Thoughts for No One in Particular

Laughably serious

I have a question that has been bothering me ever since I was a little child. It is a problem I would be very interested to see resolved (or at least solved) before I die. It is quite a conundrum and it really puzzles me, so when I talk about it, I talk quite seriously about it. But, people tend to look at me funny and laugh it off, and quickly forget that I even have such a serious thought running around in my head.


Maybe they feel it is not worth the time to discuss seriously. Maybe they do not even think it necessary to consider as a topic to discuss. But when you have observed it half your life, and you still cannot find one decent answer on why it is the way it is, you too would become quite desperate trying to get others to help you search for explanations, would you not?


So, have I got you guessing what the “it” is that has been troubling me for so long? Well, here it is: why can my brother never sing along? (Oh, I can just see you looking at the screen funny and laughing it off… but wait, hear me out first, please!)


Whenever he hears songs he likes, he sings along them, but it is always out of tune and off beat, by a little bit. Maybe you would think I should not make a big deal out of it. But I tell you, some things are worse when they are slightly bad all the time than when they are completely rotten a limited number of times. To me, it is like hearing scratching on blackboard – if I hear it too long, I get shivers up and down my spine repeatedly. EEEK!!


I first suspected heredity. Maybe my family is not genetically coded to be good at sing-along’s? So I listened to my parents sing (or hum… my father is a man of very few words, even when singing) along, and I found nothing particularly wrong with them. And I believe I sing along just fine. Then genetics must not be the cause.


I then looked to the environment. Maybe he has not had enough training of the ears to sing along well? My mother likes to sing along to her favourite tunes while she does house chores, and my father likes listening to classical music whenever he has spare time. And I used to take music lessons at least once a week. So I tried to immerse him in music, asking him to keep playing all the albums on his rack. Unfortunately, he just got annoyed by me and the experiment ended up a failure.


But, I did get an intriguing finding – when he sings a cappella or on karaoke, he seems to sing much… um, less worse. Then maybe it is not that he is not hearing the tunes or beats correctly, but they are somehow recognized differently when someone else is singing? Maybe it is like the sound version of optical illusion… you know, like when the same objects appear larger or smaller in size, darker or lighter in colour, or in the front or back in depth depending on the background?


Well, then, how do I go about testing this hypothesis? And this is where I have been stuck at for quite a while now.

Maybe my brother is not a special case, and maybe it is not anything peculiar.

Maybe there is no “discovery of the century” to come out of it.

Maybe my question is just a jealous little sibling pointing out the teeniest fault in an otherwise perfectly nice and loving big sibling.

Maybe I do not need to pursue the answer so vigorously, now that we live apart and I hardly ever hear him sing along.


Yet, I cannot seem to be able to let it go. I know deep down that there probably is nothing to be gained from all my thinking… except for a good laugh, maybe. Nowadays, I do not really believe there is a clear answer somewhere out there to my question, so I am probably still at it just for the fun of finding out how far I can go in thinking seriously about laughable things. But, it does make me feel somewhat prouder that I am able to notice and pay attention to the small oddities others think nothing of. After all, this is how many of the world’s most famous scientists started out, is it not?


Congratulations to all the Ig Nobel Prize winners of this year – your researches make me laugh, and then think, as always!


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