- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 16, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400040817
- ISBN-13: 978-1400040810
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (369 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain 1st Edition
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Amazon Best of the Month, December 2007: Legendary R&B icon Ray Charles claimed that he was "born with music inside me," and neurologist Oliver Sacks believes Ray may have been right. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain examines the extreme effects of music on the human brain and how lives can be utterly transformed by the simplest of harmonies. With clinical studies covering the tragic (individuals afflicted by an inability to connect with any melody) and triumphant (Alzheimer's patients who find order and comfort through music), Sacks provides an erudite look at the notion that humans are truly a "musical species." --Dave Callanan
From Publishers Weekly
Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies-some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one's mind) through the uncommon (Tourette's or Parkinson's patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano). In this latest collection, Sacks introduces new and fascinating characters, while also touching on the role of music in some of his classic cases (the man who mistook his wife for a hat makes a brief appearance). Though at times the narrative meanders, drawing connections through juxtaposition while leaving broader theories to be inferred by the reader, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives. (Oct.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Oliver Sacks is an author of several different best sellers. Surprisingly, he is also a physician and neuroscientist at Columbia University medical center. However, don't worry! As all other comments have mentioned below, you will find his literary style of writing make you comfortable in understanding science. He translates great volume of professional articles into story-telling and straightforward manner. He will not lose your interest in reading the book because he has got exciting stories on his patients he come across every day.
This book, Musicophilia, deals with everything that has to do with music and brain ranging from neurologic disorders such as aphasia to special stories such as person who falls in love with music after he got stroke by thunder. Largely these chapters are divided into four parts. The first and the second parts are focused on strange individuals who are haunted by music and people who are heavily affected by music either positively or negatively in daily life. In the third part, it talks about how music can affect your brain memory, movement, and disorders. In the last part, it talks about emotions, identity of self, and disorders related music and brain.
`Musicophilia enriched my scientific knowledge!'
The book helped me to expand vast knowledge on neuroscience in biomedical engineering elective course. During my neuroscience class, we learned various different aspects of brain ranging from the basic level brain and neural structures to the mechanisms of sensory and motor system. As I was reading Musicophilia, there were a lot of topics that goes along with what I learned in class, and Musicophila gave musical touch that enriched my knowledge about brain.
One of the interesting findings was the effect of music on brain development. The author explains how musicians have enlarged increased volumes of gray matter in motor cortex, auditory cortex, cerebellum, and corpus callosum. (The corpus callosum is a thick band of nerve fibers that divides the cerebrum into left and right hemispheres, and this part of brain has critical role in communicating information in between those two hemispheres.)
There is one whole chapter devoted to imagery and imagination of music. In this chapter, author talks about this studies carried out by Robert Zatorre, and this studies show that imagining music can activate the auditory cortex as strongly as listening to it. Also, if you imagine playing musical instrument, it stimulates not only motor cortex, but also auditory cortex. This is heavily related to the concept that I learned during neuroscience class, of comparison between efference copy and expectation.
In my neuroscience class, during visual system lecture, I learned this concept of perceptual fill in of blank spots. This is visual illusionary effect revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Oliver Sacks discusses this illusionary effect on auditory system with 1960s experiments on `white Christmas effect.' When universally known Bing Crosby version of this song was played, some subjects heard it when the volume was turned down to near zero. Author calls this effect "fill in" by involuntary musical imagery, and he goes on and explains this effect in parallel with brain structure. There was greater activation or lighting up in auditory association areas. These two illusions in two different systems suggest that your senses heavily rely on your brain at the same as your sensory inputs.
`Musicophilia's and music therapy'
As a biomedical engineer, I had biggest compassion toward study cases on patients with neurologic dysfunction and his therapeutic approach to those people among the many different musical love stories he talks about.
