John Fenderson and Adam Gorightly – Perception, Magick, and the “Missing Fundamental”

Gorightly messaged me a few weeks ago asking if I knew anything about the phenomenon known as the “Missing Fundamental,” which is a strange effect produced by the human hearing system. I said no, but did he want to do a show about it? He said he knew just the guy to bring along.

Gorightly’s buddy John Fenderson is a sharp and eclectic dude. He’s interested in perception and consciousness, and his view that as a pattern-recognizing species, that much of our thinking and delusions flow from this. It’s good for survival, but not for the evolution of ideas. “Schizophrenia is pattern-matching gone out of control,” says Fenderson.

Many years ago, Fenderson and some friends built a few of those plastic bag/ candles  hot-air thingies and let them float high over their town. He says that everyone reported seeing the same thing, but interpreted it based on their predispositions. How to quiet the mind and try to iron out some of these fixed beliefs? Some people try isolation tanks. Others meditate or seek answers in psychedelics.

The Missing Fundamental is a phenomenon where the mind fills in a missing harmonic tone and makes us think we are hearing a third singer, instrument or oscillation that is not there. Fenderson says this fact is used in the design of high-end headphones. The effect can actually be “shaped” into a perceived space by the subtle adjustment of frequencies.

The human visual system changes what is seen before we are consciously aware of it. “Most of what you’re seeing, you are actually imagining” says Fenderson. “You’re filling it in based on patterns you expect. When something happens that you don’t expect, very often you won’t see it at all.”

Because of our rationalizing minds, subjectivity and objectivity have soft and fuzzy definitions. Nobody’s life is a straight narrative, we just edit and change our memories to make it sound like one.

The occultist and the scientist and how they are going about achieving their goals in pretty much the same way, even though they seem completely different. As an example of the similarity, we can change our behavior to change life into something we want. This has been experimentally proven.

At his Discordian-themed site Singlenesia, Fenderson published a lock-picking manual that was authored by a group of MIT students and says that it is a metaphor for his whole philosophy of being aware how to hack yourself and your environment. Hacking yourself begins by re-imaging your reality to conform to what you want or want to do.

All these subjects and many more were covered in this very enjoyable program. Many thanks to Adam Gorightly for introducing me to his friend and helping to steer the show.

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20 Responses to John Fenderson and Adam Gorightly – Perception, Magick, and the “Missing Fundamental”

  1. nines says:

    The “missing fundamental” is NEVER missing.

  2. Phil From Louisiana says:

    I listened to a small part of this episode when it was live, and made a mental note to myself to post something about fourier analysis/series/transforms when the comments came up. BTW, the part I listened to was when y’all were talking about Tuvan throat singers; the next day I went to see a friend up in Carencro and in the ensuring traffic I was briefly behind someone with a Tuva or Bust! bumper sticker. Must have been a Feynmann fan.

    Anyway, Wikipedia has some nice entries on Fourier Analysis and Fourier series that may be helpful in trying to understand this phenomenon. BTW, derivatives of this are used a lot in image and sound compression. Like mp3’s.

    • John Fenderson says:

      My favorite thing about Fourier Transforms is that Mr. Fourier’s math wasn’t intended to be used for sound at all. It originally had to do with describing heat propagation through iron rings.

      This is yet another example of how the solution to one problem can be applied to a different, apparently unrelated problem.

  3. Gary K says:

    Your recent show with John Fenderson was very compelling. I am many years out of college (1974) where I majored in a sort of Psych/Bio lashup called “Neural Basis of Behavior.” Lab equipment was abysmal for our needs, and the field was very much wide open at that time. Researchers are just now reaching a stage where basic, plausible hunches are being advanced experimentally. I have been happy to see the sort of “brain as a binary computer” idea fade. I have also been happy to find that high falutin definitions of consciousness and reality can await refinement of this nascient but hopefully disruptive direction in, generally, how our soupy gray lumps can do things we still have no language to understand. The notion of a neural net adapted to seek and recognize patterns, and generate its own adaptive, interpretive pattern templates seems extremely promising. To see the current leading edge in this kind of neurological research I think the work of Jack Gallant at UC Berkeley is very compelling, and his methods/software are very open and transparent.

  4. dia sobin says:

    Well, if the object of information is to create more questions, then this show was a success!

    Here’s one I was left with: are the “missing fundamentals” actually missing, or merely implicate symmetries embedded in information in non-linear ways?

    Want more? No, I didn’t think so.

    BTW, when it comes to lock-picking I prefer the sans-tool method: willpower combined with brute force. Case in point: I used to have a door which I locked myself out of several times. Finally, I discovered (via the flow of adrenalin) that by holding the knob in a certain way and then bumping my shoulder against a certain spot on the door I could force the door open… but only, and I repeat, ONLY, when I forgot that it was impossible. 😉

    Synchronistically, the day after this show went up – and before I even saw the notice – I was posting about a mysterious, master key.

    • John Fenderson says:

      Your question about the missing fundamental is on the nose, and the answer depends on your perspective. The fundamental is indeed missing, as in literally not there, but it is clearly implicated by the harmonics that are present. The part of the brain that preprocesses sound replaces the fundamental easily because mathematically speaking, it is clear that it must be there (even though it isn’t) and what frequency it must be. So, in that sense, its existence is implicate in the full range of harmonics.

      However, the brain is imperfect in this reconstruction, so often the sound that you ultimately hear is not quite the same as what it was before the fundamental was removed: changes in timbre are common, for example. In that sense, the brain is adding information that was missing (imperfectly because it’s just making a very good guess), which indicates that the fundamental is, in fact, missing.

      I know this is a strange answer, but it’s another example of how what your definitions are makes a big difference in terms of what reality appears to be.

      By the way, I want to correct a glaring error I made on the show when describing the missing fundamental — I kept referring to the harmonics of a note as “fundamentals”. This was just a brain fart, please pretend I said “harmonics”.

      • dia sobin says:

        Thanks for replying. John! Alas, I’m afraid I’m probably still in the dark.

        Re: “However, the brain is imperfect in this reconstruction, so often the sound that you ultimately hear is not quite the same as what it was before the fundamental was removed: changes in timbre are common, for example. In that sense, the brain is adding information that was missing (imperfectly because it’s just making a very good guess), which indicates that the fundamental is, in fact, missing.”

        Well, coming from the standpoint – as I am – that the brain is an organic device, and (merely) an interface in the larger “consciousness” problem, then it stands to reason that it’s interpretation and or translation of transient phenomena – provided one can refer to sound as “transient” – might be flawed. This could be a dimensional problem. So, its not really clear to me why this proves the fundamental is “missing”… or, for that matter how it can be “removed”.

        So, yeah, it’s all about the definitions and the preconceptions to begin with… and – most likely – the fact that I am wholly illiterate when it comes to nuts & bolts physics!

        Re: harmonics… Well, harmonics depend upon the existence of fundamentals, right? So, it’s really not a glaring error.

        • John Fenderson says:

          “it stands to reason that it’s interpretation and or translation of transient phenomena – provided one can refer to sound as “transient” – might be flawed.”

          This is correct (and might invalidate my proposed test), but there is a little wrinkle here.

          The missing fundamental is not replaced by the brain through a mechanism of interpretation as such. It is replaced as a side-effect of the mechanism by which we localize sound. It is a purely “mechanical” process, and we can build circuitry to do the same thing.

          If the brain were adding information that wasn’t in some way encoded in the signal, then the effect would not be so reliable. That is reliable is a strong hint that the fundamental remains encoded in the signal even in its absence.

          In this effect, what we mean when we say “removed” is that if you look at the frequency spectrum of the sound, there is no energy in the place where the fundamental should be. However, there IS a gap there, and that gap is itself the encoding.

        • John Fenderson says:

          By the way, I’m well aware that I just argued the exact opposite of what I argued earlier. And I think both arguments are about equally correct!

          • dia sobin says:

            Thank you for having patience with my sketchiness!
            That you’re arguing the exact opposite… well, therein lies the fun of this sort of discourse!

            If it’s any consolation, I think I DO understand more of what you’re saying than initially… but you keep throwing in little curve balls!

            Re: “There is no energy where the fundamental should be.”

            Hmmm… no energy in the “frequency spectrum of the sound.”

            So, maybe this mysterious “nothing” is kind of falling under the radar… Maybe that’s why, at some point in the radio show, (I think) Greg sort of compared it to a UFO… whatever that implies! 😉

          • John Fenderson says:

            I’m replying to clia sobin here. We seem to have hit the nesting limit for replies, but I’m greatly enjoying this discussion so I’m ignoring that.

            Clia, you haven’t shown a bit of sketchiness here. Your insights and questions show a good understanding and insight, even if it you may not feel that way. Remember, especially when it comes to things related to the brain, that feeling like you have achieved complete understanding is usually a big red flag that you’ve missed something.

            For me, the big takeaway from the missing fundamental effect (as well as many others that we haven’t mentioned) is what I kept coming back to in the show: the brain is really very bad at accurately perceiving physical reality.

            Like anything that exists in the physical world, the brain operates with hard physical limits. It can only handle and store a limited amount of information, and that limit is an tiny, tiny fraction of the information that is receives through the senses.

            Because of this, a major part of what the brain does (some scientists argue that THE major part) is filtering. In order to function, you must discard almost all of the information you receive.

            Well before cognition begins, the brain has already made “decisions” about what information should be retained. Some of that is actually important, but there’s no “space” for it anyway. So the brain engages in computations that reconstruct what is missing when it’s needed. For the most part, this is accurate enough that you have the illusion of actual perception when it’s actually your brain filling in the blanks on its own.

            This is what’s happening with the missing fundamental.

          • dia sobin says:

            Well, John, looks like WordPress has a few missing fundamentals, too, so this reply will be appearing in the wrong place on the thread

            Anyway, I do see what you’re saying, but it makes me a little nervous to think that my brain has more control over my perception than I do! It’s like having a foreign object in your head. Which sort of begs the question where the concept of “I” originates from to begin with.

            It’s also a good argument for some variety of brain augmentation. But, that’s another story. 😉

            BTW, I also enjoyed our virtual conversation. For me it was sort of like conjuring up Mac Tonnies, whom ya’ll mentioned at the beginning of the show. So, thanks again!

            All the best,

          • John Fenderson says:

            I have two (related) hunches that I think are relevant to the nature of your discomfort: First, that dualism is illusory. That is, I suspect that dividing “you” into categories of mind and body is arbitrary. Second, that the notion that the body is merely the densest aspect of the soul has merit. That is, the physical body is not a different thing from the intangible spirit, or soul, or mind, or however you want to put it. The body is just one facet of a larger jewel.

            These are not scientific opinions, and not even hypotheses, but they resonate with me nonetheless.

            Re Mac — yes! I remember having a very similar exchange with him once.

            Take care, my friend.

    • John Fenderson says:

      I had another thought about the question of whether or not the fundamental is implicate in the harmonics in a non-linear way (mathematically speaking).

      One way to test the question might be to ask if it’s possible to create the effect with entirely computed sound rather than by modifying already existing sounds. If there is implicate encoding, then this should not be possible, at least not reliably or with great effectiveness, since what you’re trying to do would be to precompute and encode the results of a chaotic effect (I mean “chaotic effect” in the mathematical sense).

      However, the effect can be easily and reliably created from scratch through computation. And relatively simple computation at that. This hints that there is no chaotic effect of implicate order.

      The implication is more overt than that. It is essentially the same type of implication as this: given the numerical series 2, 4, 6, X, 10, 12, 14, what is ‘X’?

      • dia sobin says:

        This is very interesting, John… but, once again, I’m coming at it from the standpoint of an artist and accidental geometer. I do know, for instance, that computerized interpretations – in a graphic sense – are flawed. For instance, technically you can’t draw a perfect circle or even a clean diagonal on a computer. So, although you’re talking about numbers – and once again, I’m not a mathematician – I wonder about that word “chaotic”.

        Re: “However, the effect can be easily and reliably created from scratch through computation. And relatively simple computation at that. This hints that there is no chaotic effect of implicate order.”

        Can the effect be wholly and authentically recreated through computation? If in the affirmative, as you say, this would imply there is nothing random about the implicate order regarding this effect… which is interesting in itself. I’ve heard of other experiments – tossing dice and such – which also hint at the same thing in a general sense. As if physical beings can’t escape an underlying (fundamental) set of patterns and symmetry.

        Oh, wait a minute, we’ve sort of come to the same place that “nines” stated in the first comment: “The “missing fundamental” is NEVER missing.” 🙂

        BTW, thanks!

        • John Fenderson says:

          Yes, nines is correct. The fundamental is missing in that it is not literally encoded, but it is still there in that the harmonics would normally only be present if the fundamental were there, so it can be surmised.

          Yes, the effect can be wholly and authentically created through computation. Actually, it’s easier to achieve that way because you can build them by adding sine waves together. Modifying recorded sounds involves either complex linear filtering or the use of Fourier transforms. There’s nothing random about it.

