Pattern recognition

Snapping on the car radio, I caught a voice singing the last syllable of a song, and immediately recognized it as Tommy Makem singing the end of “Four Green Fields.” Music is potent stuff.

I tuned into NPR on my car radio this afternoon and heard a baritone voice singing the single syllable “ee,” stretched out over several bars on a single note. It was immediately recognizable as Tommy Makem, singing the final bit of the final “she” in “Four Green Fields.”

For lots of us Early Boomers, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were the first taste of Irish folk music, a taste that, in many cases (especially, I think, among Jews) turned into a lasting pleasure. So reading about his death this morning, first in an email from a college roommate and then in an Atrios post, brought back lots of memories, and surely primed me to recognize his voice when I heard it.

Still, it struck me that my mind, way below the level of a conscious search, had performed an astounding piece of pattern-recognition; I haven’t heard that song in at least two decades, and the clip I heard had neither lyric nor melody. If there’s a more puzzling psychological phenomenon than music, I don’t know what it is.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: