Rice University has done it again! First, they made the connection for eroding aphasia, now they’re quantifying how music can meditate the mind.
“We hope this will serve as a catalyst for deepening the collaboration between musicians and scientists,” said Anthony Brandt, organizer of the conference. “We see this as the first step to something bigger — something that may help further the research and enable us to gain new insights into ourselves.”
Brandt’s own interests focus on how classical music can offer insights into the mind, the limits of language and the elusive connections between thought and feeling. He has studied how music with cyclic structure — a main idea repeating in its entirety either identically or with variations — creates a predictability ideal for social situations. Classical music features musical statements broken into smaller fragments and reassembled in new forms. To process that music, the mind has to be active and diligent, according to Brandt.
“Because of the cyclic nature of pop music, you are constantly at risk of tuning it out,” Brandt said. “Not so with classical music where your mind is hard at work. Because of its cognitive richness, I believe classical music is potentially a powerful resource for investigating the mind.”
Neuroscientist and Rice alumnus David Eagleman will present his research in synesthesia — where stimulation of one sense in the brain triggers an experience in a different sense. For example, the feel of sandpaper might evoke a sensation of forest green or a symphony might be experienced in blues and golds. Eagleman, director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine, will concentrate on musical forms of synesthesia where pitches, chords or instrument timbres trigger the experiences of colors, textures or shapes. He will discuss the cutting-edge technology used in his laboratory to study such things.
This Rice celebration of mind and music reminds us of a popular article we wrote — Crossing the Uncanny Valley — and the contretemps at play for sewing together the ethereal mind and the solid body into one, cogent, genius perception bound by octaves and half-tones in the recreation of historic muses.