A Simple Explanation For Everything

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Not a report put out by an organization owned by the subject. We want readers to be able to rely on what they read, and to be able to verify claims they read in Wikipedia articles. Regarding predictors of the kind of music people liked, age, and gender were considered among the most important at that time. That is, although LeBlanc proposed a hierarchy, each level in the hierarchy had a link arrow that allowed one variable in the model to be influenced by others regardless of its hierarchical position.

In their reciprocal-feedback model RFM , Hargreaves et al. Furthermore, their model intended to explain musical communication, which included musical preference responses. Perhaps most importantly, as far as the present enquiry is concerned, the RFM does not necessitate that preference is an output that results from a hierarchy of inputs and filters. The most recent development of the RFM Hargreaves et al. The most radical component of the revised model is the inclusion of the imagination factor.

Imagination is presented as the central core of the model because it represents the cognitive processes underlying musical experience.


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Whereas the original model was intended to explain musical response, performance, and communication, placing imagination at the core of the model allows for the integration of all of the creative acts involved in music making, and also changes the nature of the model such that it now deals in essence with the mental activity involved in music processing. Indeed, it will be argued here that the revised model provides an apt explanation that covers much of the sum total of musical experience. The models described above represent musical experience as a collection of categorical blocks, each of which is able to mutually interact with the others.

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They reflect the evidence at the time at which the research was available, and have historical origins in the philosophical position referred to as reductionism — the separable components responsible for the emergent phenomenon under investigation in this case, musical experience. While this leaves us with an understanding of musical experiences that is iteratively deeper, it also raises the question of how to manage the increasing complexity of such a model.

Nowak argued that it may be possible to find a compromise between incomprehensible complexity with richness of understanding, versus simplicity and triviality. As mentioned, Hargreaves proposed that imagination and its components is at the core of the revised RFM, and recent developments in cognitive psychology suggest that the concept of imagination may be the place to find a simple mechanism.

In the present model, imagination needs to be understood in two ways: first, it refers to the self-reportable, experiential level of fantasy, make-believe, remembering, planning, and so forth, in the absence of physically sensed stimuli sight, sound, etc. Second, it can be understood at a cognitive level as involving different networks of association that are a part of mental processing. Those networks function as a large, distributed set of nodes that are responsible for the formation 1 , storage and retrieval of memories, both motor and perceptual Fuster, , but equally important, they are involved in the formation of novel associations and activities.

This second concept of imagination, particularly through its interaction with the first, experiential concept of imagination, provides a parsimonious explanation not only of responses to music, but also of the creation of music as part of the production e. Personal networks are the most individualized networks that map out the various experiences and associations of an individual: they do so by combining aspects of musical and social-cultural networks.

Thus, imagination can be seen as operating through a collection of interacting cognitive networks. A criticism of this version of the model is that, as a result of the inclusion of imagination, the theory traverses different levels of explanation e. The original version of the model was largely phenomenological, taken here to mean behavioral e. Imagination as conceived here, however, consists of the internal workings of the mind that are concerned with musical experiences which may not always be directly accessible through behavior and observation, and may even be contrary to the observations and behaviors of the individual having them.

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Our intention here is accordingly to identify a minimum number of underlying cognitive mechanisms that help explain the behavioral and observable data, and to identify and justify that which possesses the most explanatory power. We suggest that the single, best available contender for explaining musical experience and esthetic pleasure is spreading activation theory e.

Spreading activation refers directly to the mental processing portion of the RFM in that it depends on a mental architecture consisting of a vast network of nodes as does the imagination factor of the RFM. For example, the act of walking requires neural networks that prepare for and execute the act by sending motor instructions including bodily co-ordination Cruse et al. The instructions are not explicit, but are distributed through the network as a result of learning and maturation Collins and Loftus, ; Smith and Queller, In the case of perception, a familiar visual stimulus will activate one set of networks, and if that visual stimulus is of a musician, for example, another set of networks may be activated as a result of the music that the musician is playing.

The mental representations of the music and the visual stimulus of the musician are combined to form another, integrated network e.

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These combinations of networks are linked together by the appropriation of a new network if the connection has not previously been made. These representations and associations in some psychological models are referred to as long-term memory Sweatt, The later re-activation of a part of the network [e. Total activation is therefore determined by the combination of quasi-digital transmission of signals via nodes. The nodes transmit or they do not — on or off. It is the sum of the transmitting node outputs that form overall activation and, in effect, produces the intensity of the arousal.

Martindale , proposed a simple mechanism that explained hedonic preference in terms of these interconnected nodes, namely that the process of activation of nodes is in itself pleasurable, provided that the listener is in a disinterested state. An important point in the model that we are proposing, and in that of Martindale, is that the basic tenet of the model requires that the listener be in a state of esthetic contemplation, which we will refer to as an esthetic context e.

It is possible to build an explanatory sequence based on the assumption of a simple mechanism that drives esthetic in this case musical experience. Formation of mental representation is the basis of learning and experience. For example, a mental representation can be formed, without conscious attention, by mere exposure Zajonc, ; Monahan et al.

