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  • Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. Music.

  • Why does music make us feel the way it does?

  • Why does music make us wanna move?

  • And why do songs sometimes gets stuck in our heads?

  • James May, from the YouTube channel Head Squeeze,

  • thanks for the music. Pleasure. Why can music bring back memories?

  • That is a very good question actually. I've often wondered why it has this power

  • actually to unlock a completely dormant memory, something that's gone as far as you

  • know

  • and then it chooses, usually a pop tune from say ten or twenty years ago,

  • bang, there you are, wherever you were at the time. Sometimes it's positive,

  • sometimes it's negative,

  • but what is nostalgia?

  • Well, it turns out that nostalgia and

  • feeling emotions because of music and dancing

  • and getting songs stuck in your head

  • all orbit around a common theme.

  • Your identity. Because, really, physically speaking,

  • who are you? Every single day

  • you are losing atoms and gaining new ones from what you eat and drink.

  • It takes about five years to replace every atom in your body,

  • which means that the matter that we call you today

  • was not part of you five years ago. If we speed the process up we start to see

  • that your physical body,

  • really all of us, every human on earth,

  • is just a temporary group of atoms and molecules that, nonetheless,

  • keep the same name the whole time. Now this is what we think of when we think

  • of our bodies,

  • but to an alien, who could track individual atoms,

  • and only saw maybe a few frames per decade, you would appear to be what you really

  • are. A bunch of incoming atoms,

  • making your shape and then leaving.

  • So, what's consistent here? What are you?

  • Nostalgia, fondly remembering the past, what you

  • used to do and who used to be might simply be a way for your brain

  • to answer that question or at least cool down the anxieties it causes.

  • Because even at a macroscopic scale, you are always changing.

  • You have different friends, different behaviors, different moods, different

  • tastes

  • all the time. If you grew up

  • in the 80s, and by that I mean 1680s,

  • it would have been possible to have been nostalgic for a time

  • before the word nostalgia existed.

  • That's because in 1688 Johannes Hofer coined the term

  • by combining the Greek words for returning home

  • and pain. Nostalgia was originally seen as a quite serious medical condition,

  • affecting soldiers who missed home so much

  • that they broke down and were unable to fulfil their duties.

  • The only cure, as Hofer saw it, was to

  • be sent home, to your home,

  • because nostalgia is really all about you.

  • Your memories, your past, who you used to be

  • and consequently who you are now, which makes nostalgia an often healthy way to

  • answer the question

  • 'who am I?' Well, you're a person who remembers specific events in the past.

  • You existed in the past and are a continuous

  • being. A popular theory argues that the psychological effects of nostalgia,

  • connecting with your younger self and building a continuous

  • identity, are advantageous, and so we're naturally selected to be

  • rewarding experiences. You change

  • your habits, your friends, your job, you learn things and forget things,

  • but nostalgia allows you to connect all of those

  • events, which is especially helpful during times of major life

  • transitions, like

  • entering adulthood or aging, when study showed that nostalgia

  • is at its strongest. But if tucking in and lining up all of your life experiences into

  • a continuous story

  • is so advantageous, why don't we feel nostalgic for

  • everything in the past? Why don't you feel nostalgia for

  • what happened one minute ago? Why don't you feel nostalgic for the way this

  • video began? Well, the lifespan retrieval curve

  • might offer some clues. It's an average plot of distinct autobiographical memories

  • and it reveals what is called the reminiscence

  • bump. A time between 15 and 30 years of the age, where more memories are encoded.

  • This time in your life, both while you are living it and later,

  • is thought to be important because it's so linked to the formation of our

  • self-identities. Memories formed during that bump

  • tend to be the ones we are most nostalgic for

  • and because we want our continuous identities to be positive,

  • we tend to be nostalgic for good memories,

  • not bad ones. Individually and collectively we also tend to be

  • nostalgic and reminisce

  • on things as if they were better than at the time they

  • really were. Twenty years after leaving his hometown

  • Abraham Lincoln returned to it and looking upon it remembering it

  • nostalgically,

  • he wrote these lines of poetry. "My childhood's home

  • I see again and saddened with the view

  • and still as memory crowds my brain, there's pleasure

  • in it too." Abraham Lincoln might seem like

  • a quite ancient person, someone from way back in history.

  • But here's some perspective. On February 9,

  • 1956, a date within the lives of some of our parents and many of our grandparents,

  • this old man appeared on the television show

  • "I've got a secret." What made him so special?

  • Well, he was Samuel J. Seymour,

  • an eyewitness. Goodnight, Mr. Seymour. How old are you by the way, Sir?

  • Ninety six. Ninety six years old.

  • He was allive and in attendance at Ford's Theatre

  • on the very day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

  • And he was alive recently enough to have appeared on national

  • television. Music doesn't have to bring up old memories or

  • make you feel nostalgia in order to help you build an identity.

  • Lawrence Parsons in a great interview discusses the fact that babies

  • from about six months to one-year clearly respond to all kinds of

  • different

  • rhythms and chords when only a single note or beat

  • is out of place. But after one year

  • babies tend to only respond to rhythms and chords

  • from their own culture, from the world around them.

  • This makes sense when you consider just how important it is for our brains to

  • not only construct a continuous

  • individual identity, but a continuous identity within the groups

  • that we belong. We don't always get along with or

  • understand other people, but when two people listen to and respond to

  • music, their feelings and emotions can become more similar than if they were to

  • merely sit

  • in silence or use words with no rhythm.

