Sunday, February 13, 2011

Antonio Demasio

This article in the WSJ is a profile of Antonio Demasio, whose 2003 book Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain was one of several I read back then, trying to understand all the neuroscience that was coming out. It was obvious something really big was beginning to happen to our understanding of ourselves, but it wasn't particularly clear, to me at least, what the new information meant. The main thing that book and others like it left me with was a much deeper understanding of just how complex and interconnected brain function(s) is/are. So many things are mediated by so many other things. 

Here are a few snips from the article (the bolding for emphasis is mine):

. . . He is famous for overturning the notion that emotions have no role in rational thought. Through clinical studies of brain-damaged patients, he discovered that the neural circuits responsible for our feelings also are critical to healthy decision-making and moral reasoning. . . 

. . . Gradually, Dr. Damasio and other scientists are identifying some of the brain circuits underlying creative thought. Generally, brain-wave measures show that a sudden insight is the climax of intense brain states below the level of our awareness. It appears to involve more neural cells than methodical reasoning. Our brain may be working hardest when it seems most unfocused. Moreover, studies of neural signals suggest that our brain appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision. Our most creative thoughts may be beyond our conscious control. . . 

. . . Moods powerfully bias what people think, remember and perceive. When critical brain regions are injured, the damage can sever links between emotions, memory and reason, crippling our ability to make decisions just as a stroke can rob a patient of sight or the use of an arm. . . 

It's my feeling that the points in bold have to be considered in helping people make music, especially those with no experience and for whom it doesn't come easily. Purely rational analysis in the conscious mode is absolutely part of the picture, but there are a lot of other factors that need consideration. 

A point that keeps being made by the researchers is that music involves more parts of the brain than anything else we do. When teaching music, we need to involve as much of the brain as we can, not just the conscious rational part that's most amenable to "do this" verbal instructions.

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