Jessica's Reviews > This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin
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's review
Feb 18, 2008

it was amazing
Recommended for: everyone
Read in February, 2008

People often ask me about how I can be a musician and into sign language. It occurs for them like there is a dichotomy at play. I've never experienced my work in either area to be at odds with the other.

This week I'm reading the coolest book I've read in a while: This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin. He was once a musician and sound engineer, but now is a neuroscientist (another set of odd-bedfellow occupations). A Publishers Weekly review says "This is likely the only book whose jacket sports blurbs from both Oliver Sacks and Stevie Wonder." In the past few days he has enlightened me to myriad fascinating aspects of my relationship to music, both as a musician and as a human being.

My favorite among these revelations thus far is the following passage, which validates my feeling that signing and singing aren't so different, despite their apparent disparity:

"Most astonishing was that the left-hemisphere regions that we found were active in tracking musical structure were the very same ones that are active when deaf people are communicating by sign language. This suggested that what we had identified in the brain wasn't a region hat simply processed whether a chord sequence was sensible, or whether a spoken sentence was sensible. We were now looking at a region that responded to sight--to the visual organization of words conveyed through American Sign Language.

We found evidence for the existence of a brain region that processes structure in general, when that structure is conveyed over time. Although the inputs to this region must have come from different neural populationşand the outputs of it had to go through distinctive networks, there it was--a region that kept popping up in any task that involved organizing information over time."

Brains are neat, mine included.
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David Jessica, I just finished reading the book. I agree with you, that this finding is remarkable. I would never have guessed that sign language is processed by the same portion of the brain that processes a chord sequence or a sentence structure.

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