Music for Contrarian Ears

In today’s Markets and Money we’ll provide you with more evidence that some meanings have universal appeal, even in a pre-linguistic way.

Continuing our conversation yesterday about art and universal meaning, let’s briefly talk about music and the brain. People who listen to the same classical music show remarkably synchronised brain activity, according to a study form Stanford University. The study placed both men and women in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine that maps brain activity.

The subjects listened to music from Baroque composer William Boyce. In honour of Nick Hubble’s birthday, we’ll link to Boyce’s ‘Birthday’ Symphony by the Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra if you want to hear a sample of his work. It’s lovely.

This is interesting in all sorts of ways. It means that music has a kind of common pre-verbal meaning in all listeners, at least some music. What you think about the music or say about it doesn’t matter. Everyone is more or less hearing it the same way, based on the brain activity. There is even the idea that the first communication between human beings was musical, sounds before words.

Of course this can be dangerous too. The Nazis were fond of Richard Wagner’s work because it roused the passions of the masses in the service of the Reich. Any stimulus that produces a purely emotional (non-rational) response can be used AND abused. Still, it’s an intriguing idea that the very way in which we perceive the world means that we’re all going to share some basic beliefs.

It’s the rational part of the brain to challenge those beliefs and examine assumptions that you seem to have inherited. Unfortunately, language doesn’t always help. In the modern political world, language is used to obscure meaning rather than to make things clearer. Language can be just as subversive.

But anything that makes you think is probably good for your brain. David Walsh’s museum in Hobart definitely makes you think. There is certainly an undercurrent of godless atheism to it. One look at the number of atheist bibles in the book store (anything by Richard Dawkins) will tell you that. Even so, there’s something interesting going on there. The exploration continues tomorrow.

Dan Denning
for Markets and Money

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Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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