Overweening Generalist

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recent Research on Odors

Last July I read a delightful essay by a former chemistry teacher, who was responding to an article in Scientific American that defended the minor, competing theory of how olfaction works in humans, and presumably, other mammals and critters: that each molecule has quantum vibration, and this is what distinguishes smells for us. A hydrogen atom in a molecule was substituted with a heavier deuterium isotope, which technically did not change the molecular structure of the original, but both flies and people could smell the difference. Previously, the idea of a quantum vibration working in the nervous system was laughed at by detractors as "fashionable junk science." The reigning idea of olfaction is that  a molecule docks in one of our 400-or-so different receptors on the olfactory bulb, and each receptor acts in concert with the others. Once docked, a chain reaction occurs and the brain recognizes, "Hey that smells like sandalwood," or "Ewww! What smells like rotten eggs in here?" The author of the essay, Ruchira Paul, wasn't entirely convinced of the quantum vibrational theory, but was still open to it.

What I liked most was Ruchira's observations that we have a limited vocabulary for odors, we don't have accurate standards for measuring smells, that our memory of odors lasts longer than our memory of sights, and that our sense of scents seemed uniquely intimate in its link with our own biographies and memories, our history. Thus seems probably because olfaction is part of the limbic system. She writes that smells are the "forgotten sense" in the semantic sense that, among psychophysical testing of our perceptual apparatuses, researchers have had better instruments to test our range of detection of differences in sight and sound, because they are purely physical phenomena, while our sense of smell and taste are chemical and thus more unwieldy and difficult to measure.

The physics: we have three light receptors, and researchers have estimated humans can distinguish about 10 million colors. Wavelengths of light turned out to be quite amenable to measurement.

Our ears are very complex, miraculous little organs working in concert, and biophysical research in the branch of physics called acoustics found that humans could distinguish differences in around 500,000 wavelengths of sound, and we now know that this number diminishes with age. (<---Depressingly, I found I dropped out at 14kHz. And yes, I'm close to twice 25.)

But what about odors? Chemistry-detection/measurement turned out to be more of a sticky wicket. Many of us grew up hearing and believing that we humans are completely defeated by dogs in our ability to detect odors. If you have an old biology textbook hanging around the house it probably says humans can perceive about 10,000 different odors, while dogs detect 300,000,000. This turns out to be a vastly un-empirical guesstimate from the 1920s. How far-off the guesstimate was we'll get to in a moment.

A year ago, March 2013, I began doing some research on medical diagnoses via analysis odors, because of all those articles on dogs I'd read over the years: how they could detect cancer and all that. It turned out to be fascinating, hot, exciting stuff, and maybe I'll do a separate blogspew on it one day, but just a quick diversion into that area...

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles say, of course: obesity is not difficult to detect. I mean, just look at that dude! And why are people obese? Well, obviously: they eat too much and don't exercise enough. Jeez, no foolin' Sherlock? Tell me something we don't know! How about this: when you breathe out certain gas-emitting bacteria from the microbiome in your gut, this may be a deeper reason why you're obese: the ratio of gut bacteria that are associated with fatness versus the gut bacteria that are not? The implications are <ahem> large. And this gives our overweight loved ones cause for hope, because if we can figure out how to alter our gut bacteria ratio via drugs or even simple probiotics? We could be on the way to defeating obesity. (And oh man! This has become a hot research topic; there's a lot riding on making this work.) ("Doctors Detect Obesity Bug On Breath")

Also, dig: 11 months ago, in PLOS ONE, a possible discovery of individual human metabolic phenotypes! (Human wha?) Okay, our gadgets are now becoming so sophisticated that the chemical world is becoming much easier to map, finally. Maybe it will soon catch up with purely physical phenomena we can measure. But researchers in Zurich, noting that, despite fluctuating factors involving diet and the gut microbiome, people's urine remained "highly individual," and that urine phenotypes (phenotypes: that which we can observe; genotypes: an organism's genetic makeup which codes for genetic expression that largely gives rise to that which is phenotypic) persist over time. The Zurich researchers used a group of subjects over nine days, exhaling into a machine that handled mass spectrometry, found that "consistent with previous metabolimic studies based on urine, we conclude that individual signatures of breath composition exists." I've even heard this individual-breath signature idea bandied about as a way to get rid of all our passwords, but I'm not sure if the geek was joking or not.

