Cross posted at DailyKos, ePluribus Media and Tikkun Daily.
Abstract: Current research in the cognitive sciences and neurology abounds in astounding theories on the locus of long-term memory; the ability of the brain to repurpose sections to recreate neural pathways totally destroyed by strokes, head injuries, or severe mental disabilities; and the intricate interplay of powerful emotions and complex neural coding in ‘reliving’ past traumas.
Drawing upon findings on the use of mirror boxes to threat phantom limb pain, on the role of our senses in unconsciously triggering highly emotive memories capable of transporting our consciousness beyond time/place constrictions, and the always miraculous studies of neurologist Oliver Sachs, herein is a different take on treatment for conditions such as chronic pain, strokes, and mental and affective disabilities.(Note: if possible, go to diary end to play music as you read)
There is this one story in Oliver Sach’s Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain which remains readily retrievable in my memory. A story so utterly mind-boggling, so counter-intuitive, so, as it were, against the grain, that it has hunkered down in my hippocampus, leaving an indelible imprint in the very cellular structure of my brain.
The Chapter “Pitch Imperfect: Cochlear Amusia” begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida: “Untune that string/And hark, what discord follows!”
Here’s a paraphrase.
An aging renowned composer and conductor visits Sachs to discuss the ever-increasing difficulties in his music pursuant to his increasing hearing loss, accompanied by the loss of absolute pitch. Sachs, along with auditory specialists, concur that the problem is irreversible, due to the natural die off of some of the 4500-odd hair cells within the ear’s Organ of Corti. The musician learns to compensate, composing and directing in lower registers (even when these variations grow from 1/4 to over 1 full octave in discrepancies) and soon discovers he can make contextual ‘auditory’ corrections when working in full orchestra as opposed to with solo cellos, violas, or trombones. He begins to entertain the notion that his problem may be more in his brain. Some time goes by before Sachs receives a letter from the composer, informing him that he has regained his sense of absolute pitch, that once again he can accurately compose, hear and direct music. The change occurred after he received a commission which involved his total immersion in the composition of complex orchestral pieces. Sachs concludes that, despite the non-functionality of significant parts of the musician’s auditory processing facilities, becoming totally immersed in music for an extended time, reactivated his cellular musical memory, which resides inside the brain.
For some people, music can actually change the structure of the brain. Researchers have found that an area of the brain called the corpus callosum is enlarged in professional musicians.
Another part of the brain is enlarged in musicians with absolute pitch. A person with absolute pitch can identify or recreate a musical note without the help of a musical instrument.Link