Posted tagged ‘neurology’

Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia

February 8, 2008

At last – with grateful thanks to Santa Claus – here is the book I have been waiting for! –  an intelligent, informed, detailed but also imaginative and perceptive book about music and the brain, from the author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Uncle Tungsten and many another thought-provoking work.  Previous attempts to tackle the subject for the general reader have always seemed to me to be calamitously uninformed musically, and/or insufficiently technical or detailed scientifically  (and the more specialist scientific reports had not come my way).  Pace Dr Sacks, Anthony Storr‘s Music and the Mind (1992) was a great disappointment to me (having eagerly looked forward to it) – too much vague romantic waffling and not enough hard knowledge of what is actually going on in music.

Oliver Sacks approaches the subject from a deep professional knowledge and experience of neurology, plus a keen amateur interest in music and, as always, a probing imagination, an enquiring mind, and an openness to the ‘unscientific’ realms of emotions, personal life histories, irrational thought processes and associations, fantasies and dreams. 

The criticism sometimes directed at his other books – that he finds poetic and philosophical insights in the case histories of what are actually seriously dysfunctional, unhappy and sick patients – is less applicable here, since in most cases music is not only a boon and a comfort to his patients/case histories, but may be the only thing that keeps them functioning at all.

He writes fascinating chapters on topics including:

• Sudden musicophilia (following a stroke or injury)
• Catchy tunes and ‘earworms’
• Musical hallucinations

• Faulty music – amusia, dyhsarmonia
• Absolute pitch
• Musical savants
• Synaesthesia

• Music and amnesia (the case of Clive Wearing, who suffered near total memory loss – short and long term – following an infection, but still has his music)
• Aphasia and music therapy
• Tourette’s syndrome and music
• Musician’s dystonia – the sudden or progressive inability to play one’s instrument

• Musical dreams
• Music and emotion
• Music and depression
• The hypermusical abilities of people with Williams Syndrome
• Dementia and music therapy

Dr Sacks occasionally (more…)