Back to our general sense of smells...

Last September a study appeared in PLOS ONE that I found intriguing: in 1985 a book appeared called Atlas of Odor Character Profiles, by Andrew Dravnieks. Researchers used this book as a basic data set to start with, and with it they have determined there are around ten basic, tightly-structured categories of odor. They are:

1. fragrant
2. woody/resinous
3. fruity (non-citrus)
4. chemical
5. minty/peppermint
6. sweet
7. popcorn
8. lemon
[The last two are both "sickening"]
9. pungent
10. decayed

What they hope to do now is demonstrate the soundness of this - to me, overly-rationalistic take, but what do I know? - model by predicting how a given chemical compound is likely to smell. (My first guess? Number 4.) The researchers used very elaborate statistical techniques to arrive at the 10 and will continue to do so as they test their model. And maybe I shouldn't be so snarky: the basic model for the sense of taste has remained the same for very many years, only going from four to five since 1985 in the West (sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, with the relatively recent addition of umami).

I hope these guys are on to something, if only for the reason that we can all internalize these ten categories and then invent more words to describe nuances within each category. With this research, Ruchira Paul's observation that we don't yet have accurate standards by which to measure smell will have been eclipsed by some new, "objective" model.

The Latest: Humans Can Detect One TRILLION Odors ("Conservative Estimate")
You may have heard the news from last week. See HERE for a decent overview. Researchers at Rockefeller University took 26 participants and used 128 different odor molecules. (In the actual phenomenological-existential "real" world there are vastly more odors, but that's why this research is so brilliant: they would test a person by mixing two of three vials with combinations from the 128 odors, and the third one was not the same as the other two. The result: if less than 50% of the molecules are identical, people could still smell the difference! People could tell the difference between the two (same) vials and the one different one. If 51% of the two vials were identical, people could tell. The researchers admitted that often the admixtures of odors from the original 128 were "nasty and weird." Think about it: they could mix 10, 20, or 30 odors, in any combination from the 128. This yields trillions of different scents. And people could detect the differences! One basic odor of the 128 may have been "orange," another "spearmint" or "anise." But they mixed them together in all sorts of groupings. No wonder they were "nasty and weird."

We have around 400 different small receptors, working in concert. A smell of a rose would have around 275 different molecules in unique combination.

One of the olfactory researchers, Andreas Keller, said, "The message here is that we have far more sensitivity in our sense of smell that for which we give ourselves credit. We just don't pay attention to it and don't use it in everyday life."

I want to see this study replicated many times. It almost seems too wonderful to be true. I hope there's no Clever Hans Effect tainting the research. It makes me wonder about training humans to smell cancer like dogs, but we seem so biased toward sophisticated gadgetry in this regard, and against dogs and human perceptual apparatus alone, that I won't hold my breath...or nose.

Imagining Smells: An Uncommon Gift
Or so Oliver Sacks tells us. Most of us have little trouble conjuring in our minds a sight or sound from our vivid past. But it's rare to summon an induced hallucination of odor. However, some can do this, and Sacks relates what one "Gordon C." wrote to him in 2011:

Smelling objects that are not visible seems to have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember....If, for instance, I think for a few minutes about my long dead grandmother, I can almost immediately recall with near-perfect sensory awareness the powder that she always used. If I'm writing to someone about lilacs, or any specific flowering plant, my olfactory senses produce that fragrance. This is not to say that merely writing the word "roses" produces the scent; I have to recall a specific instance connected with a rose, or whatever, in order to produce the effect. I always considered this ability to be quite natural, and it wasn't until adolescence that I discovered it was not normal for everyone. Now I consider it a wonderful gift of my specific brain.
-pp.45-46, Hallucinations

On the other hand, there are other, more terrifying olfactory hallucinations described in this wonderful book: people who had traumatic accidents who were violently attacked or witnessed something horrific will, when by-chance experiencing the smell or similar smells associated with the traumatic moment, might experience a shell-shocked "replay"back to the Very Unpleasant Moment.

