutes that make something interesting. The first, of course, is a particular event's novelty. If it's just the same old stuff, it's not interesting.

Second, though, is the event's potential comprehensibility, which involves considerations of whether one has the skills, knowledge, and resources to deal with the event. As Silvia puts it, "Concepts confusing to novices can be interesting to experts because experts feel able to understand them." Thus, if something I consider new and surprising happens and if understanding it seems to fall within the realm of what I consider possible for me, I'm likely to find it interesting and worth pursuing. But if understanding it seems hopeless to me, I'm likely to set it aside and wait for something else to grab me. Or just to sleep.

This is one of the virtues of blogs: at their best, they make things comprehensible that other mediums don't. Not for everybody, of course: even the chatty first-person style of the blogosphere is too opaque for some people, and the growing use of insidery jargon can sometimes make it as hard to get started with the blogosphere as it is to pick up Lost in the middle of a season.

Still, for some people it makes politics and policy interesting in a way that nothing else does. And lots of interested people is a good thing, right?

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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Comments

Insidery jargon? WTF do you mean by "insidery jargon"? IMHO, there's no problem with jargon on the internets. ROTFLMAO. Jejune snark, on the other hand, is a growing plague.

Posted by: Ted on February 17, 2008 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Ted's comment reminds me of the first time I saw an internet acronym directed to me. I was playing chess at yahoo games, and the other player wrote "np," for "no problem." I asked, "Does that mean, 'not playing?'" and got the reply, "LOL."

The conversation degenerated from there.

Anyway, my answer to Kevin's closing question is a hearty, "Yup."

Posted by: mrsaturdaypants on February 17, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm spoiled now, I'd go crazy without CSPAN and the blogs.

Charles Barkley, on Blitzer's show this morning, said "When I hear the word conservatism it makes me sick to my stomach." Interesting, indeed...

Posted by: elmo on February 17, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me the point of LOST is to make the world seem incomprehensible, totally unpredictable. It promotes what is called 'learned helplessness' or ,at least, the acceptance of it. Attributes the dark right admires in an electorate,

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on February 17, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Silvia's paper (PDF link), for those interested.

Posted by: RSA on February 17, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Is it bad form if I find this post, umm, uninteresting?

Posted by: Stranger on February 17, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

The Daytona 500 is about to start. I have to join my NASCAR dad friends for chili and beer...later.

Posted by: elmo on February 17, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

RSA, thanks for the pdf link. One pearl of wisdom I found in it (OK, I'm being a little snarky):
"Interest motivates learning about a new, complex thing; once people understand it, it isn’t interesting anymore."

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 17, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Huh.... I snoozed off after being disinterested and bored by the insidery jargon of the Internets.

Somebody pass me "My Pet Goat."

Posted by: George W. Bush on February 17, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

This just in! People like foods that taste good to them.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on February 17, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Newspapers are almost extinct. Thank goodness for blogs, they may be the newspapers of the future.
The United States of America needs Investigative reporting now more than ever in our history.

Posted by: Kill Bill on February 17, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's comment reminds me of a paper I did in college on the psychology of music. What gives music 'emotional' meaning is when one's expectation of what will happen next is thwarted. In order for this expectation to be denied, the listener must be familiar with the musical language in the first place.

This example seems to be an analogy of what grabs our interest in general, the unexpected or unknown jumping out at us, but in a context that we're already pretty familiar with, so that the whole experience isn't overwhelming to the extent that we don't have a structure already available in which to fit the new fact or the new opinion.

Posted by: nepeta on February 17, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK
What gives music 'emotional' meaning is when one's expectation of what will happen next is thwarted….nepeta at 3:39 PM
If that were true, by the third hearing, the music would have lost it 'emotional' meaning because by then the listener should know what happens next, thereby meeting expectations. That is obviously not the case. For example, Mahler's Kindertotenlieder never lose their impact even if known by heart. Nor are all emotions inspired by music positive

Can aleatoric music emotional meaning? Yes, but it's not a given. If one is familiar with work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the trend of the composition is uncertain in every aspect, constantly thwarting expectations, but an emotional connection to the piece may never occur.

Posted by: Mike on February 17, 2008 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

I enjoy articles, movies, TV shows, cartoons, etc. that make me look at something from a new point of view. (Kevin, this is why I like to read your blog.)

For example, a recent cartoon (using exaggeration of course) pointed out that some of the U.S. troops in Iraq might go native because many of them have been rotated to Iraq so many times that they have spent most of their adult lives in that country. I had never thought of that before, but it is true—at least the part about many of them spending the majority of their adult life in that country. (They might not go native, but they are certainly going to have a perspective on Iraq that most Americans are incapable of having.)

I was surprised to read once that many people hate anything that challenges their beliefs. They are frustrated and resistant to new points of view. What could they possibly get out of something like a college course? How boring their lives must be.

Posted by: emmarose on February 17, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

"If that were true, by the third hearing, the music would have lost it 'emotional' meaning because by then the listener should know what happens next..."

Mike, No, because the harmony, or note, or dynamic remains new to what has come before, so that every time one listens to the piece, the 'newness' is heard. I probably didn't explain it well. The newness is in relation to the language, not to the listener specifically. Now if you listen to a piece 20 times over, it's quite possible that the repetition leads to a certain kind of boredom. That's why performers, who obviously practice a lot, are often told to take a break for a few days before a performance, so that the freshness returns.

Obviously, the gamut of emotions in music pretty much mirrors the gamut of emotions in people.

"Can aleatoric music emotional meaning?"

Stockhausen, I don't think, wrote aleatoric music but instead 12-tone music, i.e., each note of the scale was used in a specified order both melodically and harmonically over and over again. His intention was to get rid of tonality and he succeeded. Given my thesis that emotional meaning comes from something new in a given musical language, most often harmonic, then indeed I can't find any meaning in Stockhausen in a tonal sense. There are still 'surprises' in dynamics, pitch, etc. but it's not the same thing because these aren't new to the language itself. Aleatoric music is even less understandable. My theory would not apply to atonal music at all. Btw, if you're interested, it's not really my theory, but that of Leonard Myers in a book called "Emotion and Meaning in Music," a good 40 years old.

Posted by: nepeta on February 17, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, Correction to my comment on Stockhausen. After checking his wiki, I see that he started out with serialism (12-tone) but later used aleatoric techniques in his compositions.

Posted by: nepeta on February 17, 2008 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

There are still 'surprises' in dynamics, pitch, etc. but it's not the same thing because these aren't new to the language itself. Aleatoric music is even less understandable. My theory would not apply to atonal music at all.

Posted by: devy on February 17, 2008 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, excellent thoughts. In Goedel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter talks about the "newness" of hearing music again through the ears of a new listener who is listening along with you.

And, great music never becomes old, being an interpretive art.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 17, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Is it not the sublime and unexpected modulations on the Neapolitan sixth that explains the fascination with Britney Spears?

Posted by: Luther on February 18, 2008 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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