Martin Grant, Dean of Science
Last week I went to southern Ontario. Dan Levitin, one of our psychology professors, gave talks on Wednesday in Toronto and Thursday in Hamilton. Dan is a neuroscientist who studies how the brain reacts to music, amongst other things. He is a renowned scientist, and in addition to his academic papers he has recently published two popular books on music and the brain.
Both events were packed. People who like music like it a lot, and they want to understand it better. My job was to introduce Dan. I’ve presented Dan to audiences in the past and heard him speak on many occasions. Although remarks had been prepared for me, I confess to using my introductory duties as opportunities to share my sense of the fundamental strangeness of the topic of music and the brain, and provide a subtext for Dan’s talks.
After all, although it is not uncommon for a neuroscientist to study the interaction of music and the brain, have you heard of neuroscientists studying other arts: the neuroscience of sculpture, or the neuroscience of stand-up comedy, for example? I am sure neuroscientists sometimes study the brain’s interaction with others arts, but these occasions are as rare as hen’s teeth compared with the study of music and the brain. Indeed, it is hard to comprehend the otherness of music, the strangest of all our arts, and its direct route to the brain.
Here is a thought experiment which I believe makes this clear. (more…)