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1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia 
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Post 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
Chapter 1.
A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia



Wed Mar 24, 2010 12:46 am
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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I'm afraid I may only be able to respond to titles and comments.

'Musicophilia' is a lovely word, suggesting love of music for its own sake. Part of the love of music is the sense of mathematics in natural harmony. I love playing music, especially classical guitar, singing, didgeridoo and piano. At the moment the only public music I play is hymns on piano in church.

I hope this idea of musicophilia includes the philosophy of music and the science of mathematical harmony. There is an interesting science, cymatics, which looks at physical harmonic patterns caused by musical tones. On related themes, I recently wrote a paper Tetraktys and Zodiac which explores the natural harmonic relationships of the circle, partly in cymatic terms. Interestingly, the number twelve is at the foundation of the geometry of the circle, just as we have twelve hours on the clock and twelve notes in the octave. A sphere can be touched by precisely twelve other equal spheres. The harmony of the spheres is built into the fundamental mathematics of geometry.

Another mathematical theme in music is the nature of the semitone. Modern equal temper tuning increases frequency by the twelfth root of two per semitone, enabling instruments to play in all keys at the cost of harmonic precision. Older natural just intonation harmony is based on the relations between the frequencies such as fifth = 3/2 and third = 5/4. A major scale with natural frequencies has notes such as C D E F G A B C which are multiples of 24, 27, 30, 32, 36, 40, 45, 48 cycles per second.



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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
The premise here is about tragic accidents and how they can cause a sudden musicophilia, a desperate need to listen to and/or create music when there was little to no interest in music before the damage the accident caused.

The first case, Dr. Cicoria, who is struck by lightning, is the most intriguing, and also the most mystifying, because other than the onset of musicophilia, nothing else seemed to be wrong after the initial sluggishness and memory loss wore off during recovery. In the other cases Sacks mentions, there is damage to the temporal lobes which causes seizures, and the musicophilia can be linked directly to that spot in the brain, whereas with Dr. Cicoria, nothing was originally found damaged in his EEG or MRIs. What I do find amazing is not only the need to hear music and be around it, but the intense urge to create music that was already written in Cicoria's head, and even though he had no way to express this at first, he hung onto it long enough to teach himself to play piano and write compositions (with the help of a teacher), to the point where he showcased his own music at an artist camp. The man was already in his 40s when he began to learn, and refused to let anything, including his marriage, get in the way of his music. The fact that he half-jokingly calls it "music from heaven," as has also been attributed to Mozart, is also very interesting, and makes sense, because before his out-of-body/near-death experience, he was only vaguely interested in music, so suddenly needing to devote his entire life to music would seem to be "heaven-sent." This also has a deeper level of awe when you know that Mozart wrote original manuscripts with no corrections or mistakes, in a time when one wrote with a quill and ink and would not easily be able to make changes without messing up the music. He simply wrote down the music that was already finished in his head. I'd be interested to see what Cicoria's manuscripts looked like, and whether he wrote on lined paper or used a computer program, since that is very available and common now.

I also find that this chapter reminds me of the TV series Heroes, in which people all over the world begin to notice that they have special abilities that they can't explain. In the show they are referring to the evolution of human genetics, but it also has resonance here, because these people who have experienced these stressors or accidents not only recover, but find themselves with a new passion for something that wasn't there before. It intrigued me to note that the medication a woman in one of Sacks' cases was given that stabilized her seizures and brought out her musicophilia is one I have been on. Lamotrigine is an anti-seizure medication that was recently approved to treat bipolar disorder, and I have been on this medication at two separate times in my life. Since I don't have seizures or any problems with my temporal lobes, I didn't experience any drastic changes as she did, but I found it personally interesting to note that the medication brought on this reaction for her.

I've never had any kind of sudden musicophilia, but I definitely have musicophilia, as I was raised in a musical household, played 4 or more instruments, read music theory, history, and still have a dramatic emotional relationship with music of all kinds. I wonder how everyone else feels about their relationship to music? Do you feel you are attached to it enough to even call it a relationship? Or is it just something you listen to in passing or when someone else is listening to it?



Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:43 pm
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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
Since bleachededen has given a excellent summary of Chapter 1, I will just talk about an aside.

Sacks mentions "near death experience" a few times in this chapter. I have always been skeptical of such claims. That bright white light with the yellow halo that some people have described sure sounds like the big lamp over most modern operating tables. Sacks seems to hinting that we will explore physical causes of Musicophilia so I will reserve judgement on the reported near death experences and see how things develop.


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Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:20 pm
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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I thought the same thing about the near death experience, Gary. I found the story interesting, but am still skeptical about Sacks' seeming acceptance of the near death experience and am hoping something more physical will be explained later, although there is a good chance it will not. I'm also not positive Sacks is suggesting he agrees that what Cicoria experienced was a near death experience and that they are a real proven fact, but that Cicoria believed that that is what he experienced and that Sacks is including all of his story, even the objectionable parts.



