There’s a Song in my Head.

Delicate (album)
Delicate (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(“There’s a song in my head” by Martha and the Muffins 1985 – NOT my kind of music by the way.)


The way the brain works fascinates me. It seems to favour the most unexpected linkages between memories. What brought this to mind was the fact that when I do some daily activity I often find myself humming a particular tune which my brain somehow for some reason links to that task. Now, sometimes it is easy to remember why there is a connection, but other times, I can think of no idea why that particular tune relates to that task.


Cassatt Mary The Cup of Tea 1880
Cassatt Mary The Cup of Tea 1880 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, it is probably true that at some time in the past there was an event, or even events which have caused that linkage to be formed. It may be that the linkage was indirect, through some other occurrence, but in any case the cause of the linkage has been long forgotten.


Evidently linkages can outlive the events that caused them. It may be that some traumatic event caused the linkage, and I have suppressed it. I think that this is unlikely, since it happens too often, and I don’t have that much trauma in my life, I believe!


It may be that my brain favours musical themes as mnemonics. Songs, poetry and repetition (chanting) are often used in schools to help student memorise things. How many days are there in June? And how many of you started mentally reciting that rhyme – “30 days hath September…”?


Knuckle mnemonic for the number of days in eac...
Knuckle mnemonic for the number of days in each month of the Gregorian Calendar. Each projecting knuckle represents a 31-day month. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I make a cup of tea and the tune springs to mind, what is my brain trying to do? (He said, anthropomorphically). Is it trying to remind me of something important? If so, it is likely that the thing that it considers important is important no longer, so my response, when it occurs to me, is one of puzzlement.


There’s another category of “songs in your head” and that is the “mind worm”. I can think of several. There’s the tinkly accompaniment to Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know”, There’s the Disney “Small World” theme, which may be merely more pervasive and not a true mind worm. Just recently there’s been the rail safety commercial “Dumb ways to die”. By the way, don’t click on the links unless you want the songs in your brain. Too late!


The hidden auditorium of my skull
The hidden auditorium of my skull (Photo credit: id-iom)

I can’t think of a good reason for musical mind worms. Maybe, as an offshoot of the remembering process the brain is so susceptible to simple musical phrases that it picks up these tunes because they are simple and memorable and this is the sort of thing that the brain finds easy to recall as well as remember, and each recollection reinforces the memory in a self maintaining endless cycle.

English: Animated Atkinson cycle.
English: Animated Atkinson cycle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Philosophy of Photography

Photomontage - Composite of 16 different photo...
Photomontage – Composite of 16 different photos which have been digitally manipulated to give the impression that it is a real landscape. Software used: Adobe Photoshop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my Facebook friends (a photographer) commented on another photographer’s picture, so I got to see the photo too. It was a stunning photograph but an interesting thing for me was the photographer’s description of the ‘post-processing’ that the picture had been subjected to. It was ‘soft’ because of the rain on the lens, but among things the photographer had done to the picture was to alter the contrast, and heightened the colour in the swathes of grass.

Now, I have no issue with post-processing and the photo in question was stunning, but it does raise the question as to at what point a processed photograph becomes less a photograph and more of a different type of work of art! Some people would not consider such a work a proper photograph. One wonders where they would draw the line. Would they, for example, allow that a cropped photo would be, in some sense, OK?

Interestingly (well, I think that it is interesting!) the photographers do it to themselves, too. Apparently a wild life photo was ruled out of a competition because it chopped off the heron’s toes. I’d be pleased to get any sort of a decent photograph of a heron.

A Great Blue Heron flying with nesting materia...
A Great Blue Heron flying with nesting material in Illinois, USA. There is a colony of about 20 heron nests in trees nearby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photos can be considered dubious for other reasons too. Brian Brake’s photo of a girl enjoying the onset of the monsoon was reputedly created with the aid of a watering can. It’s still a great photograph and does convey meaning and emotion.

Monsoon Girl
Monsoon Girl (Photo credit: colonos) Not the famous Brake picture however.

