Author Topic: [Link] Images of Brains Listening to Music Show Just How Powerful It Can Be  (Read 4691 times)

Offline freknu

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Additional links:

Journal paper:

In 2008, Dr. Charles Limb, an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, put musicians into an MRI with an instrument and told them to play both memorized and improvised pieces of music. When the musician improvised, another musician was put in the control room to play along. The findings were striking: When the two musicians played together, their brains responded exactly as they do during spoken conversation, with one difference. The regions that generally process the meaning of language shut down — the music was simply a communication impulse in structure and intent.

What are your thoughts on this?
« Last Edit: May 24, 2014, 01:23:00 PM by freknu »

Offline lx

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That is great. More research on the connection between the brain and language is desperately needed, especially since there just is a monster of a problem trying to unite neural and theoretical models of language. It was interesting to see an actual model playing with various changing activation rather than just still images. I would have expected BA41 (primary auditory cortex) to be more active than it was. The important point is to not to try to postulate functional-anatomical links based on what could be a huge number of different causers. Every moment of our lives, our neural synaptic connections are becoming strengthened and define who we are and what we like. So, having dopamine release would then mean stimulating the dorsal striatum while a memory of a time with a connection of some music would set off the memory pathways and the probably the amygdala (if it was a bad memory) and eventually get to the neocortex, which is where all our knowledge is stored and is very different in different people due to the adaptation of random firings as our brain develops (or so a connectionist explanation would go). So, it's incredibly difficult to say that it might be the tone of a note, its frequency, amplitude or style of music that is causing the observable effects. But this study didn't seem to go as far into hypothesising specifics as others do, so that's not a criticism here.

I think it should come as no surprise that the systems are the same/similar and I don't think that quote should be considered in a revolutionary light. After all, the ears take in the information and if we recognise it as meaningful, we'd start activating area 22 (Wernicke's area) to process it, but with musical tones we'd process it as we would any incoming information, packeting off sections as units and performing all sorts of analyses on incoming information like we would do with any auditory input. If you hold the belief that language piggybacks on other brain structures and systems and arose as a consequence of other needs (as most Cognitive Linguists do), then this just another stack of positive evidence to be added to the pile that backs up this idea.

I personally believe it's wrong to say that music is being interpreted "as language" as if there is something odd about the processing that makes music be treated as language when in actual fact, processing of any auditory input would of course activate a lot of similar areas. Saying that links to meaning processing are shut down actually implicitly implies that music is NOT being processed as language, but the idea it evokes is one that a lot of people want to write about (for how it sounds).

It's important to hold an interdisciplinary position when it comes to this sort of information in the popular press, because the neuroscientists are most definitely not explicitly trained in linguistics and a lot of the theorising we have (and when they try to step into that area, it's obvious to a linguist). In the first of your additional links there is a quote that puts across the statement that it's odd that if the brain evolved for language, then it went too far and can process information much more complicated than speech. Now, if that statement came out of the author's familiarity with generative theory, then it's a pretty valid observation and something to be reasoned with. But non-generativists don't necessarily see that the brain specifically evolved for language so there is no revising that needs to happen there (they'd say we became language-ready and then adapted it for our needs as our social environment demanded).
« Last Edit: May 24, 2014, 07:11:08 PM by lx »