Brain Science and the Beatles

I want to start by saying that I disapprove of the somewhat misleading title of this post from NPR, “The Beatles’ Surprising Contribution To Brain Science“. I also want to state that, despite my disapproval, I am not willing to forgo what is really a good, attention grabbing title to tell you about something incredibly interesting.

Basically, like many of us, when neuroscientist Josef Rauschecker was in school, he listened to a lot of music while studying, in his case it was a lot of mid-to-late Beatles work. Fast forward many years later, and he would put on the same albums he hadn’t heard in over a decade, yet he still knew what song was next, what to expect as the music played on.

Being a neuroscientist, he began to study people listening to their favorite CDs while scanning their brains and, unsurprisingly, the brain fired in between tracks, letting it know what to expect. However, while he expected it to be the parts of the brain associated with hearing, it was actually the parts of the brain that deal with motor activity that were firing most.

Go read the whole thing. It’s actually fascinating research and an interesting look at how we absorb and learn music.

On a personal note, the experience of knowing an album like that was, for me, actually Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I remember hearing it for the first time in middle school and, like most middle schoolers who have just discovered Pink Floyd, I was convinced it was a work of seminal genius. I still am largely convinced of this, but perhaps not to the extent I was at the time. Still, after months of listening to a cassette tape of that album over and over again, I know the whole thing note for note. Give me a piano and a couple of notes and I can pluck out the remainder, from Waters’s skippingist bass run to Gilmore’s highest flying solo.

I think it’s great that somebody is figuring out why my brain can do that.


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