Mere exposure and any other driver of mental representation formation can be translated into the phenomenological world as familiarity. Familiarity — a collative variable in the RFM Berlyne, — can therefore be explained through the presence of mental representation of a piece of music, a style of music, a performer, and so on. The activation of that mental representation is pleasurable, and is reflected in numerous studies see reviews of music preference cited above, as well as Gaver and Mandler, ; Schubert, a ; Pereira et al.

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Studies in the social psychology of music have presented an increasingly sophisticated understanding of musical experience. Using spreading activation as the underlying mechanistic driver of musical experience, social context may be viewed as a facilitator or inhibitor of musical exposure. Being with a friend, having a role model, or wanting to be part of the in-group Tarrant et al.

One event e. A positive memory may produce a sense of awe, pleasure or frisson Lowis, Our argument is that spreading activation underlies these affective responses: it explains why situations and contexts are such an important part of the musical experience, and suggests that the external influence of context, while critically important, can at the same time be explained mechanistically.

When we are with people we like we tend to adopt their mood or emotional state Hatfield et al. In neuroscientific research a picture is beginning to emerge that such empathic experiences are produced by activation of, among other things, mirror circuits Preston and De Waal, ; Platek et al. The assertion that mirror circuits are the mechanism of empathy is not without controversy Decety, , although the presence of a specialist circuit for processing our strong sensitivity to interhuman interaction is plausible, if not biologically critical e.

Connection with others — as a cause or result of empathy — has an important role to play in musical experience, too Woody and McPherson, These social interactions lead to activation of relevant networks representing social engagement. The key point is that the linking of these cognitive networks with pieces of music, through the principle of spreading activation which is pleasurable in an esthetic context provides a mechanistic explanation of the context determinants of the RFM.

Although some recent work on contagion comes from neuroscientific research e. In short, it may be that social interaction is an evolutionarily important, convenient way of activating many nodes, and musical activation links these experiences together, allowing later listening to that music to re-activate networks of memories and feelings Chartrand and Dalton, The spreading activation mechanism fulfils the criterion of being minimal because it is a single, important principle that dynamically interacts with the various components of musical experience — the more activation, the more pleasure.

Such an approach is easy to criticize because it explains a great deal with very little, and some of the criticisms will be addressed in the following section. Schematic representation of spreading activation through the components of the reciprocal-feedback model RFM; based on Hargreaves, The arrows connecting the determinant boxes in previous versions of the RFM have been replaced here by networks of nodes, shown in schematic form in the background, and representing a cognitive level of explanation.

Activation of one part of the network spreads activation to other previously associated networks. The central role of imagination is represented schematically in the diagram in terms of musical experience foreground , and of internal, mental representation background. The current thesis proposes that the spreading activation mechanism presents both a parsimonious explanation of an extremely complex set of phenomena, and provides some testable hypotheses that may lead to further modifications or rejection.

In terms of prediction, spreading activation implies that a mental representation must be present before activation can begin. The self-reported, introspective, phenomenological experience of a mental representation will, in its simplest form, be the sensation of recognition, and will therefore often be connected with familiarity Gabrieli, ; Jeneson et al. While there is much to say about this prediction, a few advance comments about prototype theory are required.

As with spreading activation, the theory of prototypicality predicts that people will like the most prototypical music that they hear: that is, music that sounds most similar to their existing mental representations of musical styles and pieces. Prototypicality theory was championed by Martindale and colleagues Martindale and Moore, , ; Martindale et al. One important reason was discussed by North and Hargreaves , who argued that prototypicality may have found support in the first place because of the stimuli used to examine the theory.

The importance of prototypicality, they argued, was proportional to the extent to which the stimuli in question varied in their prototypicality. Spreading activation theory which, incidentally, was inspired by the work of Martindale — who had in place many of the principles of the present theory does not imply any bias as to which component of the RFM will be a better predictor of esthetic preference.

Familiarity is not an exclusive factor in making predictions about liking, as it intrinsically involves other factors. Furthermore, our theory draws attention to the way that preference for musical style interacts with preference for individual musical pieces, which lends itself to easier direct inspection, such as comparisons between music played in two or more different styles and contexts.

The context that activates the greater number of mental representations — for example through exposure and cultural norms, will be more liked. Evidence of this prediction can be found in a study by North and Hargreaves One important esthetic principle that spreading activation does not explain is why familiarity can increase without monotonic increase in enjoyment.

This conclusion is encapsulated in the principle of the inverted-U curve Berlyne, ; Heyduk, ; Hargreaves, ; Schubert, , and was first identified by the early German psychologists, particularly through the work of Wundt That is, massed exposure to an esthetic stimulus will lead, in general, to an increase in the activation threshold, eventually stopping the node the one representing the stimulus that is being presented from activating.

