Why Intervals are Important

Thursday, 5 January 2006

[Painting showing chiaroscuro]CONTRAST is how the mind works: it has to have a context, a framework of references.

Everything is referred to something else, everything is compared with something else. Or to put it another way, impartiality is impossible.

Many people mistakenly try to understand the world in absolute or fixed terms. How then can one explain a single event having two opposite interpretations? In the Great Depression, for example, a lot of people were poor, but it is also true that a few people made their fortunes.

  • IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Literature.org – The Online Literature Library: Charles Dickens’s ‘Tale of Two Cities’

Some people know about the optimist having the view that the cup is half filled, and the pessimist having a cup that is half-emptied; two interpretations of the same thing based upon the viewpoint of the individuals. But which one is the correct interpretation?

If the answer is that there is NO absolute answer, will this mean that we have chaos? Will there be as many answers as there are people to interpret them? In other words how can we come to terms with such relative standards?

The fact is that while people are individual due to their upbringing and natures, the range of difference is finite; generally people are raised into societies with similar cultural codes of conduct and quite narrow bands of acceptable social behaviours. Morality is pretty general throughout the human race.

Funnily enough, people easily can be physically and mentally conditioned to bring them into a narrow range of behaviour — from driving under the Highway code, to a court of law.

Within this narrowed range, and in any case, other relative standards come into play; for example, you may have noticed that what would be considered an acceptable volume level of noise during the day may well be considered amazingly loud at night, but this sense can be over-ridden by people who have spent the night in a loud nightclub; their idea of what is quiet may actually be quite loud!

[Caravaggio Painting] [Picture that is light]

The way paintings are hung in an art gallery is known to be important; if you view a painting as ‘dark’ then the next one will be related to it in your mind as either ‘lighter’ or ‘darker’. Thus your perception changes depending on the sequence of events presented to your senses.

Scientists found that when subjects first lifted a heavy weight, they underestimated the weight of lighter weights they were subsequently asked to lift — Sherif, M., Taub, D. and Hovland, C. I. (1958). Assimilation and contrast effects of anchoring stimuli on judgements. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 55, 150-155.

This is important in organising your shop, your home and more besides — for it is not restricted to light and shade, but also to smell, colour, volume, and everything else.

  • Intensity is relative.

It is possible that this relativity is more important or more significant that previously thought. Perhaps this explains the differences between people’s natures, attitudes and behaviours better than merely stating that everyone is different or individual. It is certainly true that if people are allowed to be treated or conditioned in certain ways, then their reaction to an event is far more standardised.

This treatment is the management of change, often called acclimatisation or alignment, and is simply enough time for a person to become accustomed to and used to an environment. It is also sometimes called synchronisation when it involves more than one person.

This idea is often easier to understand in terms of climate and comfort. People leaving an air-conditioned environment feel the outside conditions to be overwhelmingly hot and damp, and vice versa. Therefore, what designers attempt to do is to create intermediate stages. It is often the case that a person will enter a building through a series of doors, into a hall or foyer, and then on into where the climate is warmer or cooler depending on the outside.

It is always a good idea to avoid physical shocks to the system by making changes gradually. Wear layers of clothing, and remove them indoors to ‘feel their benefit’ upon going out into the cold.

  • Stadia and theatres, airports and hospital waiting rooms are designed to synchronise and acclimatise people — treating them so that their individual differences are minimised… and not just physically either.

Understanding this is important too in organising lifestyles. In a relationship, it is possible for one person to have a more fast-paced, high-powered job than the other. Clearly at the end of the working day these two people would clash unless they synchronise together — meet somewhere in-between.

It becomes clear, for example, why relationships do not just start, but involve a build up, courting or woo-ing. Equally, it explains why a sudden end is so painful. Managing change is important.

When a relationship ends, especially if it is sudden, the next relationship will be a benchmark for comparison — what is known as a rebound. It takes a long time for this relationship to be clear of the baggage inherited from the original relationship. It is actually quicker if there is a gap between relationships, enough time for the new relationship to be compared to a single life rather than compared with a previous relationship. In other words after a relationship, a person needs to become accustomed to being an individual again — rediscovering themselves and putting that new persona on the market.

That is why in the workplace it is common for people to have hand-overs and to work a notice period. It is also why you should never suddenly begin and end a period of vigorous exercise; you need warm ups and warm downs.

Of course, this understanding can be used to make people laugh, to seem shocking and fresh, to contrast sharply for effect or to make a statement.

  • Artists today seem hellbent on being shocking; it is not art unless it does so.

Any musician will tell you that it is not the individual notes that are important, it is the interval between them. A root, a third up from the root and a fifth up from the root is called a major triad. If you flatten the third, you change the chord to a minor triad — and it sound completely differently. The melody depends on the change between the notes.

Any song can be played in different keys. As long as all the notes have the same interval between them, it will be the same — only the starting note (root) frequency has changed.

In cuisine, it is not the food per se — the meat, the vegetables, the sauce, but it is how they contrast, the differences, the tensions between each component — the flavours, the textures, even the temperatures — and that’s just within a dish. However it is also true for a meal of a number of dishes — how the starter goes with the main course, the best dessert of the meal, the appropriate wine and so forth.

  • Instant gratification is too sudden, and much is missed. A fuller appreciation and more enjoyment is gained by embracing the whole approach, warm up (or wind up), and the fade out afterwards.

It is also quite a consolation for some people to realise that they have not been rejected for being themselves, but because of a context: in any given night club on any given night, you might be the oldest, youngest, best looking, ugliest, tallest, shortest, fattest, thinnest — and so forth. You are rated according to everyone else. The best looking girl one night need not be so the next night or somewhere else.

Those who know about such things, assess the situation presented during the acclimatisation/ synchronisation period, and will immediately leave in search of better prospects elsewhere depending on the ratio of boys to girls, and how old/young, fat/thin the crowd is — because, through experience, the person will know if they will succeed or fail in that particular crowd context.

  • Similarly, not getting a job is more likely to do with other people than with yourself — that is outwith your control, and there is nothing you can do about it if someone else’s face fits better than yours.

What seemed thin in the past may seem chubby today, what seems thin in your town may be chubby in a third-world country. Fashionable and trendy? compared with what and when? The richest person in your town may be thought-of as poor in the next town.

You are nothing without your friends. You need a group context.

  • Being at least aware of intervals and how you try to managing change will lead to an happier life with much more fun and appreciation.
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One Response to “Why Intervals are Important”

  1. Jesse Blackwell Says:

    I take your point that nothing is in isolation, but this go’s for your blog right here to. It depends on which post you read 1st or on the refering site. I read this post after I read the Twiggy one, so I think I got you sussed. Others might come to this blog by dint of this post and see you in a completely diffrent light. Good fun, God bless.


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