Let us tend to those more-common moments when some odor sends us back in time to a more comforting or interesting moment, which seems more common with the olfactory/memory nexus than the triggering of traumatic memories.

Friday, March 14, 2014

On Gossip

I once worked in a music store that was owned by a good Christian family man who had been arrested for molesting children (or so the allegations held). His name appeared in the paper but he never went to prison. This was a long time ago, and I remember finding this out, thinking of my previous moments with the guy (who seemed pent-up but like a decent guy), and wondering how to know more without appearing that I knew more: what Robert Anton Wilson calls the Burden Of Nescience in a hierarchical social system. I was merely one of many music teachers in the guy's store; I made enough to pay my bills and eat, and buy my girlfriend (and myself) drinks. I couldn't afford to know too much.

However, over the years, I certainly heard a lot. I had soon decided to just doubt everything I heard about him. Why? Well, he was never going to get near any of the kids I taught, but the area I lived in was filled with middle-class christian right wingers and I'd read books like Satanic Panic: rumormongering can really get out of hand. In the end I guess I sorta thought, "If he really is doing this and he keeps doing this he'll get caught and won't be able to buy his way out of it and he'll go to jail and the store will either be run by the family or it'll close down and I'll be out of a job. I won't worry about it until then. And besides: what if he's not guilty?  What if there's something else going on and he has enemies who are trying to ruin him? I'd rather give him a part of the benefit of a doubt and remember no jury heard the evidence and convicted. Imagine what it would be like to be unfairly charged."

That's sorta how I feel about Woody Allen right now: he has a very well-known enemy. I, unlike the normally decent Katie McDonough of Salon, will not convict Woody based on what appears to be hearsay.

I've been thumbing through a bunch of books on gossip: Joseph Epstein's Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (appeared pre-Snowden Era), philosopher Emrys Westacott's The Virtue Of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness and Other Bad Habits (also appeared pre-Snowden), and a few others.

Two Alleged Etymologies For "Gossip"
1. It comes from "god-sibling" and originally pertained to the talk between two god-parents of a child, the talk having to do with the child's well-being.

2. George Washington told his spies to "go-sip" by infiltrating Brit troops and drinking with them, trying to learn of military maneuvers.

                                          Anthropologist Robin Dunbar

Problems With Semantics
The Bible has some line about how "Gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." It's somewhere in the prequel to The New Testament. How many of us have had unpleasant moments when we found out a friend said something that arrived back at us, thinking our secret was held in confidence? Two years ago I said something that I either didn't know was supposed to have been in confidence, or had forgotten because it seemed trivial, or I was drunk on red zinfandel when hearing that which was supposed to have been confidential. And I later heard about it; I got an earful. I felt like an asshole. The information I had conveyed to a third party was gossipy about the good news of a friend's love life. I could go into why I thought it shouldn't be a secret anyway, but all of this feels catty.

In 5th century BCE Athens, once a year, the citizens could vote to not only ostracize but send into exile anyone who seemed to have too much dirt on others, or anyone who seemed potentially too tyrannical or possessed with the idea of power over others. We don't do this anymore, but should we? (Or do we still do the exile trip, but in other ways? We shall see...)

Eleanor Roosevelt is usually credited with saying that great minds talk about ideas, average minds events, and small minds talk about other people. How can gossip occur if it's about ideas? I can see certain events having gossipy possibilities. Many of the sections of books and articles I've read on gossip attest to how it's not only unavoidable, but FUN!

Okay, in what sense is it "fun"? At Staffordshire University a study suggests that gossip can be good for our self-esteem, but we need to be nice. Here's how to test it: Say positive things about a fictional person to someone else. Or - but be careful - say nothing but good stuff about a real person. Then note how you feel. Then say a bunch of unsavory things about another fictional person and note how you feel.

