In-flight Reflections (from somewhere between Philly and Portland)

As Derek and I are heading back to Colby after a busy weekend filled with lots of fun and learning at the conference, I decided to make use of my travel time by writing one last guest post on some more general thoughts based on my experiences this weekend.

I have been on 100+ planes ever since I was 6 weeks old, yet I still am slightly uncomfortable and nervous every time I fly.  Part of this nervousness, I have concluded, stems from my extreme sensitivity to the sounds of the plane – the engines, landing gear, etc.  For example, the engine noise will often get ever-so-slightly softer, and I’m then convinced the whole mechanical system has just failed.  I began to wonder if everyone else hears every minute change that I do, or if my sensitivity has something to do with my musical training.  Do I pick up on these small changes because it is my instinct to listen closely to the sounds around me?  (Although, I will admit, my paranoia of crashing is probably a contributing factor to my sensitivity…I’m actually nervous to declare these fears mid-flight.)

This idea that I may hear more subtle differences in the sounds around me relates perfectly to the book I happened to be reading on the plane from Baltimore to Philadelphia.  This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin is a book I began reading about a year and a half ago, but I never finished.  I decided to bring it along for the weekend, and as I was re-reading the introduction and first chapter I paused.  I thought back to the talk on sex differences on Sunday and how many of the speakers emphasized books about gender differences in the popular culture.  Many of the lectures pointed out how grossly misinformed the public is because of these books.  Several of the books take one factoid and severely exaggerate or even misinterpret it.  So, I wondered, how seriously should I take this book I’m reading?  Granted, this book on music and the brain is not controversial as many of the sex difference books were, but I still questioned what I was reading.  Sure, the chapters on basic music theory and introductory psychology are agreed upon by countless sources, but should I trust the new conclusions at which the author arrives?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I guess my point is that many aspects of this conference –  talks, posters, discussions – reminded me of the importance of questioning the ‘facts’.  After all, science is about arriving at more questions than answers, right?

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