How to be happy

I write this post after a great guy has died. He really was the Smoothest of them all and leaves behind many, many people who love, admire and respect him. In times of crisis I turn to truth to help me through for me one such truth is God. Now, as my knees are already sore I look to another truth in my life – science – to show us how we are to get through this. Happiness was something Sir Smooth brought to everyone he ever interacted with and as such to honour him we must remain so, if not find a way to be even happier than we are now to make sure his memory lives on in all of us and his death was not in vain. So, science, I ask you please teach us how to be happy.

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Why does music make us feel so much?

Life can be overwhelming. Whether with love, sadness or stress, I know many people who turn to music to express these emotions. But why? As a scientist, we are supposed to be able to explain feelings and emotions and reject them. However, I have had conversations with atheist scientists who struggle to explain that emotion they feel when THAT song reminds them of their ex, or of that tune that brings tears and happiness to them as they remember that brilliant summer holiday. I myself have been venues where the sound, the movement and the intense involvement of the crowd has transported me places.

But where? Music seems to make no scientific sense. It comes from nowhere, and when the audio has finished, it has gone nowhere. I mean, with art you can see something, and literature says something. But music? Although paintings and novels may stimulate discourse as people have different interpretations, there can be a general decision as to whether its bad or good at least. But music is so individual to the person listening. There are so many genres that music satisfies everybody. Even in religions and cultures where music is considered frivolity, it has a place. Recitation of the Quran is melodious. At weddings, funerals and christenings people sing in unison to their maker. It is a form of communication.

An attempt to explain music seems as futile as scraping love on a petri dish and trying to analyse it. Daniel Levitin is someone who tries to do this. He is a musician having worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton- turned cognitive neuroscientist. He has even written a book, ‘This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession‘, which describes what music is and tries to explain its popularity. Rock and pop is the genre which every generation since its arrival has kept a continuous fan base. Levitin advises that this is because unlike classical music, it constantly changes and every generation is provided with something they can regard as their own music. Continue reading

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How To Be Clever

When I tell people I studied the Biomedical Sciences, the first thing they say is “Wow, you must be so clever! I could never study that…” and I always say “Err, no, not really”.  Not only because I am modest (ha!) but because it is true.  I attended a grim, poor primary school: we had handwriting classes for an hour a week where we shared a pen between two and a couple of the graduating 11 year olds still wrote the letter ‘S’ the wrong way round.  Even though I was not one of those, I did not leave thinking I was clever.  It gave me confidence to realise that I had some academic potential, which came to fruition when I passed the (in)famous 11+ exams and went to a posh secondary with some of the ‘cleverest’ girls in the country.  Here, I learnt that being clever is relative.  At my primary school I may have been considered the ‘boffin’ due to the fact that I could spell the longest word we had ever learnt, ‘communication’, but at this school where the girls read Jane Austen novels for fun instead of ‘Bounty’ magazine, knowing the Prime Minister’s name was not a novelty (especially if he was your uncle as in one of the girl’s cases!), it was obvious to me that there is always someone cleverer than another in the world.  While some of these girls may have discussed politics around their dinner table, making them technically clever than me, they probably didn’t know how to feed a family for a fiver as most of the girls on my Tower Hamlets estate had learnt by a young age- an invaluable and academic life skill.

Modesty is the same reason I chose to study Biomed as we neeks call it.  Indeed, calling myself a neek (a cross between a nerd and a geek) is not me implying I think I am clever, being a neek is simply being seriously into whatever it is you’re into.  This could be anything from cakes- my mum for example has been baking for over 20 years now, but is such a neek for cakes she is taking evening classes learning to make sugar paste flowers to decorate her creations, or say loving up racing cars so much that you memorise the developmental history of the engine.  For me, it is science, more specifically the Biomed.  Surrounded by girls with so much pre-attained knowledge than me, I felt it would be arrogant to assume that I could study anything else before I knew all about the obvious-me.  After all, we are all living organisms, and however ‘clever’ you may be, we all have life processes in common.  The study of life was then the obvious, logical yet still modest choice.  How could I possibly understand anything like politics or history if I didn’t know the basics of life?

Completing my BSc did not make me feel that much cleverer, just proud and now I am at Big School (I try to make it seem less scary with this name, but in reality it is what I imagine boot camp to be like) with 15 extraordinarily clever, sophisticated people, undertaking a masters in Science Journalism.  I am not overwhelmed by this, simply grateful that they are all from such different backgrounds and disciplines that I can add vastly to my knowledge bank, and hopeful that perhaps from them and their different experiences I can finally learn how to be clever.  As fellow wordpress bloggers from Dingwall Primary School learnt from their special ‘How to be Clever’ assembly, “There was word smart, music smart.  Self smart, people smart and many more”.

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