In studies about gossip conducted at Berkeley and Stanford, it's suggested that spreading true info about bad actors prevents exploitation, maintains social order, and even lowers stress levels of the gossipers. The researchers emphasize that the content of the gossip in the controlled studies be about "reputational information sharing" and not about petty nitpicking, hearsay unverified, or malicious rumors. The gossip must be reliable. Participants in the study were tested beforehand to determine their relative levels of altruism or selfishness, then they played an online game having to do with economic trust. When it was learned that players can spread gossip (or "knowledge"?) about how another player tends to cheat, the games became more fair, and the most-impacted players were the ones who had scored low on altruism and high on selfishness: knowing that other players know about you and can easily spread info (gossip) about you tended to put you on the straight and narrow.

How does gossip lower stress levels in the gossiper? Answer: Witnessing cheating raised the heart rate; telling someone else about the cheater lowered it.

I read a few articles on the Berkeley-Stanford gossip studies and found them interesting but from what I gathered about the assumptions behind the methodology, it all seems far too artificial and overly-rational. I mean: only "reputational information sharing" was considered gossip (actually: "prosocial" gossip) in the studies? Okay. But in real life, in situ: school, workplace, etc: gossip in more traditional semantic senses can seem fairly malicious. Picking on a kid because he's "weird." Or not beautiful. Or too smart. Or let's all make fun of Helen in Accounting because of that dress. And kids and adults seem perfectly happy to be rumormongers and spread all sorts of malicious hearsay. 'Cuz it's fun! And we're still fairly tribal beings...

Lines from Stephen Burt's poem, "Rue", in which he seems to be replaying his own high school years about The Ramones, what kids wore, how they wrote on every surface, what we all saw going on in the back of the bus between him and her, etc:

Gossip in school makes a kind of electrical storm,
or else
             a medium of exchange:
once you share what you know, then you learn what you can.
-p.42, Belmont

This rings true on a certain anthropological level, and indeed Robin Dunbar's 1997 book Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language made quite the splash, the ripples still visible.

Good gossip: spreading true information about actors in a situation
Bad gossip: everything else thought of as "gossip"?

"It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one's own back that are absolutely and entirely true." - Oscar Wilde, from The Picture of Dorian Gray

Other Possible Goods From Gossip
My sources allege that a mild slamming of one's friends and loved ones is understood as "normal" and not egregious. Snobbery has its own occult rules for propriety, to be found out with experience. Snobbery seems related to gossip, but I'm not sure how to delineate it. Rudeness likewise. But: many sources seem to stick up for the salutary aspects alleged by researchers at Berkeley: it could lessen bullying, counteract secrecy, strengthen human relationships, be emotionally cathartic, infuse justice in power structures, and even be a part of Socrates's "examined life."

Or at least that's the buzz around here, lately. This is strictly on the down-low, but the scuttlebutt on gossip is that, if you're relaying true information about good and bad behavior of others in the local environment, it's a socially powerful thing.

I do wonder about the epistemology problems. How does someone know they're relaying something true? It may be called "reputational information sharing" by scholars, but how does a gossiper actually know what they're perceiving is the truth? Perhaps that's beyond the scope of both the researchers' and my own inquiries, but I tend to assume I'm probably missing some information when I engage in this sort of behavior, so I tend to hedge.

Finally here: this business about relaying information that results in salutary outcomes: what of Assange, Snowden, Kiriakou, et.al? If the sort of research results coming out of Berkeley are correct, how does it reflect on The Whistleblowers? Just a thought...

Dishin' It
So...you know the great playwright Arthur Miller? He had a child who was disabled so he dumped the kid in an institution for life, yea. Oh yea. And not long ago I read the wild memoirs of some guy who ran around 1940s-60s Hollywood, and Spencer Tracy? I'd never heard he was gay! (I forget the name of the book, but I could dig it up for you...) Fidel Castro fucked Kenneth Tynan's wife, wow. What do you make of that?

