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Parker Diaz
Parker Diaz

Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain __TOP__

According to Sacks, Musicophilia was written in an attempt to widen the general populace's understanding of music and its effects on the brain. As Sacks states at the outset of the book's preface, music is omnipresent, influencing human's everyday lives in how we think and act. However, unlike other animal species (such as birds) whose musical prowess is easier to understand in relation on a biological/evolutionary level, humanity's draw towards music and song is less clear-cut. There is no "music center" of the brain, yet the vast majority of humans have an innate ability to distinguish, "music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally) rhythm." With that in mind, Sacks examines human's musical inclination through the lens of musical therapy and treatment, as a fair number of neurological injuries and diseases have been documented to be successfully treated with music. This understanding (along with a medical case Sacks witnessed in 1966 wherein a Parkinson's patient was able to be successfully treated via music therapy) is what galvanized Sacks to create an episodic compilation of patient cases that all experienced and were treated by music to some capacity. In doing so, Sacks concertizes each example by explaining the neurological factors that play into each patient's healing and treatment in ways that relate to a lay yet curious audience.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain


Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does--humans are a musical species. Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. Here, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and Oliver Sacks tells us why.--From publisher description.

Statistical parametric maps of regions of significant gray matter preservation in the musicophilic relative to the non-musicophilic patient subgroup (shown at an uncorrected threshold p . All gray matter correlates with cluster size >20 voxels are shown. SPMs are displayed on sagittal (above left), coronal (above right), and axial (below left) sections through the anterior temporal lobes from a canonical T1 weighted brain template image in Montreal Neurological Institute standard stereotactic space. The sagittal section is through the left cerebral hemisphere; the coronal section shows the left hemisphere on the left. Z scores are coded on the color bar (below right).

We do not argue that musicophilia is a universal marker of FTLD pathology: across our FTLD cohort, individual patients showed wide variation both in the extent and indeed the direction of their hedonic shift in response to music. This situation is somewhat reminiscent of the individual variation in musicality described among individuals with Williams' syndrome (Martens et al., 2010), or the behavioral heterogeneity of the dopamine dysregulation syndrome in Parkinson's disease (Merims and Giladi, 2008). The latter has been linked to dysfunction of distributed neural circuits including basal forebrain, limbic, and prefrontal cortical areas: interestingly, while a wide variety of addictive behaviors have been described, musicophilia appears to be uncommon (or perhaps under-reported as relatively benign). The sources of individual susceptibility to addictive behaviors in these conditions largely remain to be defined; however, we believe it is unlikely that musicophilia simply reflects the relative premorbid importance of music in patients' lives, as several of our cases with prominent musicophilia had no formal musical training. We hypothesize that the phenomenology of the behavior may have some specificity for the underlying neural substrate for the disease group as a whole; and in particular, that the development of musicophilia in FTLD is a novel behavioral signature of the salience and semantic networks previously implicated in the pathogenesis of FTLD (Seeley et al., 2009). However, it is important to recognize that musicophilia is part of a much wider repertoire of abnormal behaviors that emerge in FTLD, including other behaviors with obsessional or ritualistic features (Rascovsky et al., 2011). How musicophilia relates to this spectrum remains to be defined.

The book opens in dramatic fashion with the alarming and fascinating case of Tony Cicoria, who was struck by lightning while using a public payphone in 1994. When he recovered, Cicoria, who had never had any particular interest in music beforehand, became obsessed with Chopin. He took up piano lessons and now composes in a Chopinesque manner. In other cases Sacks looks at music as the cause rather than the symptom of crises. Drawing on the work of the neurologist Macdonald Critchley, whose studies of music and the brain stretched over half a century, and patients of his own, Sacks discusses music as a cause of seizures, of what Critchley termed musicogenic epilepsy.

These cases, as you might guess, are rare. This fact might explain why there is relatively little literature on musicophilia and, consequently, why the phenomenon is poorly understood. A recent exception was a new paper by Phillip Fletcher and colleagues at the Dementia Research Centre at UCL (UK) who have looked into the brain basis of musicophilia in 12 patients.

MRI scans were used to pinpoint any differences between the brains of FTLD patients with or without musicophilia. They also looked at the music listening interests of the two groups. Not surprisingly the musicophilic group spent more time listening to music. Interestingly the onset of the condition was often marked by a change in genre preference, e.g. from pop to jazz.

In terms of the brain scans, the musicophilic group showed significantly increased regional grey matter in the left posterior hippocampus (a memory area) compared to the non-musicophilic group. There were other less impressive differences in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortices and anterior cingulate. Interestingly the musicophilic group showed lower comparative grey matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex, medial orbitofrontal cortex, and frontal pole.

Oliver Sacks' compassionate tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we understand our own minds. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians and everyday people - those struck by affliction, unusual talent and even, in one case, by lightning - to show not only that music occupies more areas of the brain than language does, but also that it can calm and organize, torment and heal. Always wise and compellingly readable, these stories alter our conception of who we are and how we function, and show us an essential part of what it is to be human.

British neurologist Oliver Sacks describes in a scientific and humanistic way the effect of sounds and music on the mind. The author tells, for example, the story of a man whose musical talent emerges after he is struck by lightning, the experience of a Sicilian woman who experienced epileptic seizures when listening to Neapolitan songs, the testimony of a musical savant who knows more than two thousand operas by heart, and the day-to-day life of a severe amnesiac who remains anchored to life through music. The tales are so curious and intriguing that it is difficult to choose between them.

The author compiles tales of people tormented by melodies or musical fragments that repeat over and over again in their heads. This is the phenomenon of Brainworms, a pathological version of musical imagination.

Oliver Sacks is a physician and neurologist by profession, but has an extremely keen ear for music. He is supremely, if not almost uniquely, qualified to tell us in the opening pages of this book that the power of music occupies more areas of our brain than language does. This is by way of a prelude to a book consisting largely of case histories of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions.

Probably the most extraordinary in the book is the case of Clive Wearing, a brilliant musicologist whose brain was severely damaged by encephalitis. As a result he started to keep a journal, but its short entries make rather pitiful reading. He now suffers severe loss of memory and has a memory span of seconds, rather than minutes, though his musical skills are unimpaired; he can still sight-read, play the organ and conduct, though as soon as he stops, he falls back again into the arms of the grim amnesia.

In chapters examining savants and synaesthetics, depressives and musical dreamers, Sacks succeeds not only in articulating the musical experience but in locating it in the human brain. He shows that music is not simply about sound, but also movement, visualization, and silence. He follows the experiences of patients suddenly drawn to or suddenly divorced from music. And in so doing he shows, as only he can, both the extraordinary spectrum of human expression and the capacity of music to heal.

An unmusical alien would be highly perplexed by our love of music - and other terrestrial species are left cold by what so transports us. Music is absolutely normal for members of our species, but utterly quirky. Moreover, it is known that music activates almost all the human brain: the sensory centers, the prefrontal cortex that underlies rational functions, the emotional areas (cerebellum, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens), the hippocampus for memory, and the motor cortex for movement. When you listen to a piece of music your brain is abuzz with intense neural activity. 041b061a72


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