Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks pdf

What an odd thing it is to see an entire species— billions of people—playing with, listening to, meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call “music.” This, at least, was one of the things about human beings that puzzled the highly cerebral alien beings, the Overlords, in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. Curiosity brings them down to the Earth’s surface to attend a concert, they listen politely, and at the end, congratulate the composer on his “great ingenuity”—while still finding the entire business unintelligible. They cannot think what goes on in human beings when they make or listen to music, because nothing goes on with them. They themselves, as a species, lack music.

We may imagine the Overlords ruminating further, back in their spaceships. This thing called “music,” they would have to concede, is in some way efficacious to humans, central to human life. Yet it has no concepts, makes no propositions; it lacks images, symbols, the stuff of language. It has no power of representation. It has no necessary relation to the world.

There are rare humans who, like the Overlords, may lack the neural apparatus for appreciating tones or melodies. But for virtually all of us, music has great power, whether or not we seek it out or think of ourselves as particularly “musical.” This propensity to music shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our species. Such “musicophilia” is a given in human nature. It may be developed or shaped by the cultures we live in, by the circumstances of life, or by the particular gifts or weaknesses we have as individuals—but it lies so deep in human nature that one must think of it as innate, much as E. O. Wilson regards “biophilia,” our feeling for living things. (Perhaps musicophilia is a form of biophilia, since music itself feels almost like a living thing.)

Given the obvious similarities between music and language, it is not surprising that there has been a running debate for more than two hundred years as to whether they evolved in tandem or independently—and, if the latter, which came first.

Darwin speculated that “musical tones and rhythms were used by our half-human ancestors, during the season of courtship, when animals of all kinds are excited not only by love, but by strong passions of jealousy, rivalry, and triumph” and that speech arose, secondarily, from this primal music. His contemporary Herbert Spencer held the opposite view, conceiving that music arose from the cadences of emotional speech.

Rousseau, a composer no less than a writer, felt that both had emerged together, as a singsong speech, and only later diverged. William James saw music as an “accidental genesis … a pure incident of having a hearing organ.” Steven Pinker, in our own time, has expressed himself even more forcibly: “What benefit could there be [he asks, echoing the Overlords) to diverting time and energy to making plinking noises? … As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless…. It could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged.” There is, nonetheless, much evidence that humans have a music instinct no less than a language instinct, however this evolved.



Part I: Haunted by Music
1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
2. A Strangely Familiar Feeling: Musical Seizures
3. Fear of Music: Musicogenic Epilepsy
4. Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination
5. Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes
6. Musical Hallucinations

Part II: A Range of Musicality
7. Sense and Sensibility: A Range of Musicality
8. Things Fall Apart: Amusia and Dysharmonia
9. Papa Blows His Nose in G: Absolute Pitch
10. Pitch Imperfect: Cochlear Amusia
11. In Living Stereo: Why We Have Two Ears
12. Two Thousand Operas: Musical Savants
13. An Auditory World: Music and Blindness
14. The Key of Clear Green: Synesthesia and Music

Part III: Memory, Movement, and Music
15. In the Moment: Music and Amnesia
16. Speech and Song: Aphasia and Music Therapy
17. Accidental Davening: Dyskinesia and Cantillation
18. Come Together: Music and Tourette’s Syndrome
19. Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement
20. Kinetic Melody: Parkinson’s Disease and Music Therap>
21. Phantom Fingers: The Case of the One-Armed Pianist
22. Athletes of the Small Muscles: Musician’s Dystonia

Part IV: Emotion, Identity, and Music
23. Awake and Asleep: Musical Dreams
24. Seduction and Indifference
25. Lamentations: Music and Depression
26. The Case of Harry S.: Music and Emotion
27. Irrepressible: Music and the Temporal Lobes
28. A Hypermusical Species: Williams Syndrome
29. Music and Identity: Dementia and Music Therapy


Language: English
Format: PDF
Pages: 399
Size: 1.15 Mb
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