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Thread: Weighty Question

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    Registered User Bill Baldridge's Avatar
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    Default Weighty Question

    Correctly or not, when I play standing, I am convinced that a tone-Gard releases volume by allowing the back, and to some extent the entire mandolin, to vibrate more freely than pressed into my clothes and body. The other day I was playing while sitting and noticed that the tone-Gard was not in contact with me except where the back rim touched my leg. I could feel my mandolin vibrating in my hands. I could feel the tone-Gard vibrating. I removed it and played again. My now lighter mandolin was vibrating more, and thus more loudly. Was that my imagination vibrating more than my mandolin?

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Unfortunately, simply "feeling" the mandolin's vibration using your hands or body is no way to assess the loudness of the instrument. And your ears cannot necessarily be trusted in such cases, either -- although listening is better than feeling for vibrations! Instead, you should get a decibel meter (or the equivalent, like a VU meter or many types of recording software) if you want to measure the sound levels.

    And yes, the whole idea behind the ToneGard is to avoid the sound dampening that can occur whenever the instrument's back is pressed against your body. If your mandolin is being held in such a way that the back is not contacting your body, then the ToneGard becomes unnecessary. Duh. In my experience -- and by actual measurement! -- the volume of my mandolin was not changed by the addition of a ToneGard, provided that the instrument is held away from the body.

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    Registered User Bill Baldridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Thanks for your response. I am limited to a lay person's conceptual framework and vocabulary, so I appreciate your help. I see my speaker cone vibrate more as I turn the volume up and assume a relationship. My brother is a math teacher. I can roll his eyes in two seconds.

    I don't doubt your measurements. I smile as I have to force part of my brain past my imagination. Since we both agree that there is no advantage in using a tone-Gard if the back of the mandolin doesn't touch your body, off it stays while my imagination runs wild.......now I am wondering if it was the weight that made the difference.

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    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Hi Bill,

    I have been an ardent fan of the Tone-Guard for years and years. If the back of the mandolin is not being dampened the Tone-Guard is superfluous. I leave it on anyway because I sit up straight and the mandolin is always in contact with my mid section.

    That said....I recently posted a question that got the regulars on this forum stampeding in all other directions looking for a laugh! Recently I visited a local luthier, Luke Wilson, to show off a recently acquired mandolin. In the process the Tone-Guard was removed and replaced as a matter of convenience when I noticed a difference unrelated to body contact. The Tone-Guard had a dampening effect. Once I got home I inspected it and noticed how tight I had it on the mandolin. I loosened the clamping and reversed the effect. Others have said there should be no effect on vibration transference via the sides but I know what I heard as relates to how tight the clamping is. I now have the clamping set to as loose as possible and the results are clearly audible.

    Billy

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Well, I would tend to doubt very much that the weight (i.e., the added mass) of the ToneGard makes much of a difference. The ToneGard attaches to the mandolin at its rim, using three tubing-coated prongs under light spring tension. The attachment locations lie outside the recurve area of the carved top (or back), and do not tend to affect any of the the main modes of vibration. A similar physical arrangement holds for things like mandolin armrests, tailpieces, and for Carpenter jacks that hold electrical connections. These accessories are designed not to affect the tone of the instrument.

    If you think you are truly hearing a difference, try recording your instrument with and without its ToneGard in several audio clips, making absolutely sure that the recording setup is identical for each recording you make, and that you play exactly the same things. Then, have someone play back the clips to you, at random, without telling you which clips had the ToneGard and which did not. If you can consistently tell which clips were made with the ToneGard by listening to these without any auxiliary information, then you might be justified in saying that the ToneGard altered the sound of your mandolin.

    Of course, you might tend to play your mandolin in subtly different ways when you know the ToneGard is present (or absent), so an even a better test would be to have someone else, other than yourself, make the recordings. A true double-blind arrangement would be the best of all, with neither you, the listener, nor your friend, the player, aware of the the differences in experimental conditions at the time of the test.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Perceived vs actual loudness can be different . You might ask a friend to listen while you play with and without the TG and voice their opinion. I see no advantage to use one with the way I hold my mandolin and I did have one. Everyone's ears hears differently !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    If you play into a corner of the room, you can pretty accurately hear what an audience would hear, and make your changes and tests as needed.

    My experience is that yea most of the difference a tonegard makes is to free up the back. When I play with the back free the tonegard seems to make minimal if any difference. But when I get tired, as at a festival or long jam, my slovenly ways take over and the back rests against me. The tonegard makes a huge difference in such moments. I hardly every play standing up; I avoid it whenever I can; but the tone guard makes a difference there because I find it harder to keep the back of the instrument off me while playing standing. It can be done, and infact I find it easier to do with a bowl back. But non-bowled instruments hanging from a strap.. tonegard really really helps.

