Philoctetes Center

Dancing on the Ceiling: Music and the Brain (March 14, 2009)

Music Performance & Discussion
Participants: Jim Anderson, Taoufiq Ben Amor, Jane Ira Bloom - moderator, Josh McDermott, Alexander Stein

"Music is among the defining features of human culture, playing a central role in every society known to Western scholars. However, from the standpoint of evolution, music is also one of the most mysterious of human behaviors, as it serves no obvious function that might have driven its evolution." 
 Josh McDermott, M. Hauser
Advances in neuroscientific techniques, such as fMRI, have enabled researchers to better understand the parts of the brain that are involved in thought processes, in particular those related to the emotions released by creative and esthetic acitivities. This roundtable will explore music in relation to brain function in an effort to understand the evolution of music and its possible role as a precursor to language. The panel will address a number of related questions: how music communicates feeling and why the emotions it generates make us feel so good; why we like some music and not other music; why some music is inextricably connected to physical body movement; how music can induce meditative states of consciousness; what relationships exist between the perception of music and language in the mind; and what musicians can tell us about their state of mind when they perform, compose, or improvise. Four professionals from different disciplines-a neuroscientist, a psychoanalyst, an Arabic musician and scholar, a sound engineer, and a jazz saxophonist/composer-come together to talk about these questions and more.