One of the factors that has perhaps brought such matters to the fore, at least for those who muse about philosophical matters, I suppose, is the digital revolution in photography. Post-processing used to be confined to the dark room, involving the use of dubious chemicals and often highly technical equipment. These days post-processing can be done on a computer, in comfort, with powerful helper programs such as Photoshop, and no chemicals, except possibly a quantity of water tainted with alcohol. And even more important perhaps, mistakes don’t matter so much. If the picture doesn’t turn out OK, hit the delete button and try again starting with the original image.

Photoshop Cow
Photoshop Cow (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

There are (at least) two other categories of photographs that are considered dubious. Photographs taken of glamourous people for glossy magazines are often highly touched up in post-processing, sometimes to an extraordinary extent. The pop singer Beyoncé was reportedly annoyed that her body shape was altered in a clothing commercial in which she starred (as reported by the Huffington Post anyway). The ethics of such ‘photoshopping’ as the above, and the removal of perceived blemishes, emphasis of facial symmetry, feature highlighting and so on are indeed dubious, and can give rise to unrealistic expectations in susceptible people. Against that, most people at least acknowledge that this manipulation of photographs is common, though few suspect the extent to which it goes on.

Popular Beauty Retouch
Popular Beauty Retouch (Photo credit: Tucia)

Secondly, and more troubling, it appears that news related photographs (and video materials) are often ‘doctored’. This could be used to promote a particular philosophy or point of view. For instance the North Korean regime appears to use photo manipulation to overstate its military capabilities. While this is amusing, one can’t help but wonder if our more benevolent regimes also use such alteration and exaggeration extensively. It is known that they do, on occasion, stretch the truth. For example, while TV was showing the successful recovery of the capsule ‘Liberty Bell’ of the fourth Mercury astronautical  test mission from the sea, the capsule was actually sinking in 15,000 feet of water.

Grissom Climbs into Liberty Bell 7
Grissom Climbs into Liberty Bell 7 (Photo credit: NASA on The Commons)

I’m not going to argue one way or the other. No doubt those who alter photographs as an attempt to make them better photographs in whatever way you use the word ‘better’ have the best of intentions. However there is a difference between the person who modifies his photograph to, say, enhance the colour of the grass and the person who manipulates a photograph of a political figure or a model selling hair treatments, or yet the person who modifies a photo for propaganda purposes. But they can all be considered art, even the propaganda. I’m thinking of Leni Riefenstahl, whose propaganda films are certainly art.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-0020, Polen, Truppe...
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2004-0020, Polen, Truppenbesuch von Leni Riefenstahl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Cheezle in a mousetrap
A Cheezle in a mousetrap

In an advert for Cheezles (a cheese flavoured snack) two mice are discussing the risks of trying for a Cheezle. One says “It’s worth a crack, Nigel”. Nigel apparently  tries for the Cheezle, and there is the crack of a mouse trap, and the other mouse says “Nigel? Nigel?”. Now the original ad was, most people would agree, very funny, even if my exposition lacks something. However it deals with something which could be considered tragic, the death of the unfortunate Nigel.

Humour is strange, almost beyond belief. The tragic is often funny. Death is a constant theme in humour. Disfigurement is also a common factor. Other factors are sexuality, criminality, embarrassment. From a different point of view, it’s about surprise and conflict, and a certain discontinuity. But I think that it is impossible to define humour.

English: Young seagull with a sense of humour ...
Juvenile seagull. It obviously doesn’t see the humour in this situation.

It is probably the only human trait which might be totally absent in ‘lower’ animals. I don’t know of any case where a human trait is totally absent in animals, but it may be merely that I haven’t come across humour in animals. It is my contention that no trait in humans is not demonstrated to a lesser extent in ‘lower’ animals. Maybe there is a chimp snatching another chimp’s plaything and then sniggering when his victim can’t find the toy. Maybe. The Internet has anecdotal evidence that animals can demonstrate humour, but nothing too convincing. Or maybe I didn’t search for long enough to come across any in-depth studies.

