The musical brain

Several years ago, Bonnie Simon, hosted me at the Cosmos Club to ask me about the neuroscience of human musical experiences. At the time, I pointed her in the roughly correct directions towards the fMRI literature and wondered whether my friend and colleague, Bill Reeder, Dean of our College of Visual and Performing Arts, might have something valuable to add–after all he is a real opera performer; I just enjoy classical music.

Here’s a more recent blogpost from Jonah Lehrer at Wired. Not surprisingly the neurotransmitter, dopamine, plays a starring role (although recent work from Huda Akil’s lab calls into question the exact role of dopamine in reward).

I’m fairly certain that, one day, when we understand a lot more about the brain, it will be the mathematical aspects of music as reflected in the dynamics of tone and rhythms that will turn out to be the key to why humans, of all ilks, love it so much.

So perhaps the more underlying question is why (and whether) human beings have a deep underlying need for mathematics–from my viewpoint in the enjoyment of aspects of the natural experience which are especially mathematically symmetric (or not).