Really: how do you feel when you read that stuff, to whatever degree of truth was there? I feel oddly childish just typing it. And yet: it sort of...seems...kinda...fun. Stanford neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky enjoys talking about People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People issue, because he says it shows how we're just like the baboons he's spent decades studying in the wilds of Africa: they are intensely social, like us. They have status hierarchies, like us. And they like hanging with their friends, like us. But when two baboons get into a fight? It's just like the rubberneck session on the freeway: everyone must slow down to gawk at the carnage, the primate-drama of it all.

I Hear This Site Is Really Something To Look At
Hell, I have looked at it. And you probably have too. Frank Warren calls his PostSecret.com  site the "largest advertisement-free blog in the world."

Internet Trolls and Malice of Forethought
Much of the latest "gossip can be good for us" research points out that the scads of heinous, vicious, stupid and downright disturbing comments on the Net are due to anonymity. When there's no price to be paid - from gossip? - viral hatred has free reign. Point well-taken. It's a problem and we're working on it.

Ian Leslie's piece in Aeon
It's here. Why do we overshare online? Because this Net thing caught us evolutionarily off-guard. For most of our existence as hominids we had no walls. Although our saner minds on this issue say we have an instinct for privacy, the evidence shows we have almost no sense of how privacy works on the Net. "Every day, embarrassments are endured, jobs lost and individuals endangered because of unforeseen consequences triggered by a tweet or a status update." Indeed, when I read Leslie's piece it reminded me of a haunting and criminally underrated (so far!) book called Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, that does a fairly thorough job on this phenomena. I found it a page-turner of a non-fiction book, but like a real-life horror-story, seeing as how Niedzviecki wrote it before the Snowden Era and I read it while the Era was giving birth to itself. Sobering as all get the fuck out...Indeed, Leslie in his Aeon piece has a line about the type of person at the NSA who's supposed to be monitoring us that fits in with Niedzviecki's thesis that we're all already spying on each other anyway.

Daniel Kahneman
In another semantic sense of "gossip" the Nobelist in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow freely uses "gossip" as something he wants to encourage: the vocabulary about unconscious biases and their mechanisms that he and his colleague Tversky found and named? He wanted this vocabulary to worm its way to the "water cooler" at work. He thinks it's all gossip-worthy stuff! (And I agree with him. I just wish it actually played out more than it seems to...) (See index or even just pp.3-4)

Wilson's Jocoserious Use of Gossip
Humans' "instinct to gossip" shows up in Robert Anton Wilson's work in a few places. In one of two footnotes on p.302 of his novel The Widow's Son, the 'patapsychologist and "theo-chemist" de Selby has advocated for the flat earth "on the grounds that nobody has 'encountered and endured' a spherical earth (which is a theory generated by 'the instinct to gossip.')" In a piece titled "The Persistence of False Memory," encountered and endured in Wake Up Down There!: The Excluded Middle Anthology, RAW argues that the "instinct to gossip" is AKA public opinion, and falls under the rubric of Preposterous Perception as found in 'Patapsychology, and seems similar to the role of Nietzsche's "will to power" in his books and "the Id" in Freud's books.

Wilson makes us wonder how much of "reality" - our everyday, taken-for-granted assumptions about what is unquestionably "real" - how much of this was generated by gossip? If we keep talking about stuff we can't see, smell, taste, hear, touch, or even detect with any manmade instruments...how "real" is it?

Last Word: Prof. Carlin
Here's something I never knew. Prof. Carlin simply drops this tantalizing hint on p.57 of Napalm and Silly Putty: "At one time there existed an entire race of people whose knowledge consisted entirely of gossip."

I wish he's elaborated, but he was wily that way, even cryptic. But I want to know more. Heck and golly: Enquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Human Voice Quality and the Subconscious and Psychedelia

In order to enact the voice of the Judeo-Xtian "God" one must have a deep and masculine and well-modulated voice. Or so I recall from an old Woody Allen essay. But indeed: when you're casting the Part, if you think of James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman you're probably somewhere near the mainstream. Voices like theirs have gravitas.

