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Shepard Tones

The Shepard Tone is an amazing auditory illusion. Play the video below to hear what it sounds like.

You must have heard the Shepard Tone before. It is used extensively in modern Hollywood thrillers to create the illusion of continuously rising tension. This video essay brilliantly explains how film-maker Christopher Nolan uses Shepard tones.

The Shepard Tone corresponds to a narrative pattern that we can find in other domains. In a recent essay (which is worth reading for other reasons), Matt Taibi writes:

The media in the last four years has devolved into a succession of moral manias. We are told the Most Important Thing Ever is happening for days or weeks at a time, until subjects are abruptly dropped and forgotten, but the tone of warlike emergency remains: from James Comey’s firing, to the deification of Robert Mueller, to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, to the democracy-imperiling threat to intelligence “whistleblowers,” all those interminable months of Ukrainegate hearings (while Covid-19 advanced), to fury at the death wish of lockdown violators, to the sudden reversal on that same issue, etc.

Is this not the Shepard Tone of journalism? Stories are picked up, raised intensity and then dropped abruptly. But before they are dropped, another story has been picked up and is being raised in intensity.

This is also a technique that Buddhasvamin uses in the Brihat-katha-shloka-samgraha. In this ancient Indian epic poem, the author uses frame stories to create a Shepard Tone of sorts. Stories aren’t always resolved completely, they are just dropped with a single line resolution and another story is picked up.

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Nutty or Not?

^ This doesn’t seem nutty to me at all. Google is certainly capable of doing it, it has political reasons for doing it, there is no law preventing Google from doing it and it’s code is closed-source which means there is no way for anyone to independently verify whether or not they are doing it. It is at least reasonable to conjecture that they might be.
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Chapman on Formality

Chapman assumes that this kind of formality is what comes ‘before’. And he might be right because this is exactly the kind of formality that is taught in schools. However, I think I started seeing things meta-rationally at a very young age. So much so that this kind of formality does not come naturally to me anymore. I am always aware of the context and purpose.

I struggled a lot because of this in college. In my freshman year at college, I remember asking a math professor the ‘meaning’ of the formalisms he was teaching. Upon getting the reply that it doesn’t mean anything, I was similarly befuddled. That was not because I was incapable of adopting a formalism in that way. It was because I knew that that wasn’t the whole story and was disappointed that the discussion of context and purpose was not part of the curriculum.

I feel like I’m better at meta-rational activity than I am at rational activity.