Harmony, Perspective and Triadic Cognition

(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

(a review by Nicholas Swindale and my response)

Chapter 1: Introduction


Chapter One introduces all of the main arguments in the chapters that follow. The introduction alone will not convince you of the validity of the triadic argument, but makes the case for thinking that gtriadic information-processingh is a serious scientific notion... not metaphysics and not occult numerology, but rather low-level human cognition. Unlike animal brains – that generally get by on dyadic, one-to-one associations – the human brain can handle triads. Read on...


Chapter 2: Human Hearing


Chapter Two is the most complete discussion of the musical importance of triadic harmony in the music perception literature thus far. From the early discovery (by Galileofs father in 1588) of the factor responsible for harmonic tension to the modern psychoacoustical model of harmonic modality, this chapter addresses the question avoided in all the psychology books ostensibly explaining music: Why do major chords elicit positive affect, while minor chords are slightly negative?



Chapter 3: Human Seeing


Human beings have visual systems that are virtually identical to those of other primates, but we have an unusual ability to perceive the 3D structure implied in 2D paintings, diagrams and photographs. What is the processing that allows for gpictorial depth perceptionh (and the many visual illusions that are distortions of normal depth perception)? The answer concerns our ability to see the relations among three objects...


Chapter 4: Human Work


Chapter 4 asks the evolutionary question of where our triadic talents first arose. Fascinating speculations aside, hard empirical evidence in the form of stone tools is available. The 2.5 million year trail of stone relics shows that banging one stone into another to make a knife, axe or scraper is where triadic cognition started. And thatfs when trimodal (visual, tactile and auditory) association neocortex (BA39, BA40) began to evolve.


Chapter 5: Human Communication


Thatfs all very nice, you say, but human beings are different from other animal species because we use language. Where did THAT come from?! Well, the answer was first proposed by the bête noire of the American intelligentsia, Noam Chomsky. He calls it gUniversal Grammar,h but the core insight (ca. 1957) concerns gphrase structureh – which is ... explicitly triadic. Guess what aspect of language chimps, bonobos and parrots canft understand.


Chapter 6: Consciousness


The gmysteriansh want to believe that there is something sexier than boring gcognitionh that is special about the human mind. But the gsomewhat-less-mysteriansh among you will acknowledge the evolutionary continuity of all animal species... and thatfs where the consciousness argument begins to make sense. Awareness requires nervous systems containing gexcitable cells.h It is little more than plain-vanilla, 21st century neurophysiology, but the answer to the consciousness conundrum lies there.


Chapter 7: Loose Ends


Triadic skills among human beings are numerous. The triads involved in social cooperation (gjoint attentionh) and the gmoral mindh are essential to human civilization – and important for the rearing of civilized human beings. But there are also triads involved in face perception, rhythm perception, color perception, subitization, trigonometry, mental rotation, dance, sports, and ... hey, just about anything that people are interested in – and that even the cleverest of animals just donft get.


Chapter 8: Conclusion


gReductionismh – reducing complex phenomena to their essential components – is what science is all about. For the science of human psychology, it is essential to reduce the phenomena of perception and cognition to, first of all, their dyadic and triadic constituents. It is doable – and need not degenerate into the pseudoscience of pretending to explain the human mind in non-psychological terms – in the terminology of genetics, biochemistry or quantum mechanics, on the one hand, or the lofty notions of politics, religion or occultism, on the other hand.