Dug Campbell

I Want To Scan Your Brain

I recently read a great book by Daniel Levitin called “This Is Your Brain On Music”. Levitin was a session musician, sound engineer and record producer before becoming a neuroscientist.

The book’s full of fascinating insights but for me, there was one key takeaway: it is only in very recent times that music has changed from being participatory to being a spectator sport for the majority of our civilisation. Some of the oldest artefacts discovered are musical instruments (such as bone flutes and drums). On almost every single occasion that humans come together for a purpose, music is just – there.

Of course, only a very small minority of the human population can classify as expert musicians. But we need to remember something else. The evidence shows that we are all expert listeners: we’re all able to decide on what we like, and dislike, when it comes to music, even if we can’t articulate the reasons why.

Amazing when you actually think about it: after all, pretty much all the songs that we’ve ever heard – or ever will hear – are made up of just twelve musical notes (ignoring octaves).

If you have any interest in music whatsoever (spoiler: unless you’re some kind of AI reading this blog, you do…) it’s well worth a read. But I’ll leave you with my favourite piece of trivia from the book:-

” Because the haemoglobin of the blood is slightly magnetic, changes in the flow of blood can be traced with a machine that can track changes in magnetic properties. This is what a magnetic resonance imagine machine (MRI) is, a giant electromagnet that produces a report showing differences in magnetic properties, which in turn can tell us where, at any given point in time, the blood is flowing in the body.”

“The research on the development of the first MRI scanners was performed by the British company EMI, financed in large part from their profits on Beatles records. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ might well have been titled, ‘I Want To Scan Your Brain’.”