    What ever difference the actual weight alone makes is a bit beyond my consistent perception. It may very well be there but I cannot say I really hear the difference. If I could keep the dern thing off my body I would never have gotten the tonegards I have on my instruments.
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Between reality and perceived reality is that pesky devil called the brain, which simultaneously processes reality, perceived differently by all, and that reality filtered through that part of the brain controlled by want, desire, delusion, and emotion.

    I’ve tried just to live with my unique filtering system and come to the conclusion that my home built mandolin is the best ever made and the toneguard on it maximizes it’s potential. And since this fantasy does no harm, I’ve adopted it as my reality, which of course, trumps all others. Hence my satisfied life.
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Well, I would tend to doubt very much that the weight (i.e., the added mass) of the ToneGard makes much of a difference. The ToneGard attaches to the mandolin at its rim, using three tubing-coated prongs under light spring tension. The attachment locations lie outside the recurve area of the carved top (or back), and do not tend to affect any of the the main modes of vibration. A similar physical arrangement holds for things like mandolin armrests, tailpieces, and for Carpenter jacks that hold electrical connections. These accessories are designed not to affect the tone of the instrument.

    If you think you are truly hearing a difference, try recording your instrument with and without its ToneGard in several audio clips, making absolutely sure that the recording setup is identical for each recording you make, and that you play exactly the same things. Then, have someone play back the clips to you, at random, without telling you which clips had the ToneGard and which did not. If you can consistently tell which clips were made with the ToneGard by listening to these without any auxiliary information, then you might be justified in saying that the ToneGard altered the sound of your mandolin.

    Of course, you might tend to play your mandolin in subtly different ways when you know the ToneGard is present (or absent), so an even a better test would be to have someone else, other than yourself, make the recordings. A true double-blind arrangement would be the best of all, with neither you, the listener, nor your friend, the player, aware of the the differences in experimental conditions at the time of the test.
    The Gore/Gilet books have a long section with lots of data showing that you can significantly change the tone and responsiveness of an instrument by attaching mass to the sides of an instrument. It's actually part of their build process, and they have a whole procedure which involves a series of measurements and way too many Excel spreadsheets.

    Whether the mass of a Tone-Gard is enough to make a perceivable difference to a mandolin's tone or volume, I'd agree it's almost certainly negligible.

    But the interesting thing about it is, small effect though it may be, some instruments may sound better with the Tone-Gard attached, while others may sound worse. Just based on the relationships between the existing structure of the instrument and the added mass.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Couldn't sleep last night. Kept going over this in my mind. Please help me understand. Those who really understand the vibratory modes of the instrument and how it all works please clarify.

    My understanding is that the vibrations occur with respect to fixed points on the instrument. I mean, the top vibrations are with respect to the edges of the instrument, and with respect to the points held fixed by the bracing employed. Same with the back vibration. Making these free surfaces heavier or lighter certainly could change the tone.

    But the tonegard is attached at the fixed points, along the edges. It may make the whole instrument heavier, but that just means it is heaver to pick up, and the only vibration that would impact is if you shake the whole instrument as you might to see if your lost pick had fallen inside. Correct me if I am wrong (please, please), but I don't think weight attached to the parts of the instrument that do not vibrate would have much, if any, impact on tone.

    What am I missing? Please help me get some sleep.

    In any event, I believe the tonegard works really well doing the job it was designed for, and these other effects are small, if not insignificant, in comparison.
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    The Gore/Gilet books have a long section with lots of data showing that you can significantly change the tone and responsiveness of an instrument by attaching mass to the sides of an instrument. It's actually part of their build process, and they have a whole procedure which involves a series of measurements and way too many Excel spreadsheets.

    Whether the mass of a Tone-Gard is enough to make a perceivable difference to a mandolin's tone or volume, I'd agree it's almost certainly negligible.

    But the interesting thing about it is, small effect though it may be, some instruments may sound better with the Tone-Gard attached, while others may sound worse. Just based on the relationships between the existing structure of the instrument and the added mass.

    Ah, the madness of human perception! We manage to fool ourselves all the time, and that's a fact. If you happen to believe that something will change the tone of your instrument, then it absolutely, positively will. From your perspective, that is. Not necessarily from the perspective of an unbiased observer, and not necessarily from the perspective of a measuring device, either. Most owner reports are simply untrustworthy. And this goes for luthiers as well as players.

