Reading Dr. Sacks

I’m in the middle of reading Musicophilia, a 2007 book by Dr. Oliver Sacks I downloaded for Kindle after reading his obituary in the New York Times about a month ago.

The book is making me aware of some structural brain differences found in professional musicians versus the rest of the population.  Sacks points to a 1993 paper by Gottfried Schlaug, wherein Schlaug shows that:

The corpus callosum, the great commissure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, is enlarged in professional musicians and that a part of the auditory cortex, the planum temporale, has an asymmetric enlargement in musicians with absolute pitch.  Schlaug et al. went on to show increased volumes of grey matter in motor, auditory, and visuospatial areas of the cortex, as well as in the cerebellum.  Anatomists today would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician – but they could recognize the brain of a professional musician without a moment’s hesitation.

Sacks goes on to talk about the difficulty in knowing if professional musicians mostly begin with a musical aptitude as a result of these differences, or if these structural differences in the brain are caused by their production of music.  The fact that making music seems to be a near-universal human capability leads him to suspect the latter.  Sacks even uses the prevalence of the Suzuki method in teaching young children as evidence of the universal aptitude of humanity for the musical.

About all of that I suspect Suzuki would simply smile; the pedagogue smiled a lot.  More to come on Musicophilia.

Thanks for reading.


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