If our advances in understanding brain modularity represent one of the great advances of the last decade, a couple of central mysteries remain. The first is the phenomenon of consciousness, which I don’t intend to take on today. For me, at least, the second mystery is music. In particular, how do we understand the evolution of the capacity to create, appreciate, analyze, and respond emotionally to music. It is likely that human music in some form evolved in parallel to the use of pictograms, the use of tools, and, presumably, the development of speech and conscious awareness. Intense scientific research has been devoted to these eveolutionary topics (see Geary for instance). But music remains most puzzeling. One might imagine that musicality evolved along with speech. However, different parts of the brain are used for music and speech. Patients with aphasia due to damage to core speech areas may retain the ability to recognize songs, sing, and even produce lyrics (swearing is also preserved, interestingly). Dr. Kenichi Ikuta, a Japanese psychiatrist, used to work in a nursing home.He found that patients suffering from severe Alzheimer’s Disease who were mute and failed to recognize family members are caregivers were able to participate in Karoke, carying the tune and adding lyrics. We know that music communicates more directly with the emotional parts of our brain. Perhaps it resonates with the most basic, central aspects of self, only partly available to consciousness. Read More »
Several years ago I began to notice that there was something not right about time. As a scientist, I always thought of time as a dimension, much like the three dimensions of space. But unlike space, time seemed to lack a consistence of measurement, a metric. Recent events of the last few days sometimes seemed to have happened a century ago. Events from the distant past were often as fresh and sharp as if they had occurred yesterday.
This sense of time differs from my experience of physical distance in space. The metric is much clearer. It doesn’t matter if I drive from Colorado to San Francisco or walk or fly there by plane. The distance feels the same. I know what lies between Colorado and San Francisco and what it takes to get from here to there and back. Of course, with some effort I can fill in all the events between two points in my lifetime. But I remain unable to explain where the time went (if it went anywhere). Read More »
I am one of the few living people old enough to remember something called a “darkroom”. Roaming the streets of Boston with my friend David Goldes and with Robert Frank as our hero, I shot tons of bulk rolled B&W film. Four hours in the darkroom and I might have one or two mediocre prints, if I was lucky. I knew one or two adventurous souls who tried to make prints from color negatives in huge home chemistry laboratories. I am not sure I ever saw a print emerge from these attempts.
The digital revolution in photography has been an unquestionable step forward (although I miss the wonderful graininess of silver images). Digital cameras shoot color effortlessly. I always assumed black and white photography would fade away in time like gaslights, the extended family, and barber shops.
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As a psychiatrist, I am fortunate to have a lot of time to ponder how the brain works. And this greatest of all mysteries is beginning to yield up some secrets. This blog is an attempt to tie what I am learning about the brain with some of my major interests: photography, music, and our experience of consciousness.
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