We learn to enjoy music even before we are born. It has been proven that even while in utero we can hear the sounds around us, including voices and music. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, this “musicophilia” probably goes back to the beginning of our species, and is a basic part of human nature.

Every culture uses music for expression, and music shapes our lives. It’s hard to imagine life without music. It can move us from depression, or sink us into it. It can make our hearts explode with joyous emotion, and it can carry us away into dreamland. Although hard to believe, there are some people who find music irritating!

Some neuroscientists even believe music has a section in the brain all its own.

Olive Sacks, a neuroscientist, has put together a book, Musicophilia, to delve into how music interacts in our brains. He believes music could be the key to heal some people, especially those with Tourette syndrome, autism, amnesia or Parkinson’s disease.

Sacks came up with the word “musicophilia” to “suggest the uplifting effects of music.” Others believe it could also describe an obsession or spiritual connection with music. The power of music is explosive. Even more, it takes up more space in our brain than language does, and can replace voice and hand signals as a form of communication.

Those who have problems with music usually find the root is in some type of medical problem, and many have found the revulsion came on suddenly, which would indicate an outside force was at play in their change of attitude. Over time, many have changed their apathetic attitude when exposed to different types of music and found that not all are repulsive to them.

In Musicophilia, Sacks examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. He interviewed a man who was struck by lightning and suddenly became inspired, at the age of 42, to become a pianist; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome (hyper musical from birth); people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and even a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Sacks was looking for brain interaction and music.

Sacks explores how catchy tunes can cause us to constantly replay them in our minds, to the point of near insanity. Some people even seem to acquire “nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day.” In these cases our sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong:

Far more frequently, music goes right. Music can bring people with Parkinson’s disease (who otherwise can’t move) to life; “give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak; and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.”

Dr. Sacks believes the “removal of normal auditory input might result in a hypersensitivity of the auditory cortex causing heightened powers of musical imagery — and sometimes auditory hallucinatory process.” He focuses on music and how it occupies the brain or those who may develop their non-typical responses to music later in their lives.

Non-typical responses occur in people, such as autistics, where their sensory perceptions translate differently in their experiences. “If one is dealing with a confused non typical auditory process, a process that might even have ramifications with regard to feeling physically well or not, their complete focus would not be upon a normal assimilation of all that is going on around them. Learning about life in typical context — the abstract, the concrete, emotions and so on — would hardly be doable.”

“The autistics’ neural underpinnings might not always possess development of separate identity types for different types of thought (Short-Term, Long-Term, Explicit, Episodic, Semantic, Implicit, Priming, Procedural); those underpinnings might be hard pressed to develop typically since, for those with hyperacustic hearing, ability to focus typically to the stimuli is absent.” All of those with autistic tendencies probably possess a complex intelligence that may be hardly understandable to most people. Their neural connections may not have developed properly, so react differently to stimulus.

According to Dr. Sacks, an autistic person’s brain actually performs as if it were listening to music even when none is present. They seem to “fill in” empty spaces with music, and their brain performs imagines the music is there.

Music is the tool that “sooths the savage beast.” It can also awaken something inside the brain that allows people who could not normally understand anything else to “come alive,” even for a few brief minutes. Neuroscientists are trying to understand what it is about music that stimulates a brain that otherwise seems to be full of dead cells — like those with dementia or total amnesia. Music could be the key to waking up a sleeping brain.

 

About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.

 

Sources:

Musicophilia – http://musicophilia.com/

Definition of musicophilia – http://musicophiliairp3.wordpress.com/definition-of-musicophilia/

Musicophilia Meets: Early Hyperacusis’ Contribution To Autism   – http://autismspectrumdisorderdefinition.blogspot.com/2012/01/musicophilia-meets-early-hyperacusis.html