Let’s see how your mind works

In this interview, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, recounted what attributes are common among musicians. One that resonated was the idea of musicians having especially patterned minds. The term refers to the ability to remember and think in patterns. In music this comes in especially handy in remembering chord progressions, lyrics etc. For an average person, we might be able to recite the words to a song we know only if we begin at a familiar place, like the beginning or at the chorus. For a skilled musician, they are likely able to pick up anywhere in a song and just go from there.

As a novice guitar player, this rings particularly true, as I often struggle to remember chord patterns and become too reliant on reading the music vs. intuitively playing a song.

Inspired by Grohl, I went searching for a better understanding of the patterned mind and found this fascinating article. While it provided an accessible explanation of the neuroscience behind a patterned mind, it was the day to day examples that were most revealing.

For instance, in your mind recite your social security number. Easy right?  You know that pattern. Now try reciting it backwards. Not so simple.

Or try this. What word is this?   “Appl_”. As you read this, you presumably filled in the blank and knew the word was apple before you even got to the end. These are both examples of how we condense and process information into familiar patterns.

On one hand this makes our lives infinitely easier but on the other, as the article points out, it can also lead to oversimplification and blindspots.

When our mind fills in the blanks based on familiar patterns we can jump to incorrect conclusions. When we see something and assume it is similar to what we’ve seen before we miss exceptions and opportunities.

So what are we to do?  Well it starts with having a basic awareness that this is happening.  Patterns are foundational to our thought process and provide an incredible service. But if we only think in patterns we become robotic and prone to error. Our intelligence becomes artificial.

Which brings me back to Grohl. Among the other attributes among musicians he admires were openness, humility, diversity, and curiosity. In other words, traits that take us out of our patterns – introducing us to new information and inspiration and eventually leading to something new and original.  

And that should be music to our ….  (I hope you inserted any word other than ears).

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