The Dancing Ninja

So where have I been?

Well I'm writing a new book, in a similar vein to my last. It's about comedy and science and all the little tricks that comics pull on you to trick you into laughing. It's going to be great, I think you'll like it.

But it has eaten into my time for side projects, like this blog. So to give due attention to both, I thought I'd update here with something I couldn't quite fit into the book, but is nonetheless fascinating.

Check out this gif of a dancing ninja.

dancing ninja
He's got a mind to rhyme and two hype feet

Now what I want you to do is put a song on for him to dance to. Any song. Pick a song and play it while you watch the ninja dance.

Look at him go! Does it look like he's dancing to the beat? I'm willing to bet that if you picked anything remotely rock/pop sounding made in the last 60 years or so, his moves are matching up quite well. Try it with another song.

I've tested it with, among others: Buy Me A Pony - Spiderbait

Shake It Off - Taylor Swift

Gangnam Style - PSY

Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson

Run - Gnarls Barkley

Shoop - Salt-N-Pepa

Lake Bodom - Children of Bodom

Before I Forget - Slipknot

The Avengers (Theme) - Alan Silvestri

Pacific Rim (Main Theme) - Ramin Djawadi ft Tom Morello (although everything works with this)

And his moves match up to all of them. How? It's a short, looped, pixelated gif - how can it match all of these songs?

Well it's equal parts the basic structure of music and the human tendency towards confirmation bias.

Music tends to run in duple beats - the beats of the song are divisible by two. Pop music in particular tends to follow two four-beat patterns, resulting in what is perceived as an 8 beat. I'm not going to stray too far out of my wheelhouse into musical theory but if you haven't noticed this then listen to a song and count the beats. Listen for two counts of four before the song moves to the next section. Once you hear it you can never unhear it.

And what a coincidence - the moves of the ninja in the gif are each four beats. So if songs are based on four beats and our ninja is dancing in four beats then of course his moves are going to match up - regardless of tempo.

Except when the moves don't match up. Not quite. That's when the brain steps up to the plate. The human brain loves patterns. Patterns recognition is part of why we survived to evolve into humans and it's still a major part of the brain. You're biologically hardwired to see patterns - such as a ninja who appears to dance to whatever song you play in the background. Whenever his moves match up with the song your brain senses a pattern and gives you a little hit of dopamine as a reward. It feels good watching him dance.

When his moves don't match you don't get the same response. Just as the brain loves a pattern, it abhors the absence of one. It won't tolerate chaos or coincidence. So the times that the little ninja is a step behind or doesn't quite match up with the beat, well, you ignore it. It doesn't fit with your neat little view of the world, so rather than bother you with such details your subconscious filters them out before your world view can be challenged.

So if your brain can be exploited by something as innocent as a little dancing ninja, what magic could be worked by someone who knows what they're doing? What kind of crazy things could they get you to believe? What messages could they slip into your subconscious? Well as the Joker said - if you're good at something, never do it for free. Keep an eye out for my next book. Trust me, you're going to know when it's available.

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