Consilience Productions
Book Picks

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks
published by Knopf
© 2007 by Oliver Sacks


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From Book List
Music seems to be meaningless, and our love of it inexplicable, but neurologist Sacks, one of the foremost physician-essayists of the day, charmingly argues that music is essential to being human in ways that have only begun to be understood. In many different circumstances, music may arise involuntarily within a person, as attested to by Sacks' initial presentation of cases of sudden intense affinity for music and development of musical skills, of so-called brain worms or tunes that automatically repeat within the mind, and of musical seizures and hallucinations. Despite the range of individual experience of music, from amusia, or incomprehension of melody and/or rhythm and/or harmony, to absolute ("perfect") pitch to synesthesia (e.g., "seeing" the colors of tones), it seems from the clinical literature that anyone could have a sudden loss or gain in musicality. Indeed, the seeming universality of musical mental imaging, even in the utterly deaf, has encouraged the therapeutic use of music to treat an ever-increasing number of illnesses, including the results of severe brain damage, congenital retardative conditions, and such degenerative neuropathies as parkinsonism and Alzheimer's. Sacks' reporting on all of this makes for quite an omnium-gatherum on the main contention that, in essence, musicality is humanity. His customary erudition and fellow-feeling ensure that, no matter how clinical the discussion becomes, it remains, like the music of Mozart, accessible and congenial.

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