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A Music-Loving Neurologist Tells Us About Extreme Forms of Musical Interaction
on January 26, 2008
Musicophilia made me realize how others perceive music. It was a shock. I assumed that everyone experienced music the same way. Wrong!
Do you ever ask anyone what happens when they hear music? I didn't before I read this book. Now I plan to ask everyone.
Dr. Sacks has the kind of fine writing style and awareness of music that makes his tales seem as appealing as the cases that Dr. Sigmund Freud wrote about. As Dr. Sacks pointed out, Dr. Freud didn't care for music so that gentleman failed to investigate and report on many of the phenomena in this book.
We don't exactly know why the mind and body interact with music in the ways that they do. Part is undoubtedly heredity. Part is undoubtedly due to exposure to musical influences. Some may relate to the language spoken in the home. Difficulties with seeing may also be an influence. Injuries to the body and brain can play a large role. Dr. Sacks does a masterly job of using case after case to explore one aspect or another of these dimensions so that a complex picture emerges that's even more remarkable than the brain processes involved in reading.
One of the biggest surprises in the book is that musical talent seems to be inhibited by some parts of the brain. In similar way, music can also inhibit some other brain functions that we would like to get rid of.
I had always wondered about those with perfect pitch, and the book explores that. There are also wonderful sections on other seemingly inherited musical abilities.
Dr. Sacks adds a lot of perspective to the history of music by making observations about various composers and the way that their compositions reflect certain musical abilities than others while explaining how the mental processes are different. Today, we can map the brain's activation in order to get clues about why certain behaviors are possible. That final perspective adds a lot to the case histories.
If you are like me, you'll find some of the cases to be heart-wrenching. I was comforted a bit to realize that music made those sad lives better so there's reason to rejoice in that sense.
So what was my big personal discovery? When I listen to classical music of any kind, I can choreograph a ballet along with costumes, sets, and props to go along with the music that I see in color when I close my eyes . . . even if the music has never been used for ballet. I didn't realize that others usually don't do that. What a wonder!