    The past pages of the MC are full of insistent claims that something like an armrest, or a ToneGard, or a tailpiece, or replacing the tuners dramatically changed the tone or volume of an instrument. But unlike the components like bridges, strings, soundboards, and suchlike, these types of accessories are specifically designed NOT to affect tone. On the contrary: they're deliberately designed to exert minimal effects, usually by clamping to the very rim of the instrument itself, where -- due to the instrument geometry and verified by scientific measurements -- there are vibrational nodes that exhibit the least amounts of displacement when the instrument is played.

    Could small differences in tone or volume nevertheless exist when an armrest or Tonegard is attached? Yes, of course they could! Absolutely ANYTHING at all that changes the geometry, mass, stiffness, or damping of an acoustical musical instrument will necessarily change its sound profile. That's physics. But it comes down to a matter of how much, exactly.

    I'd contend that the breathless accounts we so often get that an instrument sounds significantly different with a new tailpiece, armrest, or ToneGard are simply not credible. After all, folks fool themselves all the time. It's not that they're stupid or delusional. On the contrary, it's just that they're human. They want to hear a difference, and so they do.

    In medicine, the bedside manner of a doctor counts for a great deal. If he or she conveys confidence to you that your condition will improve, then the chances are better that it will do so. And if you're treated with a drug -- even a placebo -- your chances at improving are also significantly better. The placebo effect is so incredibly strong, in fact, that up to 30% or more of patients treated (without their knowledge) by sugar pills will report doing better than patients receiving no drug treatment at all. All modern medical tests have to be designed with such placebo effects in mind.

    We should be properly skeptical of claims that go against our physical and musical intuitions. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. I absolutely believe the OP when he reports hearing a difference with and without the ToneGard. That's what he experiences, after all, and I have no reason to doubt it. But I question whether the same difference can be reliably detected by anyone else, for example, in a recording where the listener is unaware of the presence or absence of the ToneGard.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Could one of the moderators turn on Dr. Dave Cohenís Bat Signal, please?

    The placebo effect is extremely powerful, Sblock, youíre absolutely correct. Iíve never felt the need for a tone guard, but if I donít get it in gear and lose some weight over the next couple of months, I may have an easy Fatherís Day gift idea...that Iím certain will improve tone and volume
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Believe what you are experiencing and don’t rely on what others tell you on the internet. It seems to be a common thread in society these days where you’re told not to believe what you see, think, hear and feel. Enjoy playing your mandolin in good health.
    ... not all those who wander are lost ...

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Ah, the madness of human perception! We manage to fool ourselves all the time, and that's a fact. If you happen to believe that something will change the tone of your instrument, then it absolutely, positively will. From your perspective, that is. Not necessarily from the perspective of an unbiased observer, and not necessarily from the perspective of a measuring device, either. Most owner reports are simply untrustworthy. And this goes for luthiers as well as players.

    The past pages of the MC are full of insistent claims that something like an armrest, or a ToneGard, or a tailpiece, or replacing the tuners dramatically changed the tone or volume of an instrument. But unlike the components like bridges, strings, soundboards, and suchlike, these types of accessories are specifically designed NOT to affect tone. On the contrary: they're deliberately designed to exert minimal effects, usually by clamping to the very rim of the instrument itself, where -- due to the instrument geometry and verified by scientific measurements -- there are vibrational nodes that exhibit the least amounts of displacement when the instrument is played.

    Could small differences in tone or volume nevertheless exist when an armrest or Tonegard is attached? Yes, of course they could! Absolutely ANYTHING at all that changes the geometry, mass, stiffness, or damping of an acoustical musical instrument will necessarily change its sound profile. That's physics. But it comes down to a matter of how much, exactly.

    I'd contend that the breathless accounts we so often get that an instrument sounds significantly different with a new tailpiece, armrest, or ToneGard are simply not credible. After all, folks fool themselves all the time. It's not that they're stupid or delusional. On the contrary, it's just that they're human. They want to hear a difference, and so they do.

    In medicine, the bedside manner of a doctor counts for a great deal. If he or she conveys confidence to you that your condition will improve, then the chances are better that it will do so. And if you're treated with a drug -- even a placebo -- your chances at improving are also significantly better. The placebo effect is so incredibly strong, in fact, that up to 30% or more of patients treated (without their knowledge) by sugar pills will report doing better than patients receiving no drug treatment at all. All modern medical tests have to be designed with such placebo effects in mind.