I have a good friend mine from my high school, and her dad has gone through tough times for several years for having a rare illness that is similar to Parkinson's disease. Making the matter worse for my friend, this illness is known to be a hereditary disease. These days, one of the most common and effective treatments of Parkinson's disease is done through L-dopa, which is precursor of dopamine that can get through your blood brain barrier. Author talks about another great cure for Parkinson's disease that existed since 1960s, and effectiveness of them is fully capable exceeding that of L-dopa. As you expected, it is music and dance. Parkinson's disease patient's most distinctive symptom is unnatural flow of movement, and there movements are either most of time frozen or excessively accelerated. However, if you observe more carefully, they also have problem in flow of perception, thoughts, and even feelings. Author mentions that their fundamental problem is their inability to initiate movements spontaneously, and this disease comes from dysfunction on your subcortical machinery, especially basal ganglia, that control automatic enaction and succession of movements. Something is preventing or inhibiting proper activation of these parts, and music comes into play right here. Music, outside stimulus, can activate this subcortical machinery, and, as Oliver Sacks put, patients dance out of frame. Author shows many different stories and studies where patients jump out of frame through activities like playing piano and dancing Argentino Tango. He emphasizes that one of the most critical element in this therapy for Parkinson's disease is a rhythm. However, this treatment is does not have long lasting effects more than few minutes, but studies are still going on to improve this.
Another interesting therapeutic approach was done on verbal dysfunction such as aphasia, impairment of language ability. This involves not only forgotten vocabularies and grammars, but also lost feeling of rhythms and inflection of speech. Here comes a stunning part. Whenever, author meets his aphasia patients, he sings them "Happy Birthday" to them, and all of their patients are capable of join in and sing the tunes, and half of them even get those words write. Question is, as author puts, "can language embedded in unconscious automatism be `released' for conscious, propositional use?" Answer is yes, and author shows various study cases on this. Most effective they were melodic intonation therapy, and some of these patients, at six weeks through this intense therapy, and he was capable of carrying on short, meaningful conversations. If you question how this is capable, author goes on and explains possible reasons through three different studies from 1970s, 1990s, and recent work. Most of these studies are done through imaging techniques looking at which brains parts are activated under certain circumstances. He talks about possible candidate of Broca's area, `right Broca's area(fake)', fronto-temporal network in right hemisphere, and lastly cortical plasticity to explain how music therapy works for patients with verbal dysfunctions. If you curious how this actually works, I definitely recommend getting this book.
There is proverb saying, "do not judge your book by cover." If you ask me about my favorite part of the book, I would confidently say the cover of the book. It shows picture of author himself, Oliver Sacks, listening to music with `musicophilia(love of music)' in his face on the background color of orange, which gives a warm to overall imagery of this book cover. His words have warmth in it. He has great compassion about his patients. He actually cares about them so much that most of the cases and studies start with their real name and their brief life stories. This love will drag you into this book, `musicophilia,' and even greater one, music.
With this book, he has attacked music in the same way, delving deeply into his own experiences with music and deeply into what happens inside the minds and brains of many patients with various brain and nervous system anomalies which shed light on how our human body works vis-à-vis music. If you thought you understood music because you are a music lover, Sacks will open his bag of tricks and surprise and delight with novel aspects of music which few have heard of or discovered in their own lives, up until now. And once more he has changed my own life. This time, not in a pleasant way.
Did you ever notice a clock ticking in the room you were in? And once you've noticed the darn thing ticking how hard it is to get rid of the ticking? You cannot get it to stop ticking by conscious effort(1); the harder you try the more aware you become of its incessant tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock . . . Well, during his discussion of tinnitis(2) he describes various kinds of tinnitis, one of which matched a low level of tinnitis in my own ears, one of which I was hardly conscious of, until he mentioned it, I was plagued by my consciousness of it for several days, before I lapsed once more into blissful unawareness of it, but never again into blissful ignorance of it. Like Adam seduced by the apple that Eve-like Oliver offered, I have gotten knowledge of my tinnitis, and it become present whenever I think of or write about it. Let this be your warning, if you suspect you have low-level tinnitis, it may arise into consciousness while this review or the book, but rest assured, it will lapse once more into normal background noise in a short time.
I recall Betty Rankin, aka Big Mama of WWOZ.org fame, once saying over the radio, that she listened to WWOZ radio all night to help her sleep, and now I understand that she likely had enough tinnitis to otherwise keep her awake. My tinnitis is more like light hissing of a steam radiator, very constant and low volume, more like the white noise that some people buy and electronic generator for in order to help them sleep. Me, I have a white noise generator built-in.
In his Preface Sacks writes about music and quotes Schopenhauer, "The inexpressible depth of music — so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain . . . Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves." On this point, I would respectfully disagree esteemed philosopher. Once when the French Academy was debating whether a bear could dance, a man by the window looked out and saw a dancing bear in the street. In the face of contradictory evidence, a philosophical argument cannot stand. To those alive today who agree with Schopenhauer's last statement above, I would merely ask them to visit New Orleans and observe and participate in how music is integrated into life and all of its events.
