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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1995 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 1, Number 1     January, 1995     ISSN:  1067-3040   |
  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR:  Smoliar, Stephen W.
TITLE:  Musical Objects:  Response to John Covach
KEYWORDS:  object, signal, sensation, perception, cognition
REFERENCE:  mto.94.0.11.covach.art
Stephen W. Smoliar
Institute of Systems Science
National University of Singapore
Heng Mui Keng Terrace
Kent Ridge  0511
[1] Having just delivered a paper entitled "In Search of 
Musical Events" at the 12th IAPR International Conference 
on Pattern Recognition in Jerusalem (1), I feel at least 
somewhat qualified to comment on John Covach's work-in-
progress on the destructuring of Cartesian dualism.  The 
original working title of this paper was "In Search of 
Musical *Objects*;"  but the word "events" was substituted 
at the advice of Al Bregman, who had solicited 
contributions for this particular session of the 
conference.  Admittedly, I wrote this paper wearing an 
engineer's hat, which rarely resembles any philosopher's 
hat in either form or function.  Nevertheless, I offer up 
my antithesis to John's thesis in the Hegelian spirit that 
some synthesis may emerge (unless the mass of memes goes 
critical, setting off a chain reaction which blows us all 
to bits).
1. Stephen W. Smoliar, "In Search of Musical Events," 
*Proceedings:  12th IAPR International Conference on 
Pattern Recognition* Volume III (1994): 118-122.
[2] Actually, Bregman's suggested modification of my choice 
of words very much reflects the Heideggerian spirit which 
is the basis for John's thesis.  However, without appealing 
to such concepts as situation-in-a-context, we can still 
appreciate the difference simply because of the temporal 
dimension.  Confronted with the stimulation of the retinal 
field, eventually the cerebral cortex has to draw some 
conclusions about *what* objects are there.  While visual 
perception is far from a static process, for purposes of 
investigation and discussion, we can still "freeze" certain 
visual stimuli, scrutinize their properties, and try to 
relate those properties to models of the signal processing 
which takes place along the path from the optic nerve to 
the cerebral cortex.  Such "freezing" is not possible in 
the auditory domain:  Freezing entails halting time;  and 
when time stands still, there can no longer be sound.  
Events are products of the passing of time, and Heidegger's 
spirit is honored because it makes more sense to ask *how* 
events are perceived in the course of time than to ask 
*what* events are, as if they were the sorts of Cartesian 
objects which occupied Heidegger's critique.
[3] The consequence of this distinction is that we still 
know far less about auditory perception than we do about 
visual perception.  This is because, at the level of nuts 
and bolts, it is far harder to control the stimuli.  
Consequently, experimental psychologists continue to work 
with sine tones and only the most elementary of sequencing 
patterns and tend to throw up their hands in despair when a 
music theorist asks what any of this has to do with a 
Beethoven piano sonata.(2)  The problem is that we still 
lack adequate models of time consciousness;  and our 
understanding of what Gerald Edelman calls the "organs of 
succession" (3) in the brain is still preliminary.  Because 
hearing *requires* the passage of time, our knowledge of 
how we perceive events will probably have to wait on better 
models of how the brain processes time.
2. The alternative is to swing the pendulum to the opposite 
extreme, as in Lucy Pollard-Gott, "Emergence of Thematic 
Concepts in Repeated Listening to Music," *Cognitive 
Psychology* 15 (1983): 66-94.  Pollard-Gott jumps feet 
first into the Liszt B Minor piano sonata, using it as data 
for an experimental investigation of how different 
listeners hear and recall themes.  There are no reports of 
any preliminary studies based on potentially more 
"accessible" data, such as Mozart's variations on "Ah, vous 
direz-je, Maman!"
3. Gerald M. Edelman, *The Remembered Present:  A 
Biological Theory of Consciousness* (New York: Basic Books, 
1989), chapter 7.
[4] On the other hand, Heidegger's work is beginning to 
have a positive impact on cognitive science (the discipline 
in which those of us who wear our engineers' hats try to 
think about questions of mind).  To draw upon John's 
vocabulary (which is generally far more accessible than 
Heidegger's--particularly to engineers), the key word in 
the whole story is "interact."  Cartesian objects exist 
independent of our interaction with them.  Heidegger's 
world is one in which we interact with a context in which 
we are situated, and that context consists of many objects 
interacting among themselves and with us.  The role of mind 
in this complex of interaction is now called *situated 
cognition* in the cognitive science community.(4)  While 
once Heidegger was an inspiration to philosophers who 
argued that artificial intelligence was an impossibility 
(5), now he is viewed as providing an alternative way of 
looking at computers.(6)
4. Philip E. Agre, "Book Review:  *Plans and Situation 
Actions:  The Problem of Human-Machine Communication*," in 
William J. Clancey, Stephen W. Smoliar, and Mark J. Stefik, 
eds. *Contemplating Minds:  A Forum for Artificial 
Intelligence* (Cambrdige, MIT Press, 1994) 223-238.
5. Hubert L. Dreyfus, *What Computers *Still* Can't Do:  A 
Critique of Artificial Reason* (Cambridge: MIT Press, 
6. Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, *Understanding 
Computers and Cognition:  A New Foundation for Design* 
(Reading, Addison-Wesley, 1988).
[5] Nevertheless, there is always a danger in trying to 
sort things out by assigning them to one extreme or its 
opposite, developing what Marvin Minsky likes to call 
"dumbbell theories."(7)  The issue is not one of whether we 
perceive Cartesian objects or interact with Heideggerian 
ones.  Both are important;  and this becomes particularly 
evident when we try to talk about "measuring," as John does 
in his paragraph [10].  Before we talk about "measuring," 
we have to recognize that there are different "things" we 
can measure.  My own proposal is that we distinguish 
*signals*, *sensations*, and *perceptions*.  Signals are 
unabashedly Cartesian objects.  For purposes of discussing 
music they include bits on a CD or pixels in a score 
image.(8)  Sensation only exists by virtue of our sensory 
apparatus, and no two of us are ever identically 
equipped.(9)  Sensory transforms, however, precede the 
cerebral cortex and therefore precede that sort of 
*interpretation* which only consciousness can provide.  
Perception is thus the cognitive interpretation of 
sensation, requiring the full resources of mental state 
provided by consciousness.
7. Marvin Minsky, *The Society of Mind* (New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1986), section 11.9.
8. I regard an appeal to the "analog" nature of the world 
as a red herring.  We can always pack our bits into higher 
resolutions as the situation demands.  The important thing 
is that those bits are about as Cartesian as you can get.
9. Gerald M. Edelman, *Neural Darwinism:  The Theory of 
Neuronal Group Selection* (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 
chapter 4.
[6] Once we bring mental state into the picture, however, 
we discover that the concept of a "musical world" as a 
source of a context for situation is too narrow.  Indeed, 
the context can never be narrower than *all* of mental 
state.  Put another way, a musical experience induces a 
mental state which, in turn, governs the interpretive act 
of perception.  What is important is that the mental state 
we are in may also be due to *extra*-musical inputs.  We 
may be just as influenced by what we just had for dinner, a 
bulb flickering in the chandelier, or the conductor's 
haircut as we are by the auditory stimuli we are receiving.
[7] In conclusion I applaud John Covach for undertaking his 
work-in-progress and sharing his "progress report" with us.  
However, the thing about progress reports is that they 
often say more about what needs to be done than they do 
about what has been achieved.  John's agenda could 
ultimately be as valuable to cognitive science as it is to 
music theory;  but mining that value will occasionally 
require setting the philosophers aside and recognizing that 
engineers have to worry about solving problems, too!
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