    We should be properly skeptical of claims that go against our physical and musical intuitions. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. I absolutely believe the OP when he reports hearing a difference with and without the ToneGard. That's what he experiences, after all, and I have no reason to doubt it. But I question whether the same difference can be reliably detected by anyone else, for example, in a recording where the listener is unaware of the presence or absence of the ToneGard.
    My point was, as others have observed before:
    Why is the change which was observed nearly always positive? If a tailpiece, etc. has such power over the tone of an instrument, why don't we see a normal distribution, where some of the time it was a "bad bad bad thing" and some of the time it was "super super great" and a lot of the time it was "meh".

    So yeah, hearing is our most processed sense. What we expect to hear, we will probably hear.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    You stated my point with clarity.
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    Registered User Bill Baldridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Thanks to those who have responded. The conversation went where I hoped that it would: if, what, and how we hear changes to our instruments. Nothing here that I haven't read before over the years of reading the Forum. We can't reinvent the wheel, but it is helpful to be reminded of, or have explained, how it works.

    After playing the guitar since childhood, I thought that I might like the mandolin. I told the guy at the music store that I knew what an unplayable guitar was and that I did not want an unplayable mandolin. After that, I wanted to get in as cheaply as possible. If I liked the mandolin, I would invest in a better instrument later. He asked me to handle and strum two mandolins, one costing twice the other. He asked me if I could hear a difference. When I answered "No.", he said, "Then buy the cheaper one." I wish that that guy was waiting for me in every store that I enter. After thirty years, I am ready for the double blind test. Somebody dig out those mandolins.

    To burn as many strawmen as possible. No one has argued that as I work my way down a row of mandolins they would sound the same except in my imagination. Nor, has anyone argued that how those mandolins are made has no effect how they sound to the ear or would look on a scope. The useful, fun stuff is in the middle. The dance or struggle, or fascination, pick your metaphor, is the interplay of the subjective and the objective. For me, the music is there. Thanks again.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    I spent over a month not using the toneguards on my mandolins. I suspected that toneguards act much as a shoulder rest on a violin does tonally speaking. The voice of both instruments is changed by contact with the body. Putting air between the instrument and the body allows it to breathe in a manner of speaking. At any rate I find additional response from both groups of instruments when using these devices. Now there are differing opinions but like the so many these days, my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts. Walk your own path, ain't nobody else gonna do it.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    My point was, as others have observed before:
    Why is the change which was observed nearly always positive? If a tailpiece, etc. has such power over the tone of an instrument, why don't we see a normal distribution, where some of the time it was a "bad bad bad thing" and some of the time it was "super super great" and a lot of the time it was "meh".

    So yeah, hearing is our most processed sense. What we expect to hear, we will probably hear.
    One reason the results we hear are almost always positive is that people who go to the expense of buying something which has a negative effect on their playing often don't care to share that they wasted money and time trying something which doesn't work. And those who did perceive a positive difference are eager to share their happiness with others.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    I agree in general with where you folks coming from, but it does have a limit. If there is a positive comparison, there is an implied negative one. I don't find all of my pick, string, bridge, tuners, tailpiece changing positive by any means. I draw my own line here: I hear a difference. Better, like beauty, is in the ear of the listener.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    I suspect reporting success and failure is the same here as anywhere else. Folks are not generally so keen to report that they tried something and that it made a situation no different or worse, especially if they are going to be called foolish. Folks are excited to report a positive outcome and seek confirmation of their experience. I think that at a deep level most people trust their experience and understand, as the builders have said, that nobody knows THE answer and that this result may or may not hold true for any particular instrument or person playing it.
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Well said.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Sorry, but I cannot agree that the consensus of opinions expressed on the MC is mainly explained by some kind of "observation bias," namely, that people will tend to report whatever works for them and fail to report what doesn't. Musicians on the MC experiment with equipment all the time, and we have had lots and lots of reports about mandolin accessories like armrests, pickguards, tailpieces, and ToneGards, going back many years. The broad consensus of opinion would seem to be that these devices exert little to no effect on the basic tone or volume of the mandolin. And that is exactly what they're designed to do! These accessories attach to the instrument at positions (e.g. nodal points) where, at least in theory, they should exert little to no effect. Do some folks experience sound changes, nevertheless? Yes -- but not most.

    As I've written, you're perfectly entitled to formulate your own opinion, realizing that your perception of sound is uniquely your own. Furthermore, you're perfectly entitled to do whatever you wish with your instrument. Use a ToneGard, don't use a ToneGard.

