Music for Contrarian Ears


In today’s Daily Reckoning we’ll provide you with more evidence that some meanings have universal appeal, even in a pre-linguistic way.

Continuing our conversation yesterday about art and universal meaning, let’s briefly talk about music and the brain. People who listen to the same classical music show remarkably synchronised brain activity, according to a study form Stanford University. The study placed both men and women in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine that maps brain activity.

The subjects listened to music from Baroque composer William Boyce. In honour of Nick Hubble’s birthday, we’ll link to Boyce’s ‘Birthday’ Symphony by the Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra if you want to hear a sample of his work. It’s lovely.

This is interesting in all sorts of ways. It means that music has a kind of common pre-verbal meaning in all listeners, at least some music. What you think about the music or say about it doesn’t matter. Everyone is more or less hearing it the same way, based on the brain activity. There is even the idea that the first communication between human beings was musical, sounds before words.

Of course this can be dangerous too. The Nazis were fond of Richard Wagner’s work because it roused the passions of the masses in the service of the Reich. Any stimulus that produces a purely emotional (non-rational) response can be used AND abused. Still, it’s an intriguing idea that the very way in which we perceive the world means that we’re all going to share some basic beliefs.

It’s the rational part of the brain to challenge those beliefs and examine assumptions that you seem to have inherited. Unfortunately, language doesn’t always help. In the modern political world, language is used to obscure meaning rather than to make things clearer. Language can be just as subversive.

But anything that makes you think is probably good for your brain. David Walsh’s museum in Hobart definitely makes you think. There is certainly an undercurrent of godless atheism to it. One look at the number of atheist bibles in the book store (anything by Richard Dawkins) will tell you that. Even so, there’s something interesting going on there. The exploration continues tomorrow.

Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.


  1. entrainment.
    it has been studied many times before.

    if you kept the women together long enuf, would they tend to start menstruating about the same day of the month, too?

    those who know can tell the ones who don’t know, OK?

    any tent-meeting revivalist preachers around?
    get the snakes! stat!

    slewie the pi-rat
    April 17, 2013
  2. oops!
    actually, this probably is not “entrainment” but some equally “objective” study.

    newfangled! !from Stanford!
    joshua; ;orpheus; ;stPaddy; ;a “problem” for the epic heroes to overcome; etc.

    yes, the effects can be “demonstrated” and have been studied, like “entrainment” for a VERY long time, too!
    for long intervals, this stuff could not be made public, without the “crier” being used to heat the town square.

    the ideas that matter vibrates or transmits “something” and that these vibrations are “real” is some of the oldest “science” imaginable.

    repeating the bio-feedback experiments of “last generation” with new technology?

    science on the go!
    next: transpersonal MRIs? for dating?

    [am i the only one who has a problem w/ putting people brains and whole bodies into “Magnetic Imaging” electromagnetic force-fields to “prove” stuff we already know? since ~moses? or at least _____? (insert any of 100 “new age” widely-published “Bio- & brain-wave” researchers… all from before the spaghetti monster flew in…)]

    so they have “discovered” what? that MRI’s really work, too?

    slewie the pi-rat
    April 18, 2013
  3. me, again!
    the article does say Stanford University.

    the link “Stanford University” is to the original article in by Lindsey Adams in “The Atlantic”. this article also says “Stanford University” and 9 men 8 women… the article is sketchy about the actual details of the “experiment”,
    and there is a link to

    which is the European Journal of Neuro-science…

    i finally found the “abstract”.
    so far, it appears the “abstract” was successfully incorporated into both articles.
    auditory cortex;
    inferior colliculus;
    inferior frontal gyrus;
    medial geniculate;
    parietal cortex


    Music is a cultural universal and a rich part of the human experience. However, little is known about common brain systems that support the processing and integration of extended, naturalistic ‘real-world’ music stimuli. We examined this question by presenting extended excerpts of symphonic music, and two pseudomusical stimuli in which the temporal and spectral structure of the Natural Music condition were disrupted, to non-musician participants undergoing functional brain imaging and analysing synchronized spatiotemporal activity patterns between listeners. We found that music synchronizes brain responses across listeners in bilateral auditory midbrain and thalamus, primary auditory and auditory association cortex, right-lateralized structures in frontal and parietal cortex, and motor planning regions of the brain. These effects were greater for natural music compared to the pseudo-musical control conditions. Remarkably, inter-subject synchronization in the inferior colliculus and medial geniculate nucleus was also greater for the natural music condition, indicating that synchronization at these early stages of auditory processing is not simply driven by spectro-temporal features of the stimulus. Increased synchronization during music listening was also evident in a right-hemisphere fronto-parietal attention network and bilateral cortical regions involved in motor planning. While these brain structures have previously been implicated in various aspects of musical processing, our results are the first to show that these regions track structural elements of a musical stimulus over extended time periods lasting minutes. Our results show that a hierarchical distributed network is synchronized between individuals during the processing of extended musical sequences, and provide new insight into the temporal integration of complex and biologically salient auditory sequences.

    so there it is!
    entrainment AND the vibes, too!

    damn you, TDR!

    slewie the pi-rat
    April 18, 2013

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