We use the expression a bolt from the blue to refer to ideas which come to us in a flash, but Sacks begins his book with a story of a man, a doctor, who was talking on a pay phone outdoors when he was hit by a lightning flash which laid him out on the ground, dead, for all practical purposes. He reports floating above the scene, watching a woman giving him CPR.
[page 4] Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light . . . an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. The highest and lowest points of my life raced by me. No emotion associated with these . . . pure thought, pure ecstasy. I had the perception of accelerating, being drawn up . . . there was speed and direction. Then, as I was saying to myself, 'This is the most glorious feeling I have ever had' — SLAM! I was back."
Dr. Cicoria knew he was back in his own body because he had pain — pain from the burns on his face and his left foot, where the electrical charge had entered and exited his body — and, he realized, "only bodies have pain." He wanted to go back, he wanted to tell the woman to stop giving him CPR, to let him go; but it was too late — he was firmly back among the living. After a minute or two, when he could speak, he said, "It's okay — I'm a doctor!" The woman (she turned out to be an intensive-care-unit nurse) replied, "A few minutes ago, you weren't."
The police finally took the doctor home instead of the hospital and later tests by cardiologist showed no problems. Just when his life seemed to have returned to normal several weeks later, he developed an intense desire to listen to piano music. He didn't own a piano, so he got recordings to satisfy his craze.
[page 5] This was completely out of keeping with anything in his past. He did not have a piano in his house. What music he did listen to tended to be rock music.
With this sudden onset of craving for piano music, he began to buy recordings and became especially enamored of a Vladimir Ashkenazy recording of Chopin favorites — the Military Polonaise, the Winter Wind Etude; the Black Key Étude, the A-flat Polonaise, the B-flat Minor Scherzo. "I loved them all," Cicoria said. "I had the desire to play them. I ordered all the sheet music. At this point, one of our babysitters asked if she could store her piano in our house-so now, just when I craved one, a piano arrived, a nice little upright. It suited me fine. I could hardly read the music, could barely play, but I started to teach myself." It had been more than thirty years since the few piano lessons of his boyhood, and his fingers seemed stiff and awkward.
This was only an appetizer for what was to come. Soon he heard music in his head.
[page 5, 6] "The first time," he said, "it was in a dream. I was in a tux, onstage; I was playing something I had written. I woke up, startled, and the music was still in my head. I jumped out of bed, started trying to write down as much of it as I could remember. But I hardly knew how to notate what I heard." This was not too successful — he had never tried to write or notate music before. But whenever he sat down at the piano to work on the Chopin, his own music "would come and take me over. It had a very powerful presence."
The music in his head seemed to "come from Heaven" as Mozart said about his music. Soon a music teacher came to help write down his music. Other than that, this was "a solitary pursuit, between himself and his muse." (Page 7)
Suddenly out of nowhere, like a grace note in music which doesn't appear in the written score, Cicoria's love of music appears in his life and his life is enhanced by it. Dr. Cicoria's story inspired me to write this poem (Copyright 2010 by Bobby Matherne).
A grace note
not to be questioned
Whether it be
flat or sharp —
A grace note
a lucky strike
A lightning strike
not to be questioned
But to be enjoyed.
A grace note,
In his Preface, Sacks writes about the "extraordinary tenacity of musical memory" saying that "so much of what is heard during one's early years may be 'engraved' on the brain for the rest of one's life." Clearly he is correct about this, but he does not go far enough, lacking the insights of the science of doyletics which postulates that every event in one's life is "engraved" on the brain indefinitely. Not for the rest of ones life, however, because it is easy using the speed trace memory technique to remove events which would otherwise remain engraved for the rest of one's life. As one begins to understand how one removes consciously these engraved events from one's early life, one can see that many of events are removed unconsciously as one matures(4). These "engraved events" are called doylic events or simply doyles and for simplicity they are assumed be stored in doylic memory, which name is necessary to distinguish it from just plain memory (or cognitive memory). Doylic memory hold physical body states which includes a vast array of events in the body of the pre-five-year-old child: hearing, speaking, walking, handling objects, recognizing objects through their orientation, and various internal states we label generically as sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, joy, happiness, gladness, among many other states.
