Instant Recall

Let’s say that Key to the Highway by Derek and the Dominos is one of your favorite songs, as it is one of mine.  How long would it take you to hear the first few notes and recognize that it’s being played on the radio?

According to some recent research, the answer is exactly 0.1 to 0.3 seconds.  That’s virtually instantaneous.

anim_homepageThe research focused on pupil dilation and certain brain activity that was triggered by hearing a favorite, familiar song and compared it to the reaction to listening to unfamiliar tunes. The study determined that hearing even a fraction of a second of a favorite song caused pupil dilation and brain activity related to memory retrieval — which would then cause you to immediately remember every note and every lyric.  One of the researchers noted that “[t]hese findings point to very fast temporal circuitry and are consistent with the deep hold that highly familiar pieces of music have on our memory.”

Why do researchers care about the brain’s reaction to familiar music?  Because the deeply engrained neural pathways that are associated with music might be a way to reach, and ultimately treat, dementia patients who are losing other forms of brain function.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing, and its immediate recall of music is one compelling aspect of its functioning.  But here’s the thing the researchers didn’t consider:  immediate recall isn’t limited to favorite music.  In fact, it’s provoked by familiar music, whether it’s a tune you’d happily binge listen to or whether its a piece of music that you wish you could carve out of your synapses.  If I mention the Green Acres theme song, and you then think of the first few guitar notes for that song, I guarantee that every bit of the song will promptly come to mind, whether you want it to or not.  (Sorry about that!)  And isn’t it a bit disturbing to think that, if you eventually lose your marbles some day far in the future, one of the last things to go will be the tale of the Douglases and their “land, spreading out so far and wide”?

The Inner Sergeant Schultz

The other day I made a reference to people channeling their inner Sergeant Schultz.  The comment met with baffled silence, because the people to whom I made the comment had no idea who Sergeant Schultz was.  It was a sad but instructive moment.

Those old enough to have watched Hogan’s Heroes, of course, would remember the portly, bumbling prison guard who craved sweets and schapps, feared being sent to the Eastern front, and supposedly kept an eye on Colonel Hogan and his fellow prisoners of war who were actively working for the Allied cause even while incarcerated in Stalag 13.  Schultz’s catch phrase, always said with a cheesy German accent after Hogan’s band had blown up a munitions dump or snuck a valued escapee through enemy lines, was:  “I know nothing.  Nothing!”  And his comment usually prompted the equally inept Stalag 13 commandant, Colonel Klink, to squint through his monocle, frown like he had just smelled a fart, and say:  “Schuuultzzzz!”

Hogan’s Heroes has been off the air for decades; it probably isn’t shown in reruns even on the most cut-rate cable channels.  It was a ridiculous show with a ludicrous premise, of course, but Sergeant Schultz was a giant in the pantheon of ’60s sitcom characters.  Now he has vanished into the vast forgotten pool that includes the likes of Corporal Agarn on F Troop and Mr. Haney from Green Acres — and I’ll have to come up with another shorthand way of referring to know-nothingism.

Back To The Days Of Friendly Sam Drucker

The Albertson’s grocery store chain, which does business in the south and west, is eliminating self-checkout lanes in its stores because the stores want “the opportunity to talk to customers more.”  According to the article, other chains are considering following suit.

I’m opposed to getting rid of self-checkout lanes.  They are irritating, of course, with the female voice that constantly tells you to “place the item in the bag” and asks “do you have any coupons?”  But I’m willing to put up with the irritation in order to avoid waiting in line behind someone who has a huge cartload.

I’m curious, however, about what the Albertsons chain thinks cashiers are going to talk to the customers about.  It’s as if they envision a return to the days of Sam Drucker behind the counter at the Hooterville General Store, where a customer and Sam could sit down by the cracker barrel and trade gossip about the crazy doings of the Douglases at their Green Acres farm.  It makes me wonder if anyone in management at Albertsons has actually been through a grocery store check-out lane recently.

I’m not sure what I would do if one of the local Kroger or Giant Eagle cashiers tried to engage me in conversation.  The harried cashiers quickly swiping items typically don’t even make eye contact, much less engage in deep discussions.  And even if the cashiers were riveting conversationalists, I’m confident that the people waiting in line aren’t going to be happy about the cashier and the customer chewing the fact instead of moving as quickly as they can.

Long live self-checkout lanes!