Music, Language, and the Brain

Music, Language, and the Brain

Music, Language, and the Brain

Music, Language, and the Brain

Synopsis

In the first comprehensive study of the relationship between music and language from the standpoint of cognitive neuroscience, Aniruddh D. Patel challenges the widespread belief that music and language are processed independently. Since Plato's time, the relationship between music and language has attracted interest and debate from a wide range of thinkers. Recently, scientific research on this topic has been growing rapidly, as scholars from diverse disciplines, including linguistics, cognitive science, music cognition, and neuroscience are drawn to the music-language interface as one way to explore the extent to which different mental abilities are processed by separate brain mechanisms. Accordingly, the relevant data and theories have been spread across a range of disciplines. This volume provides the first synthesis, arguing that music and language share deep and critical connections, and that comparative research provides a powerful way to study the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying these uniquely human abilities.

Excerpt

The existence of this book reflects the support and vision of two of the twentieth century’s great natural scientists: Edward O. Wilson and Gerald M. Edelman. At Harvard University, Wilson gave me the freedom to pursue a Ph.D. on the biology of human music at a time when the topic was still in the academic hinterland. With his support, my graduate experiences ranged from field expeditions to Papua New Guinea, to collaborative work with specialists on music and brain (including leading figures such as Isabelle Peretz in Montreal), to training at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (where Claus Heeschen introduced me to the world of language science). I spoke with Wilson while I was formulating this book, and his support helped launch the project. His own scientific writings inspired me to believe in the importance of synthesizing a broad variety of information when exploring an emerging research area.

After completing my degree I was fortunate to be hired at The Neurosciences Institute (NSI), where Gerald Edelman, with the help of W. Einar Gall, has created an unusual environment that encourages a small and interactive group of neuroscientists to pursue basic questions about the brain, taking their research in whatever directions those questions lead. Edelman’s broad vision of neuroscience and of its relationship to humanistic knowledge has shaped this project and my own approach to science. As a consequence of Edelman and Gall’s support of music research, I have once again had the freedom to work on a wide variety of issues, ranging from human brain imaging to the study of music perception in aphasia to the drumming abilities of elephants in Thailand. Equally importantly, I have had the benefit of extremely bright and talented colleagues, whose work has greatly enriched my knowledge of neuroscience. Edelman, who has remarked that science is imagination in the service of the verifiable truth, has created a community where imagination is encouraged while empirical research is held to the highest standard. The salutary effect of such an environment on a young scientist cannot be overestimated.

At NSI I have also had the privilege to be the Esther J. Burnham Senior Fellow. Esther Burnham’s adventurous life and her passion for both the sciences and the arts continue to be an inspiration for me and my work. I am . . .

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