Oliver Sacks answers questions on music and the brain

Posted on: August 3, 2009

In the July issue of Harper’s magazine, Scott Horton writes, “Columbia University Professor Oliver Sacks is probably the country’s best known neurologist. But his greatest talent may be his ability to make the complexities of neurological disorders understandable to laymen while portraying the afflictions of his patients in a compelling and compassionate way.” Horton asks Sacks six questions inspired by the neurologist’s latest book, Musicophilia. On the relationship between music and language, Sacks states, “It has often been suggested that music emerged as a by-product of linguistic capacities. But musical rhythm, with its regular pulse, is very unlike the irregular stressed syllables of speech. We will probably never know the answer here, but whether parts of the brain evolved specifically to process music, or music happened to make use of neural pathways that arose for other reasons, it is clear that music has been central to the human enterprise for 40,000 years or more. … Sharing music is one of the most powerful ways humans bond together, and this has obvious survival value.”

Posted August 3, 2009