Monday, July 26, 2010

Neuroscience of Musical Gesture

Given my long time belief that a lot of the power of music comes from its mimicry of, and entanglement with, physical gesture, this story in Psychology Today is a great find. 

I believe that music sounds like people, moving. Yes, the idea may sound a bit crazy, but it's an old idea, much discussed in the 20th century, and going all the way back to the Greeks. There are lots of things going for the theory, including that it helps us explain...

(1) why our brains are so good at absorbing music (...because we evolved to possess human-movement-detecting auditory mechanisms),

(2) why music emotionally moves us (...because human movement is often expressive of the mover's mood or state), and

(3) why music gets us moving (...because we're a social species prone to social contagion).

On the perceptual level there's this:

Visual and auditory information interact in the brain, and the brain utilizes both to guess the single scene to render a perception of. For example, the research of Ladan Shams, Yukiyasu Kamitani and Shinsuke Shimojo at Caltech have shown that we perceive a single flash as a double flash if it is paired with a double beep. And Robert Sekuler and others from Brandeis University have shown that if a sound occurs at the time when two balls pass through each other on screen, the balls are instead perceived to have collided and reversed direction. . . .

. . . Instead, vision and audition talk to one another, and there are regions of cortex responsible for making vision and audition fit one another. These regions know about the sounds of looks and the looks of sounds.

This story is an excerpt of a book due out in 2011 called Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape To Man by Mark Changizi. I buy and read very few books these days, but this one easily makes the cut. In the meantime I've bookmarked his blog and will be going back to see if there are other excerpts. If he gets around to talking about Manfred Clynes and sentics I may have to turn in my "outlier" badge.

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