The consequent blocking reduces the amount of activation that can spread through the network for more details, see Martindale, ; Schubert, ; Schellenberg et al. However, our aim is deliberately to set a research agenda that identifies the single best explanatory mechanism for esthetic experience, without excluding additional mechanisms from explaining musical experience and preference. There is a second related issue concerning the notion of familiarity, which also requires detailed exposition.

Put simply, our description so far suggests that exposure, familiarity, and spreading activation are similar concepts. However, the notion of conscious attention means that it seems sensible to differentiate these terms Bargh and Ferguson, ; Hubbard, Conscious attention directs the nature of the representation formed or activated so that anything in consciousness at the time influences the representation that is formed or activated.

For instance, if one hears a piece of music and is told that it represents a given musical style, then this information will become part of the representation of that piece. A clear prediction follows from this, namely that the greater the degree of conscious effort devoted to active processing of a given exposure to music so, it would be assumed, the greater the extent and richness of the nodes activated.

In contrast, mere exposure to music with little or no ensuing conscious effort i. However, mere exposure still has an important role to play in mental representation, and this can be further exemplified in the importance of repeated material used within a piece of music Ockelford, This furthers the present argument that the search for existing mental representations, which can be of a musical fragment, will lead to a positive affective outcome for the listener.

Our theory, therefore, draws together disparate, significant explanations in cognitive musical organization Deliege, a , by proposing that terminology used to indicate familiar musical fragments, a particular musical style North and Hargreaves, ; Deliege, b , a musical schema Bharucha, ; Justus and Bharucha, and prototypically op. This is in addition to the veridical activation of linked mental representations that will occur when listening to a familiar piece of music.


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Perhaps the major criticism of spreading activation theory is that it explains too much, and therefore lacks predictive utility. The amount of activity at any given point in the brain-cortex is the sum of the tendencies of all other points to discharge into it, such tendencies being proportionate 1 to the number of times the excitement of each other point may have accompanied that of the point in question; 2 to the intensity of such excitements; and 3 to the absence of any rival point functionally disconnected with the first point, into which the discharges might be diverted p.

Our dynamical minimalism approach has four advantages over other theories of musical experience, namely that: 1 It crystallizes the need to distinguish between the various components of musical experiences complexity, prototypicality, but also personality, social and contextual factors and so forth , which are brought into focus by the RFM; 2 It predicts that in an esthetic context any of these components can contribute to positive esthetic experiences; 3 While other cognitive theories of musical preference lay out the various determinants of musical preference, they rarely identify the reason for the generation of preference or pleasure: our theory explicitly identifies the causal mechanism of musical esthetic pleasure — spreading activation, and 4 Our theory sets a research agenda that requires a focus on the relative contribution of each component of the RFM to the overall experience.

The single cognitive mechanism of spreading activation provides a potential solution to the problem of achieving dynamical minimalism in theories of musical experience. Spreading activation, we have proposed, is a basic mechanism that interacts with, is shaped by, and forms the various components of the RFM over time.

This provides some obvious insights into the nature of musical preference and experience. Consider, for example, the findings reported at the time of the LeBlanc model related to gender — that young adolescent females have a more positive attitude to music than their male counterparts Hargreaves et al. If a cultural norm encourages females to listen to more musical styles than males e.

But the current model clarifies the idea that familiarity and recognition are variables available to the introspection of the individual. Familiarity does not directly identify the cognitive mechanism that underlies the experience. In other words, familiarity is important, but how important is it with respect to other variables and determinants, and how might music psychologists be able to undertake valid comparisons between the effects of two or more of these factors e. The present thesis does not answer this question, but draws attention to it. We have therefore attempted to provide a dynamically minimalist explanation of the comprehensive RFM proposed by Hargreaves and colleagues.

A simple underlying mechanism — that spreading activation through cognitive networks generates pleasure and other positive affects — dynamically underlies, and is shaped by, the various components of the RFM, and can explain the development of musical experiences over time. That is, the musical affects of the components of the RFM can be largely explained by the spreading activation mechanism. The importance of social context is expressed in terms of the additional amounts of activation the listener experiences when the music is connected with other people, situations and environments, and interrelationships among those.

For example, the large amount of activation that can occur when listening to music that a friend likes, or in a social context such as a campfire, may provide a simple, mechanistic explanation of much that is known about the social psychology of music.

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Further research will be able to reveal whether this simple cognitive mechanism of spreading activation may help us to understand which of the various components of the RFM account for the largest amount of variance in response and in experience. While reducing the rich and powerful experiences of musical engagement to a simple mechanism may seem overly simplistic to some, from a research perspective, it has the potential to provide stimulation for the generation of many new hypotheses and significant research directions.

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. The authors would like to thank Linda Hargreaves and Jon Hargreaves for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Psychol v. Front Psychol. Published online Feb 6. Hargreaves , 2 and Adrian C. North 3. David J.

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Adrian C. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Edited by: Sarah J. Wilson, University of Melbourne, Australia. Reviewed by: Sarah J.