Re: NEURO: Musical drugs

Anders Sandberg (
Sat, 4 Jan 1997 21:43:08 +0100 (MET)

On Sat, 4 Jan 1997 wrote:

> Anders, do you know anything about the neurochemical effect of sound waves (
> ie music)? In short, why exactly music may effect us in such an emotional
> way?

I don't think anybody knows.

But I have a theory: while there is differences between the left and the
right hemisphere, they are really quite similar to each other, the same
wiring so to say, just different uses and specializations. And
corresponding parts of the brain are practically always connected by some
fibers passing through the corpus callossum. The speech recognition center
(Wernicke's area) is usually said to lie on the left side, closely linked
to the auditory cortex of the temporal lobe. But the corresponding area on
the right side is also used, and according to one neuroscientist I asked
it seems to be involved with understanding the emotional content of speech
- the left hemisphere deals with the semantics, while the right with tone
of voice, rhythm etc.

I have also read about people with right hemisphere damage who suffer from
amusia - the inability to understand music, and there are cases of people
who loose their ability to understand tonality. So my theory is that music
interacts with the right temporal lobe and the right speech area, both to
provide a pleasing pattern and to say something emotionally, without
having to go through any semantic processing on the way.

Still, I might be wrong, since apparently there is at least one patient
with temporal lobe underactivity that can understand and enjoy music (; the page
contains a lot of interesting research about audition), although her case
is a bit complicated.

The temporal lobe also contains hippocampus, amygdala and the enteroshinal
cortex, parts of the limbic systems that definitely are strongly linked
with emotion (and hormones). Exactly how everything is linked to
everything else is still a big question, but I think we can be certain of
that there are links here, somewhere. That lobe is filled with some of the
greatest mysteries the brain has to offer!

Apropos the neurology of music and the temporal lobe:

Being a visual person I have always seen pictures when I listen to music,
abstract images moving and changing according to the flow (Scriabin is a
golden glow, Jarre's "Revolution" as a mushroom shape in a neon swamp, the
chorus of Beethoven's ninth symphony as a scaly golden fractal dragon
coiling in a great helix); this seems to be somewhat akin to synesthesia,
but not exactly the real thing.

True synesthesia, "seeing sounds" or "tasting images" seem to be related
to the temporal lobe and also improved memory and ecstasy. See

for a fascinating review of this area.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y