Chapter 5: The Power of Music: Mentally and Philosophically

In Chapter Five the reader gets more insight as to what is going on inside Carmen’s mind. We see her thoughts and desires; one of them being to stay in the vice-president’s house. She hopes God will see the beauty in what is happening within the house and to allow them more time to stay there. This shocked me because they are in a hostage situation. She takes a bad situation and finds beauty in it; this beauty she has found is music.

For Chapter One I did “The Power of Music.” Being a psychology major I found this topic to be extremely insightful and quite fascinating. I have decided that for Chapter Five I will continue my research with music and the impact it has on us, but this time take my research deeper by searching farther into databases and delving into more advanced findings.

While searching for information I came across a book entitled Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. He shows that music is much more than hearing, but is also imagining. Some people, like Mr. Hosokawa, have the ability to imagine a symphony or Opera and listen to it for hours at a time in their minds, while others struggle to even remember the words to their favorite song, like myself.

“Since the mid-1990s, studies carried out by Robert Zatorre and his colleagues, using increasingly sophisticated brain-imaging techniques, have shown that imagining music can indeed activate the auditory cortex almost as strongly as listening to it. Imagining music also stimulates the motor cortex, and conversely, imagining the action of playing music stimulates the auditory cortex” (Oliver Stacks 32). For this reason, musicians, such as Roxanne Coss, have the ability to hear an instrument or song in their minds for “mental practice.” Every brain is different and our experience with stimuli and our response to stimuli is different. This is why some people, typically the musically inclined, have the ability to hear a song clearly in their mind while on the contrary others struggle to do so.

An experiment done in the 1960s called the “White Christmas’ Effect” also showed how humans mentally react and interpret music. The infamous and well-known Bing Crosby version of the song was played to experimental subjects. When the song was played, “some subjects ‘heard’ it when the volume was turned down to near zero, or even when the experimenters announced they would play the song but never turned it on” (Stacks 33). This involuntary “filling in” of musical imagery was psychologically confirmed by information obtained by an MRI conducted by William Kelly at Dartmouth. Him and his colleagues “used functional MRI to scan the auditory cortex while their subjects listened to familiar and unfamiliar songs in which short segments had been replaced by gaps of silence. The silent gaps embedded in familiar songs were not consciously noticed by their subjects, but the researchers observed that these gaps induced greater activation in the auditory association areas than did silent gaps embedded in unknown songs; this was true for gaps in songs with lyrics and without lyrics” (Stacks 33).

To search farther into music and its impact on the mind, I turned to Andrew Bowie’s Music, Philosophy, and Modernity which linked music to modern philosophy even though music is typically thought to contrast the ideas and works of philosophy. He shows that music picks up what philosophy lacks for it has the metaphysical ability to create an image of language and communication, which we definitely see between Mr. Hosokawa and Roxanne Coss; even though they speak different languages and come from two completely different cultures, it is as if they understand the universal language of music and Opera despite the language it is sung in.

Bowie writes about the differences between “positivists”, science-oriented philosophers, and “Romantics”, those who lean more towards the arts for answers which science cannot give. Bowie creates a bridge between the two differing philosophy concepts through music. He says objective explanations tend to become entangled by not only facts, but values as well. When this happens, science and experiments become moot. (Bowie)

“Metaphorical and gestural communication can be more in touch with ways of playing music than literal instruction” (Bowie 47). The philosophy of music is a metaphysical experience rather than a scientific one. You cannot experimentally measure or conclude the language produced by music and how we interpret it; instead, we all interpret it differently, and how we interpret it and understand it brings us back to the “White Christmas’ Effect.” Even though that inconclusive experiment cannot give a “set-in-stone” experimental conclusion, it does show that we respond to music and relate to it on a mental rather than physical level. How one perceives music and relates to it can only be interpreted and understood by the listener, even if he or she is perceiving or understanding it subconsciously.

Bowie, Andrew. Music, Philosophy, and Modernity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.

Sacks, Oliver W. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. London: Picador, 2013. Print.

-Courtney Fesette


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