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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I feel that Dr. Tony Cicoria's story may have been the wrong choice with which to open the book. It did not have the ring of truth to it, and is leaving me sceptical of the stories coming after. Cicoria did have "a few" piano lessons as a boy, and saying that he had no real interest in them is something that need to be explained further in order to justify the "bolt from the blue" theory. He would have been taught to read music in the first lesson. He is also of an age when basic music theory was still taught in public schools. I received it in 7th and 8th grades.
I also noted that no one is saying that he plays extremely well, but only that he plays passionately - definitely not the same thing. Finally, Cicoria reconsiders further brain function tests with no apparent explanation.
It is not unusual for a close brush with death to inspire a person to do something they always wish they had done.



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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I'm not sure Sacks is suggesting that to play the piano and write music was something Cicoria always wished he could do. The reason for counting his story as being phenomenal is because before the lightning, Cicoria had little or no interest in music, and suddenly, after nearly dying, he suddenly longed to hear, play, and write music. The fact that he had had a little training as a child isn't important to his newfound passion, but a tidbit included to show that even though he'd had the opportunity to be involved with music, he didn't show any particular desire to delve more deeply into it. It is only after the lightning strike that he realizes a passion for music, and this is why Sacks opened the book with his story, to show that "musicophilia," or a love and deep passion for music, can often strike the last person you'd expect when you least expect it, thus opening the path for the musical episodes that will be revealed throughout the rest of the book.



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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I have taken somewhat of an interest in Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and am probably more sympathetic to them than most people although I am not prepared to state that they are the real deal. I think they could be the real deal. So I don't rule them out as hog wash, yet I am somewhat reluctant to proclaim myself a believer.

The best scientific non-spiritual explanation that I have seen is that the tunnel effect is the result of oxygen deprivation in the occipital lobes resulting in a visual effect of a tunnel. Most people have experienced something similar when coming close to passing out. One's vision can collapse inward and the field of vision becomes exceedingly small as though looking through a pipe or tube.

The viewing downward from an elevation is a thornier problem. I knew a guy years ago that overdosed on some drug. He said that before he blacked out that he was very groggy and drunk like. He blacked out and apparently died. He said that he found himself in a crystal clear state of consciousness watching from above the EMTs work on saving him. He did not want to return to body and regarded it as a piece of trash with no value. He said that he was dragged back into his body against his will and when back the influence of the drugs again affected his thinking. There was no doubt in his mind that he had died, and he said that he was looking forward to going for good. There are many anecdotal stories of people being able to describe exactly what went on while they were clinically dead using visual details that would be very hard to make up. Who knows?

While I have not had a NDE, I have had other inexplicable events occur in my life that make me, as I say, sympathetic to NDEs.

I find nothing in Cicoria's story that inspires skepticism in me. We had a guy at work that was struck by lightening. He was never quite the same, not as pleasant, much easier to anger. Several million joules of energy flowing through one's skull is bound to rearrange a few things. One guy becomes miserable the next gets an intense interest in piano music. Cicoria played with passion, why does he have to be a master?


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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
Veneer wrote:
I find nothing in Cicoria's story that inspires skepticism in me. We had a guy at work that was struck by lightening. He was never quite the same, not as pleasant, much easier to anger. Several million joules of energy flowing through one's skull is bound to rearrange a few things. One guy becomes miserable the next gets an intense interest in piano music. Cicoria played with passion, why does he have to be a master?


I agree and am going to sit back, keep reading, and see what unfolds.


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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
I always thought that “the tunnel of white light” was due to the optical nerve fading away as part of the dying process. I’d like to know more about the “archetypal symbolism” Sacks mentions, some universal examples. Maybe I find something in Joseph Campbell. I am not familiar with that at all.



Mon Apr 19, 2010 10:48 pm
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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
Kalato wrote:
I always thought that “the tunnel of white light” was due to the optical nerve fading away as part of the dying process. I’d like to know more about the “archetypal symbolism” Sacks mentions, some universal examples. Maybe I find something in Joseph Campbell. I am not familiar with that at all.


Either Joseph Campbell or some of the works of Carl Jung, from whom I think Campbell may have developed some of his ideas, would be a good place to start on this topic. Campbell's archetypes are pretty interesting, and he explains them in one book by going in-depth into Star Wars and the movie version of the Wizard of Oz as examples of the Hero's Journey and the archetypes that go along with it. I wrote my high school senior thesis on the subject, especially because those are two of my favorite movies. ;)

The History Channel also had a special on the historical and archetypal workings in Star Wars, where they talk about Campbell's theories (George Lucas actually worked with Campbell to create some of the themes in Star Wars), Greek myths, Kirosawa movies, and other mediums George Lucas drew from when creating Star Wars. I know you can find it to buy online, but it may also be on YouTube somewhere and the History Channel airs it from time to time. I saw the first half of it, and if you like Star Wars, it is definitely worth watching.



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Post Re: 1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
Yes, I agree, these are all excellent sources. I do remember the program where Joseph Campbell discusses Star Wars, the Samurai Sword being a precursor to the Light Sabre, for one. I am aware of the archetypes for heroes, but I draw a blank as to the archetypes for Near Death Experiences, which is what Sacks is referring to, I think. I will pursue this as time permits with some of your reference. As soon as this El Nino is over I can go to the bunkhouse again . . .



Tue Apr 20, 2010 10:19 am
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