Saturday, March 1, 2014

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

by Oliver Sacks

Thoughts: A collection of interesting and unusual anecdotes about strange musical happenings related to brain functions,  from musical hallucinations to perfect pitch, brain worms to synesthesia. Oliver Sacks is a physician and professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry, and man must he have an interesting life if even half of these stories were true. (And they almost definitely are, by the way. This is a fairly well documented and scientific sort of book.)

Some interesting things I learnt:
--A professional musician's brain has an enlarged corpus callosum and increased volumes of grey matter in motor, auditory, and visuospatial areas of the cortex and cerebellum. It is more unique and recognizable than that of a visual artist, writer, or mathematician. (pg. 94) Similarly, there is a striking change in the left hemisphere of children who've had a only a year of violin training. (pg. 95)
--Physical music practice increases activity in various areas of the brain, but mental practice excites those same areas (i.e. going through the motions in your mind). (pg. 95)
--There is a theory that perfect pitch is inborn bust lost. Infants, apparently, rely much more heavily on absolute pitch cues, and adults on relative pitch cues. (pg. 129)
--On of the longer stories (pg. 188 ~ 205) was about a man called Clive Wearing who couldn't remember anything longer than a minute or so at most. And yet he could play entire pieces of music with as much fervour as before his accident. There is a documentary about him on Youtube which is quite interesting. There are also many other stories of people who have completely lost their memory, and yet still retain their memory for music, which is quite astounding. (See some of these on pg. 337-9.)
--Apparently there have been children that have had their entire left hemisphere removed from their brain, and yet still recovered speech and language. (pg. 220)
--Freud hated music. In his own words, "Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me." (pg. 293) I find this really interesting, and as someone who's not a huge Freud fan, I'm rather pleased to find him with such an unusual weakness.

Grade: 3 stars

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