The Musical Mystery
By Colin McGinn
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks
Knopf, 381 pp., $26.00
Music is so ubiquitous and ancient in the human species – so integral to our nature – that we must be born to respond to it: there must be a music instinct. Just as we naturally take to language, as a matter of our innate endowment, so must music have a specific genetic basis, and be part of the very structure of the human brain.
An unmusical alien would be highly perplexed by our love of music - and other terrestrial species are left cold by what so transports us. Music is absolutely normal for members of our species, but utterly quirky. Moreover, it is known that music activates almost all the human brain: the sensory centers, the prefrontal cortex that underlies rational functions, the emotional areas (cerebellum, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens), the hippocampus for memory, and the motor cortex for movement. When you listen to a piece of music your brain is abuzz with intense neural activity.
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