Animals show joy, a certain self-awareness, disappointment, anger and many other supposedly human traits. They can learn, remember and generally demonstrate that they share our attributes, maybe to a lesser extent (though I feel that for many animals it is not much lesser than humans).

Dogs and Joy
The word for joy is dog.

But animals don’t appear to have the capacity to experience humour (to my knowledge). If this is so, it is significant. It would be the only uniquely human attribute. My dog demonstrates joy, affection, desire, and many other things, but doesn’t demonstrate humour. A dog will never tease you. A dog is direct and forthright. You can’t share a joke with a dog. I’m fairly sure that you can’t share a joke with a chimpanzee or a gorilla, but I’d defer to an expert on that.

If humour is endemic to humans it is at least part of what distinguishes us from other animals. It may be the only thing that distinguishes us from them, as there is nothing else that I can think of that does. All animals have intelligence, at least to a degree, above a certain level of complexity. Some animals show preference for attractive appearance or display (particularly birds) which may be the basis of our aesthetic sense, but no animal, so far as I know shows a sense of humour.


There is a variety of humour that seems somewhat different to the ‘mainstream’ and that is the pun. Puns are plays on words in the majority of cases, but they may be visual. A pun can be based on homonyms, words which sound the same but which have different meanings, and even different spellings. For instance there is a village in Southern England called Brede, so if someone announces that “We are going to Brede” one can understand that a bystander might be somewhat taken aback. Another example is George Carlin‘s statement that “Atheism is a non-prophet institution”.

As I said above, humour often involves some sort of mishap or disaster for someone. In such cases it may act as some sort of tension release mechanism. That’s a fairly obvious, therefore suspect, suggestion, though in practise it seems to work and can be a recommended way to break the tension in difficult situations. Puns don’t give the same sort of release (generally), and mostly involve language so seem to be on a higher intellectual level than mainstream humour. In summary however, I’d say that humour is a facet of human beings, but it still seems mysterious to me. Strangely, infants seem to develop a sense of humour early in life. There’s not many things more infectious than a laughing child.

laughing (Photo credit: ayes)


English: Counting sheep at Newport Cattle Mark...
Counting Sheep

If you want to count sheep, count the legs and divide by four. This piece of faux folk-wisdom has, as is usual in such cases, a grain of truth. The human eye finds it easier to distinguish elongated objects if the axes of the object are separated and perpendicular (or so I believe). It is easier to count the candles mounted on a cake than the same candles arranged in a line. This – | | | | | | | – is easier to count than this – _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , I feel. (I’ve used Google to see if I can find evidence and came across this, which seems to align with what I am saying, though I’ve not accessed the paper).

Ankole cattle
Ankole cattle

If I am correct it is easier to, say, count the horns on a herd of cattle and divide by two than count their backs. It occurs to me that an optical-electrical counting device might have issues in this regard too, since a leg might stand out from the background, and produce a short pulse in the sensor, but a whole cow might take a while and its colours would blend into the next cow.  Of course, one could always use higher technology to resolve the issue with respect to cow counting, (RFIDs in ear tags would be an obvious solution), but it doesn’t solve the wider issue.

Maybe the reason that the counting device and the eye/brain find it easier to distinguish objects orientated (roughly) perpendicular to  their (roughly) linear arrangement is similar. If they are (roughly) aligned in the same direction as their linear arrangement they may, possibly, overlap, and this can confuse sensor and/or eye. Was that one, two, or three objects that passed the sensor? It’s easy if they are perpendicular, but harder if they are aligned.

English: Geometrical-optical illusions: horizo...
English: Geometrical-optical illusions: horizontal/vertical anisotropy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty much reduced to saying the same thing in different words, but I hope that what I am trying to get at is clear. It may or may not be relevant that humans and higher primates tend to stand more or less vertically, so one individual is more easily distinguished from others than an individual cow is from the herd.

Cow! (Photo credit: StickerEsq)