Monday, 5 November 2007

Tales of Music and the Brain

An interesting article in last week's Sunday Times (I'm a slow reader) resurrects a theme we were exploring- on and off- a few weeks back. It all began with the tale of the Czechoslovakian speedway rider who came to after a nasty fall with the ability to speak perfect English; swiftly followed by a similar story of a Yorkshire schoolboy whose meningitis operation bequeathed him a posh new 'Home Counties' accent. Then George Michael entered the fray, betraying to Kirsty Young on Radio Four the unusual admission that his success in music is in large part due to a bang on the head he suffered at age eight. Before that time, the young George had been something of a naturalist- 'obsessed with insects and creepy crawlies'- but within six months had exchanged this pursuit for the path that would make him famous.

Now, in a review of Musicophilia: Takes of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, Bryan Appleyard includes the story of Tony Cicoria, 'a man struck by lightning in a telephone box. A few weeks later, he was overcome by an "insatiable desire to listen to piano music." He bought CDs and sheet music and began to resurrect his childhood piano lessons. Then, involuntarily, he began to compose music in his head. A torrent of notes came, he said, "from heaven." Cicoria now lives in music.'

The article is full of other interesting anecdotes and facts. Anatomists, for example, can readily identify the brain of a musician due to its expanded motor, auditory and visuospatial areas- and a greatly enlarged corpus callosum: described by Appleyard, rather piquantly, as 'the great rope' that unites the two halves of the brain. Or his account of 'the truly strange... Williams Syndrome', sufferers of whom may be unable to tie their shoelaces but 'will sing and play with precision for hours.' What really interests me, however, is not what these and the other stories tell us about the brain- important though that is- but about the interactions which lie just beyond it; which- in traumatic circumstances- seem to have the ability to slip 'into' consciousness.

As an example of this- the reason I became interested in this theme in the first place- I cite the srange case of one Cyril Hoskin, the son of a Devonshire plumber, born in the early years of the twentieth century. According to the account given in his third book, The Rampa Story, he had fallen out of a fir tree in his garden in Thames Ditton, Surrey- not at all far from me, incidentially- while attempting to photograph an owl. He was concussed, and on regaining his senses observed a Buddhist monk in saffron robes walking towards him. The monk told him that the spirit of a Tibetan high lama, called Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, wished to take over his body; a proposal to which Hoskin, dissatisfied with his life, agreed. From 1949 until his death in 1981, Hoskin- now known as Lobsang Rampa- wrote (or channelled) 19 books about Tibet and the occult arts which became bestsellers on six continents. Fritz Springmeier, interestingly, draws heavily on Lobsang Rampa's most famous work- The Third Eye- for his 'Deeper Insights into the Illuminati Formula' manual, claiming that the 'ancient secrets of cranial manipulation' are deliberately abused by the Illuminati 'to create specific mental and personality changes', often disguised as muggings or routine accidents.

Appleyard, whilst he never quite goes this far, hints at other abstruse notions; as we might expect from an author whose last published work was a tome entitled 'Aliens: And Why They Are Here.' The real power of music, he argues, lies in its origins in 'the deepest interstices of the human mind... This is a special art that springs from deeper wells than any other. We can invent painting or poetry, but music seems to have preceded us... by showing us that the feeling of grief itself exists outside the confines of the narrow box in which we find ourselves, music tells us the one thing we really want to hear. We are not alone.'

Note for Miss Hoi Polloi-

As well as his prolonged channelling of Lobsang Rampa, Mr Hoskin credited at least one of his books to an even more unusual source: his pet Siamese cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers, whose telepathically-received transmissions he published under the title, Living with the Lama. I reproduce the cover for your pleasure:


hoi polloi said...

I've always felt that music is the most truthfully expressive of all the art forms.

It is strange isn't it what the brain does and doesn't perceive. There's so much we don't pick up on...Thank you for posting that cover. Cats are quite inspiring creatures ;) Its a wonder to me that so many people dislike them.

Anonymous said...

trauma can open the stargate

rosa sparx said...

the cia also dug it:


10.1 Trotter, W. defines brain concussion as: "an essentially transient state due to head injury which is of instantaneous onset, manifests widespread symptoms of purely paralytic kind, does not as such comprise any evidence of structural cerebral injury, and is always followed by amnesia for the actual moment of the accident."

10.2 The implication of the underlined portion of the above statement is that if a technique were devised to induce brain concussion without giving either advance warning or causing external physical trauma, the person upon recovery would be unable to recall what had happened to him. Under these conditions the same technique of producing the concussion could be re-used many times without disclosure of its nature.

10.3 First, considering the possibilities of direct impact to the head or body, it should be possible from the findings of this research program to determine the following:
a. Optimum design of impacting devices.
b. Optimum points of impact on skull or body.
c. Intensity of the blow for the effect desired.

10.4 In regard to the potential impacting devices, there are certain design requisites that are apparent at this time:
a. The impact should be delivered without advance warning.
b. The area of impact and force distribution should be such that surface trauma does not occur.
c. The intensity of the impacting force and its duration should be such as to obtain the desired effect.
d. The device should be as small and as silent as possible.

10.5 The specific impacting devices might take the form of any of the following:

a. A pancake type black-jack giving a high peak impact force with a low unit surface pressure.
b. Concealed or camouflaged spring-loaded impacting devices that trigger upon contact with the head.

c. A projectile type impactor such as an air gun using a small shot filled sack for a projectile.

d. An explosive pad detonated in contact with the head or the body.

10.6 Let us now consider the possibilities of exciting the resonance cavitation directly without impact. There is considerable evidence that resonance cavitation can be induced directly in the following ways:

a. A blast wave propogated in air. (Blast Concussion)

b. Physical excitation with a mechanical driver or horn, turned to the resonant frequency of the head.

10.7 A single blast pressure wave propogated in air must have considerable intensity in order to produce brain concussion. However, there is considerable evidence (Carver & Dinsley) that modification of the pressure wave can produce profound effects.

10.8 Excitation of the resonance cavitation by using a tuned driver at this time appears to be well within the realm of possibility. The neurotic-like manifestations normally associated with blast concussion could possibly be induced by this method. Use of this method, however, would require actual physical contact with the drivers.

10.9 Excitation of the resonance cavitation by tuned sound waves also appears to be a reasonable possibility. Concentration of the sound-field at some remote point could be effected with acoustical lenses and reflectors. The blast duration would be in the order of a tenth of a second. Masking of a noise of this duration should not be too difficult.

11.0 It would possibly be advantageous to establish the effectiveness of both of the above methods as a tool in brain-wash therapy. A full knowledge of the method and the resulting sequela should be of aid to any person forced to submit to such treatment.

12.0 Possibly the most significant potential aspect of this study would be in the development of practical means of giving a person immunity, even though temporary, to brain concussion. One technique that appears to have potentialities involves the introduction of a small quantity of gas, approximately 1 cc, into the spinal cord. This gas bubble would then normally migrate to the ventricles located at the centrum of the brain. The ability of this bubble to expand under dynamic loading would be most effective in preventing resonance cavitation from occurring.