When I read the case history of Mrs. N. I wondered if a simple speed trace might have kept her from needing a partial temporal lobectomy.
[page 28] She had loved the Neapolitan songs, which reminded her of her childhood. ("The old songs," she said, "they were always in the family; they always put them on.") She found them "very romantic, emotional. . . they had a meaning." But now that they triggered her seizures, she began to dread them. She became particularly apprehensive about weddings, coming as she did from a large Sicilian family, because such songs were always played at celebrations and family gatherings. "If the band started playing," Mrs. N. said, "I would run out. . . . I had half a minute or less to get away."
Since our research into doyletics has found that doylic memories which trigger migraine, asthma, allergies, rashes, and various kinds of automatic responses, it seems possible that a simple minute or two speed trace could remove the very trigger which caused her grand mal seizures. I leave this as an open question, but one could promise relief without surgery for many people who suffer various kinds of seizures. The trace procedure is very fast and after short training(5), it can be used by the patient on themselves upon the slightest symptom of the seizure coming on.
One of the keys to a general acceptance of the science of doyletics would be a physiological confirmation of the Memory Transition Age of five years old. Extensive traces going back 35 years have shown that if a doyle is traced back before the age of 5, it will not return while traces only going to ages 6 or older will allow the doyle to return at some future time. From the description of how the functional MRI scans were able to notice the filling of musical gaps, it seems clear that a functional MRI could provide physiological confirmation of the Memory Transition Age.
[page 33] Physiological confirmation of such "filling in" by involuntary musical imagery has recently been obtained by William Kelley and his colleagues at Dartmouth, who used functional MRI to scan the auditory cortex while their subjects listened to familiar and unfamiliar songs in which short segments had been replaced by gaps of silence. The silent gaps embedded in familiar songs were not noticed consciously by their subjects, but the researchers observed that these gasp "induced greater activation in the auditory association areas than did silent gaps embedded in unknown songs; this was true for gaps in songs with lyrics and without lyrics."
A speed trace converts a doylic memory into a cognitive memory. The same stimulus which triggered the doylic memory before trigger thereafter only a cognitive memory. Thus the region where the doylic memory had been stored since before five (engraved in the brain) will be bypassed after a speed trace, and instead a section of the cortex will be activated. A functional MRI before a speed trace should show activity in the limbic region's amygdaline structures and none in the cortex, and after the trace, there should be no activity in the same limbic region, but activity showing up in the cortex itself. This research work will be an enormous boon to humankind. It will be done sometime, but why not now? The equipment and the hypotheses are ready for testing and confirmation.
Sacks described several instances of hallucinatory music playing in his head. Here is one of them.
[page 280] I had another musical dream, and this too continued into the waking state. Here, in contrast to the Mozart, I found something deeply disturbing and unpleasant about the music, and longed for it to stop. I had a shower, a cup of coffee, went for a walk, shook my head, played a mazurka on the piano — to no avail. The hateful hallucinatory music' continued unabated. Finally I phoned a friend, Orlan Fox, and said that I was hearing songs that I could not stop, songs that seemed to me full of melancholy and a sort of horror. The worst thing, I added, was that the songs were in German, a language I did not know. Orlan asked me to sing or hum some of the songs. I did so, and there was a long pause.
"Have you abandoned some of your young patients?" he asked. "Or destroyed some of your literary children?"
"Both," I answered. "Yesterday. I resigned from the children's unit at the hospital where I have been working, and I burned a book of essays I had just written. . . . How did you guess?"
"Your mind is playing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder," he said, "his songs of mourning for the death of children." I was amazed by this, for I rather dislike Mahler's music and would normally find it quite difficult to remember in detail, let alone sing, any of his Kindertotenlieder. But here my dreaming mind, with infallible precision, had come up with an appropriate symbol of the previous day's events. And in the moment that Orlan interpreted the dream, the music disappeared; it has never recurred in the thirty years since.
Once more Oliver Sacks has set a table before me with a feast of incredible stories and amazing insights. His willingness to share his own stories make all of his stories more believable. One can read two dozen books about how the human brain processes music or simply read this one. Sacks has done the homework for us, provided a crib sheet for us, and understanding the human brain just a little simpler for the non-neuroscientist reader. Something you can find out more about in Bobby Matherne's DIGESTWORLD Issue#105.