I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I gone into mathematics rather than music. Given that I’d practically quit playing the cello for close to eight years during a time I was seriously considering pursuing a field that can only be referred to as “Comparative Neurolinguistcs” and how much the understanding of cognitive biases informs my understanding of the economic and social issues I tend to blog about here I’m still surprised that I haven’t made the leap into the sciences rather than sticking to the arts. This post by Fire & Air probably reflects some of my frustration with artists and arts advocates!

Fire and Air

… and how many people are always shocked at how scientists are so well-rounded. This musing is of course occasioned by the Mars landing but has been ruminated upon by me before.

How many more Cliburn amateur competition winners with doctorates in chemistry do there have to be before we ditch the pocket-protector stereotype that the rest of the world seems to cling to? Even your humble blogger has a very, very hard science past. There’s the lately-ubiquitous Zoe Keating, ex-technologist who was able to blend her tech knowledge with music in a way that’s gotten her a ton of acclaim. Hell, even NASA’s skinny-Elvis EDL team lead engineer is a bass guitarist who previously aimed for a career in music. (Twenty bucks says that guy’s got ink.) Plus the various people I knew in grad school, lots of them. And NASA’s past crop of shuttle astronauts…

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2 thoughts on “

  1. You’re another one, eh? I was without a piano for almost two decades, starting when I went into college for physics and astronomy. I still played when I could get to the practice rooms at school, but other than that, I went for a long time without an instrument. I envy you that you could keep yours with you. 🙂

    So what do I read up on to get my feet wet on comparative neurolinguistics? Actually I should talk to you about how I learned to write music — it’s embedded in there someplace, I think … And about how you ended up considering comparative neurolinguistics. Talking to musical propellerheads is so much fun. 🙂


    1. I would suggest reading Terrence Deacon’s “Symbolic Species” to whet your appetite, and then Richard Nisbett’s “Geography of Thought” as these both give great introductions to the plasticity of neural development. Of course the pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity was Gerald Edelman’s Neural Darwinism theory.

      I almost made the switch after finishing music school–that was pretty much when I quit playing cello after explore the myriad forms of music and music theories that existed. It just made little sense to me that I have this degree in music and I barely understood anything about the totality of music that exists in the world. I spent many of those years not playing cello doing performance art, experimental music, electronic music, etc. Eventually as I started playing the cello again I got drawn into the world of ethnic musics and have since been playing and learning tons about the music of the world. During that time I also came across other music notation systems that co-evolved outside of the Western World and started thinking about how reading and texts shape the brain. I’d always been interested in cross-cultural psychology, but hadn’t thought about how brains can be profoundly shaped by different kinds of texts and orthographies and even mathematical notation.

      So, for a while I thought about going straight into comparative neurolinguistics or comparative neurocognition–specifically so I could really study how writing of any sort can shape how different populations think and the types of cognitive strategies get developed in specific cultural milieus!

      I haven’t entirely left that behind me–hence why I tend to blog about comparative cultural frameworks and institutions. Seems to me that any cultural, economic, or political universals are usually just ingroup pronouncements of the superiority of ingroup phenomena. 🙂


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