          I just want to clarify what I mean by “chaotic”. Mathematically, chaos is a kind of order (chaos is not randomness). A chaotic system is one whose behavior is technically repeatable is you put it in a known state, but it is so sensitive to tiny variations in state that it can appear random. This is why supercomputers are required to even get reasonable approximations of very chaotic systems such as the weather: in order to be truly accurate, you’d have to be able to precisely compute to a precision that approaches the infinite.

          • dia sobin says:

            You’re right , of course, about mathematical “chaos” being a kind of order. I’ve read enough about it to know that, but I still get confused. On the other hand, in a sense, I’m not sure how truly “random” anything can be either… especially if one starts looking at everything under the dimensional auspices of a “Flatland” kind of scenario (which I tend to do).

            “in order to be truly accurate, you’d have to be able to precisely compute to a precision that approaches the infinite.”

            Kind of like the geometry of the circle! 🙂

  5. Burnt State says:

    Another new favorite episode. Listened to the back end of it live and then twice in the car – it’s an exceptional episode that helped frame aspects of paranormality and the UFO experience in a very helpful manner & the dialogue above has been just as exceptional after reading through it twice on distant occasions. Oh wait, I forgot, it all happened at the same time. Time is delicious when you don’t try to slice it.

    I am reminded of so many things at once while listening to it as if encoded in the three way dialogue was another source of implicit information that compelled me to return to it, to discern from it all the many Fibonacci patterns, those rotating windmills of my mind. While the possibility of understanding the truly extravagant beauty of the mind’s quantum algorithms as interfacing layers of meaning derived from repetition & memory is enticing, I think sometimes it may be better to just live wrecklessly in the dream that is the mind’s virtual reality, a construct informed by our equisitely faulty sensory apparatus. It is kind of brutish in its own way and slightly less sublime than knowing the how’s and why’s of human think, but then, since the logic gate is open you have to admit they are both just as sexy. We haunt our skins like ghosts in the machine.

    I was reminded of my own UFO encounter, car accidents, and moments of sudden recognition of a self-created magic pattern, why Bigfoot is a paranormal entity, how seeing can be believing but seeing can be an illusion of the mind of sorts – our own secret magic theatre, stacks of memories where we see what we want to see, or what we long to see, and what we don’t want to see makes the trauma – a sudden detour of the mind. These may make us believe that two different things at once are true, perhaps later on in therapy when we realize that the memory we made up to mask the truth no longer needs to be held in place. Just rambling on there about the memories of some UFO abductees, of friends I know who encountered monsters in the family.

    I was also reminded of the dream experiment with the 24 hour amnesiac control group and the tetris addicts and how this confirmed how we learn at night and how well the mind will just fill in the gaps based on the repeated information it has experienced to date. It made me think about those dream loops you have when you have the flu and your default brain network is so befuddled that it keeps playing back the same repeated snatch of a memory, like you are watching a seventeen second loop of an old Honeymooners’ episode on late might tv and none of it makes sense. And you feel like you are spinning in a well and bees are buzzing all around you. This episode made me long to go back to playing music, to feel that primal connection again, the body vibrating to the frequencies generated by your interaction with the instrument. Your fingers pluck and strike the keys and strings caress you shift positions in a rhythm. Yes. It does feel good.

  6. drew hempel says:

    All human cultures use the 1-4-5 music intervals but Western science is based on a deep pre-established disharmony from the wrong music theory. I have a long article on this – but 1st – great interview! The phantom tonic mentioned by Adam is a key secret to this puzzle of music – something my article goes into. Adam asked for where in the brain is this ancient music perception localized? It’s the cerebellum. Daniel Levitin documented this. But the key concept to consider is time-frequency uncertainty. My article goes into that more – and of course the paranormal connection. “The Devil’s Interval and the Pre-Established Disharmony of Western Science.” I wrote my master’s thesis on this topic – music theory and paranormal studies – back in 2000 but I first became focused on this in high school during my private music studies, back in the late 1980s. For example the throat singing of Tuva mentioned by Adam – the key to doing that is to relax the throat by activating the vagus nerve. I detail this in my free blogbook, “The Alchemy of Rainbow Heart Music: How Paranormal Sonofusion Subverts the Matrix.” After my music paranormal master’s thesis I discovered corroboration of my “sound-current nondualism” analysis – which I posted as the Actual Matrix Plan, based on the “music logarithmic spiral.” Thanks.

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