My casting would have a lot of people up in arms, but I think I'd like Sandy Wood as my voice of God, or the Goddess, the Head Honcho, the Creator of All Things. Here she is. Just listen to her! (Click on any one of those audio links and note how fantastic she sounds compared to the "experts" who say a few sentences.) I first heard Sandy Wood on the "Stardate" syndicated radio spot on my local AM news radio, late at night. I was completely mesmerized by the quality of her voice, and I will listen to "Stardate"and try to pay attention to the content, but will probably lose out to that part of my brain that processes the musical qualities in human voices. It's not just that Sandy Wood sounds sexy in an otherworldly way - she does to me - but there's something...trippy in her voice. I will admit that the subject matter - constellations, planets, asteroids, the cosmos - seem to fit her voice perfectly, but I think if she read from the telephone book it would still sound pretty cool.

I've long paid attention to outstanding voices, male or female, and I think I'm just weird that way, but also: as a 6-foot-tall, 175 pound heterosexual male, I sound "soft" and nasal-y and maybe a tad effeminate. If I don't consciously lower my voice when answering the phone often the person will call me "Ma'am"...and I don't tell them they're wrong. It's not worth it. I've lost my ego on that. I don't care anymore. I'm secure. They're just doing some survey or they have the wrong number and I don't know why I pick up the phone in the first place these days, what with caller ID.

I remember, around age 20, reading about a social science study that had been replicated many times. They tell three or five male college students they're participating in some study that really has nothing to  do with what they're really studying: they are all sitting in a room talking about the supposed subject. After a period of time, a good-looking female enters the room, taking no notice of the males. She moves some paper around, arranges some things, then leaves. She or another handsome woman come in a few minutes later and rearrange things for a minute, then leave. The males subconsciously lower their voice about an octave when the female is in the room. They're told about it later and are not aware they lowered their voices. The argument had to do with the social construction of masculinity, as I recall, but if that was the purpose, I'm not sure it's all that valid because men might do this for evolutionary reasons.

Anyway, this sort of study made me aware of the possibility that I may be acting "masculine" for reasons that had been beyond my own self-perception, so I quit and made peace with my "soft" non-God-like voice.

At the same time, other voices continue to captivate me. It could be some aspect of timbre, or accent. There are people with not-great voices who enunciate words a certain way and the content of what they're talking about is also so fascinating I can't stop listening. Terence McKenna was like that for me: if he didn't care so much about enunciating words his voice would be nondescript. But he did care about his speech qualities and his content was always completely riveting. To this day, I'll listen to McKenna and get almost as much enjoyment from the quality of his voice as the incredibly interesting topics he riffed on. I still remember the first time I heard him, late night on KPFK-FM from Los Angeles. I think I was literally mesmerized, entranced, enchanted. That voice!

I've been reading about what I'll call musical qualities of speech. Idiolect (definition: "the speech habits peculiar to a particular person") isn't a bad place to hang ideas about how you and your friends sound.

David Antin is a good example of an artist I had read, knowing what I had read was originally an impromptu-speech. Antin does free-style improvisations of talks on very intellectual themes, in front of an audience. He's like a jazz monologist. He records his shows and if everything comes together and he gets an outstanding performance, he transcribes the talks into poetry and publishes them in a book. But when his voice started appearing on the Net - I had read him without ever hearing him - I was disappointed he didn't sound more like McKenna, or McLuhan or William Burroughs, or even Buckminster Fuller. (I find McLuhan, Burroughs and Fuller - especially Burroughs - as somewhat like McKenna: great idiolects, riveting content.)

Not long ago I heard the President of Bard College, Leon Botstein, give a talk. The content was pretty interesting, but get a load of the big-brass god-like quality of this guy's idiolect. The content is not psychedelic; I personally find listening to him to have a mild psychedelic effect.

With the rise of radio (c.1923 till its heydey in the late 1940s, even up to now), people with certain native and trained speech/vocal/idiolect qualities were selected for. Actors and actresses lost their jobs with the advent of the talkies, as Singin' In The Rain illustrates so memorably. I always had a love/hate relationship with those Voices of Authority or voices of The State ("News...on the march!"): they sounded great, but they sounded a tad too authoritarian. The amount of work that actor and voice-over artist Reed Hadley got in films noir demonstrates this well. Hadley had also done voice-over for the US military in short films about the atomic bomb tests and other demonstrations of killingry and the overwhelming power of the State to murder. And his stentorian voice is also heard on some of my favorite noir films: House on 92nd Street; Shock; T-Men; He Walked By Night; Canon City; Boomerang! and Walk A Crooked Mile. With Hadley intoning, the police, FBI, upper brass military: they were all on the side of Good, and Evil (anyone the State deemed undesirable) didn't stand a chance. I tried to find an example of Hadley's voice but couldn't. If you watch one of the above films you'll hear him and say, "Ohhh...yea. That guy."

Under the Wikipedia entry for "Voice of God" Hadley shows up on a list, but I noted that apparently some conspiracy theorists think the CIA does a voice-of-God thing to beam into people's heads. If anyone has a good line on this, lemme know.

Aside from Sandy Wood and a few other female voices, my relationship with female idiolects is different from male sounds because frankly, I can't separate an interesting female voice from its sexualizing aspect in my nervous system. I will listen to the "traffic on the eights" on local AM radio news shows, if only to hear the often-female voices that had been through vocal training school. I have no idea what they look like; I'm only digging their sound. If I'm comfy-cozy in bed at 3AM and some sultry voice tells me there's an overturned 18-wheeler 35 miles down the freeway from me and traffic won't start flowing again until 5AM...what do I care? I'm digging the way she sounds as she says, "All lanes southbound will be closed for Cal-Trans until six-thirty."

All of what I say here about women's voices and my reaction seems to have some sort of relationship to a new...fad?: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), and here's just one example from YouTube, but there are many, many others. It's like audio porn?

Some other voices that have seemed psychedelic to me:
-John Facenda, the voice of NFL films
-Malcolm X
-just about anyone on the BBC news as we get it in Unistat
-Andre Gregory (ever see My Dinner With Andre? I'm never aware the camera doesn't move out of that restaurant! I won't even comment on how this came out in 1981, vis a vis the world situation now...)
-Spaulding Gray
-Orson Welles

Tics, too many ummms, ahhhhs, the growing "vocal fry" in women's voices: all these make me want to change to channel. I confess I have to remind myself that not everyone who speaks with an accent from the American South is a neo-nazi or Klansman. Yes, I'm prejudiced. I also tend to find it grating when grown women seem to be dialing up the "little girl" sounds in their idiolect.

I suspect most of us find we subconsciously make assumptions about a person based on the way they sound, apart from what they say. In Anne Karpf's book The Human Voice she tells us that between the 1920s and 1940s all sorts of studies tried to prove that we can judge a person's personality by the quality of their voice, "extroverts" speaking faster and louder and pausing less, for example. Here's how  weird it could get:

"In the 1950s an American laryngologist even maintained that neuroses had their own, distinctive vocal means of expression, their oral counterpart. 'Neurosis is itself voice-bound...The man who is afraid,' he argued, 'will show it in his voice...Voice is the primary expression of the individual, and even through voice alone the neurotic pattern can be discovered.' Purely on the basis of a recording of an adolescent boy's voice, this doctor judged him fearful, cowardly, egocentric, self-conscious, effeminate, intelligent, and gifted. When the boy's Rorschach test was analysed, almost identical conclusions were reached."

Phrenology and its popular accomplices never dies, does it?

I would have liked to have delved into the Voice in history, as clearly some voices have the power to worm themselves deeply into the mass nervous system, for ill or good. I'm interested in the neurobiology of this, but baldly state my ignorance of this as of this date, so bid y'all adieu.

Check out John Facenda, another "voice of God" voice, who made NFL films into an art form (along with the music...and I'm not even a football fan!):