  • So, although we are still not exactly sure why music makes us wanna move,

  • the desire you have, the impulse you have to tap your foot or

  • bob your head or, if confident enough, dance

  • when you hear a rhythm might have less to do with the behavior you have learned

  • and more to do with your internal desire

  • to fit in. And as a consequence of our impressive ability to communicate and be

  • social

  • it even happens when you are alone or when you want to

  • dance as if no one is watching. Speaking of dance,

  • William Michael Brown motion captured good and bad dancers so he could render

  • them into digital stick figures

  • and remove all clues as to their fitness or looks or health.

  • Now, figures with symmetric movement, what we might call

  • good dancing, were consistently rated as more attractive

  • and more desirable as mates.

  • But this may have less to do with music being some special human behavior

  • and more to do with communication in general.

  • Sharing a musical experience with someone else might just be an extreme

  • form

  • of the communication skills that were naturally selected into us,

  • so that we could understand each other, understand a motion from tone of voice

  • and listen. Sweet, fatty foods

  • taste good because they signal our brain that they are full of energy.

  • Energy that we need to survive. This is why

  • cheesecake tastes so incredible. But it doesn't mean that

  • cheesecake is necessary for survival.

  • Music might be the same way. A happy accident of

  • the communication skills we developed but fundamentally

  • an unnecessary one or, as cognitive scientist Steven Pinker famously called it,

  • acoustic cheesecake. If not properly chewed

  • a bite of cheesecake can get lodged in your throat.

  • But a short repetitive song can get lodged

  • in your brain. It's called an ear worm.

  • At best it means that the song is catchy. At worst

  • it means replaying over and

  • over and over again the same song in your head

  • until you are annoyed. According to research by James Kellaris,

  • nearly all of us experience ear worms.

  • Men and women experience them equally as often but for reasons we don't quite

  • understand yet

  • ear worms tend to last longer for and be more irritating

  • to women. Repetitive rhythms make a song

  • easier to reproduce in our heads and unusual time signatures

  • or unresolved or incomplete musical ideas.

  • bother us. Perhaps because we strive to communicate completely and clearly

  • so we fixate on these little snippets of songs, replaying them over and over again

  • in our heads, hoping to resolve them,

  • which, of course, they don't, meaning that they are quite literally a

  • cognitive itch. An itch that that just gets worse

  • by being scratched. Our inability to suppress

  • a simple thought, like the famous "quick, whatever you do,

  • don't think of a pink elephant" or

  • the game or a song stuck in your head

  • might be explained by ironic process theory.

  • The idea that in our brains there are two different processes going on.

  • One, which consciously controls what we think about

  • and the other unconsciously monitoring

  • what we are thinking about. They share an equal amount of cognitive effort and

  • they're always in balance and so more effort put into monitoring

  • what you're thinking about means that there's less left to actually control

  • what you think about.

  • Spending that cognitive effort on some other task that uses working memory like

  • Sudoku or

  • anagrams can often help get an ear worm out of your head.

  • You can always just replace the ear worm with another one, using a service like

  • Unhear it[.com]. Ear worms are annoying,

  • but music has the power to conjure up all kinds of other emotions

  • when we hear it. A major reason for this is the fact that, like our sense of smell,

  • music is initially processed in the same regions of the brain that process

  • memories and emotion, like the amygdala.

  • So, maybe those are

  • answers - memories. You might not have the same friends and job and house and

  • atoms throughout your life, but you do have the same memories,

  • so are you just your memories?

  • Well, unfortunately, that idea is a little troublesome, because

  • memory loss doesn't necessarily make you a brand new different person

  • and there's also the slight problem of false

  • memories. These studies always freak me out.

  • Researchers bring in participants and show them photographs from their

  • childhood

  • and ask him to tell a story about what happened in the photo,

  • except one of the photos has been photoshopped.

  • It didn't really happen. But instead of noticing

  • this fake image, people tend to just

  • make up a story and remember it as if it really happened.

  • Couple weeks ago I went with Jake Chudnow, who does the music here on Vsauce

  • to the Royal Observatory

  • in Greenwich. We saw the seventh-largest telescope

  • on earth and while there, this song

  • was playing. It's called "Longplayer."

  • Composed by Jem Finer, Longplayer is constructed by combining different

  • recordings of singing bells.

  • They're combined in different ways, so as to never repeat

  • for 1,000 years.

  • Longplayer began in 1999 and it will not finish,

  • the song will not be over for 1,000 years.

  • Literally, billions of humans will be born

  • and die before Longplayer is

  • finished playing. The sound waves,

  • the compression waves that send Longplayer into your

  • ear aren't that much unlike you,

  • your waves of atoms, temporarily organizing atoms or molecules but not

  • really causing any one atom or molecule to stay along with you

  • for the entire journey. Just as the ocean

  • waves and bells ring, as Alan Watts said, the

  • earth peoples. In a way, you are a slow compression wave moving through

  • Earth's matter. But what does your waves sound like?

  • Does it make people wanna dance? It probably won't

  • echo around for centuries after you're gone, but maybe, while you are here, you

  • can get

  • stuck in the head of some other temporary wave. An ear worm that they

  • like and don't want to get rid of.

  • That'd be a nice type of wave to be.

  • But can music make you smarter

  • and can I play an instrument? Well,

  • to find out, follow James and I over to the YouTube channel Headsqueeze,

  • where we take a look at those questions. And as always,

  • thanks for watching.

  • Thank you.

  • Seriously, follows us over. No, seriously. Right now.

  • There's also a link I'll put in the description, so it's like a piece of cake guys. Come

  • on.

  • Well, we'll be over there waiting. He's over there, I'm over there, I'm with him

  • here and he's with me over there.

  • We won.

Hey, Vsauce. Michael here. Music.

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B1 US nostalgia nostalgic music continuous cheesecake worm

Why Do We Feel Nostalgia?

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    g2 posted on 2016/10/28