    That said, beware of over-generalization, and of fooling yourself. Our sonic perceptions cannot always be trusted. Furthermore, your anecdotal experience is not necessarily the experience of others. Just because you believe the sound may have changed does not make it so. Better data are required, along the lines of the blind tests that I suggested earlier.

    There are plenty of controversial topics on the MC, like whether the application of vibrating devices like the ToneRite can actually improve the sound of a mandolin. Or whether mandolins can "go to sleep" after a short period of playing inactivity and then "wake up" after a bit of playing. Or whether there is an intrinsic difference in the sound of an F5 model, as compared to an otherwise similar A5 model. There is no shortage of opinion on those topics, either. But a dearth of data. As I wrote earlier, we should be properly skeptical about extraordinary claims.
    Last edited by sblock; Jan-28-2020 at 3:56pm.

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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Thanks for all you have contributed. I tried to report what I experienced in a way that was true to my perceptions. Without data I was left to question my own subjectivity, so I finished with an open ended question. Some might have read it as a challenge or a matter of faith rather than a
    curiosity. Psychology applies to the genius and the fool. For me, the variety of efforts to apply physics and psychology to the anecdote reflects another fascinating layer to mucking around with a mandolin.

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    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    The question you asked in the original post brings to mind the scientific experiments done over the years in the field of psychology and perception. Using all of the tools available for measuring brain activity, it has been shown consistently that in visual perception the brain responds exactly the same to "seeing" an imagined image with the eyes closed as it does to seeing the "real" object with the eyes open. If this result is true, and if it carries over to auditory and tactile perception, then it really makes no difference whether the vibration was in your mandolin, in your ears, or in your mind, or which one was vibrating more. It's all part of reality.
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    Default Re: Weighty Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Haywood View Post
    The question you asked in the original post brings to mind the scientific experiments done over the years in the field of psychology and perception. Using all of the tools available for measuring brain activity, it has been shown consistently that in visual perception the brain responds exactly the same to "seeing" an imagined image with the eyes closed as it does to seeing the "real" object with the eyes open. If this result is true, and if it carries over to auditory and tactile perception, then it really makes no difference whether the vibration was in your mandolin, in your ears, or in your mind, or which one was vibrating more. It's all part of reality.
    Actually, I'm afraid that your recollection of these experiments is not quite right. Yes, some of the very same brain areas 'light up' in fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) studies where both real and imagined objects are considered by a subject. So, we have a lot of overlap in the way that our brains process both real and imagined objects. However, there are additional brain areas that light up for real objects that do not light up for imagined objects, and vice versa. So the brain representations are overlapping, but not identical. So no, the brain does not respond "exactly the same," as you stated. It responds similarly, but differently. And this makes a whole lot of evolutionary sense, given our amazing ability, as humans, to anticipate the future, based on a combination of real and imagined scenarios.

    But it simply does not follow, logically, that "it really makes no difference whether the vibration was in your mandolin, in your ears, or in your mind..." Yes, it does make a difference, and that difference can be detected by fMRI. It also makes a difference from another perspective, which is the scientific one. The origin of the percept matters.

    In a sentence, a percept is not the same thing as the object being perceived. These things are neither logically nor physically equivalent. As for your conclusion that "it's all part of reality," well, I suppose that depends entirely on the definition that you choose for "reality"! It certainly does not comport with my own definition of "reality."

    To make this discussion a bit more concrete, please consider the case of a schizophrenic person who hears voices in his (or her) head. Just because this is their auditory perception does not mean that there are actual speakers making those sounds. From the perspective of the schizophrenic, the voices can sound quite "real." But not from our external perspective, nor from any number of recording devices we might use to detect sounds. Put simply, thinking that something is real does not make it real. And yes, there is a difference.

    Returning now to the original post, I have written several times that the poster is perfectly entitled to his experiences, and to his judgment that his mandolin is significantly louder without the ToneGard mounted on it. However, that assessment runs contrary to my own experience, and to the experience of many others on the MC who have written about ToneGards over the years. But I have no reason whatsoever to challenge what he experiences in his head, and I don't think he's deliberately misrepresenting anything. I quite believe him, in fact. I can only challenge whether his percept is "real," that is, whether it can be substantiated by data. Can the reported difference in volume still be detected, say, in a recording by an unbiased third party, for example? Can it be measured with a sound meter when an unbiased party plays the mandolin? These are more reliable (but still imperfect) ways to test for the phenomenon.

    I think that conflating subjective percepts with objective reality is a mistake, and often leads to circular thinking. To me, at least, it really does make a difference "
    whether the vibration was in your mandolin, in your ears, or in your mind," as you wrote.






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