Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds – for everything but music. Dr. Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people who are deeply disoriented by Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.”
I just read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, and it is a revelation for anyone with hearing loss and distortion of sounds that comes with it. Sacks is a physician and neurological specialist who has written extensively on previously unexplained phenomena with the brain. His book Awakenings, about coma patients who were administered a drug and awakened, returning briefly to normal lives, only to tragically lapse back into their comas when the drugs wore off, was made into a major motion picture with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams in 1990. Musicophilia is a big book about how the brain assimilates, creates, and otherwise processes music. Because of Sacks’s passion for understanding how the brain interacts with the physical world, it has a lot of information on how the brain works with the hearing organs to process sound and interpret what we hear. Sacks is making me wonder whether the amazing human brain actually has the ability to correct and “cure” hearing loss to some degree, even when the physical hearing organs are damaged beyond repair.
The Music Never Stopped
Musicophilia describes and explains both musical hallucinations and amusia, the inability to discern tone or timbre, which makes music impossible to “hear,” listen to or enjoy. I never knew amusia had a name. It’s about a professional musician, and composer, Jacob, who gradually loses his ability to process musical sounds correctly. But, like Beethoven, he is able to continue working by using the musical ability that his brain retains. Even better, he has “trained” his brain to correct the problem so that at times he is able to hear music properly again. Sacks describes how intensive work by Jacob the composer resulted in lessening of his amusia, as he worked with music and musicians all day long and actively concentrated on adjusting his tonal perceptions.
A Scene from “Awakenings” movie
This may also hint at why a product like the Neurotone LACE speech-comprehension therapy system actually works. I have gotten through two of the 20 LACE lessons and will have a report on the results in a future post. This program improves listening skills for all individuals. Physical therapy for the brain! It’s all mind over matter.
Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote ten books. I cannot recommend reading this book enough and renting “Awakenings” if you have not yet seen it. I just picked up two more of his books, “The Mind’s Eye” and “Seeing Voices” and hope to get through some more!