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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks

I recently read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks (New York: Knopf, 2007) The book is filled with fascinating true tales about some of the patients Sacks has dealt with over the years of his career. He also mentions some historical cases, and cases worked with by other medical personnel.

Sacks gives example after example, showing that music is an important part of human behavior, that changes to the brain may release or inhibit musical skills or love for music, and that musical ability, in some forms of brain deterioration, lasts after many other skills are no longer present.

Sacks, a physician, obviously loves classical music. That shouldn't make the book any less fascinating to readers.

I previously posted on a particular aspect of the book, namely the question of religious experiences and the brain.

I'm glad I read it.

Here's a quotation:
One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music -- nor, indeed, to be particularly "musical" -- to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed. Its very ubiquity may cause it to be trivialized in daily life; we switch on a radio, switch it off, hum a tune, tap our feet, find the words of an old song going through our minds, and think nothing of it. But to those who are born in dementia, the situation is different. Music is no luxury to them, but a necessity, and can have power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Knopf, 2007, p. 347.


B Nettles said...

Another (mostly) good read is This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin [Dutton, 2006].

He examines the ability of the brain to recognize musical passages in spite of different keys, instrumentation, rhythmic modifications, etc. He also writes about evidence of the development of speech in children who did or did not have musical exposure.

Downside: He likes to drop names about the musicians he worked with. He wonders why the brain evolved with such wonderful abilities to relate to music, attributing such to randomness.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the tip, B Nettles. I hadn't heard of that book.