Hear What It Sounds Like When Philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Brain Activity Gets Turned into Music

The refine­ments of med­ical imag­ing tech­nolo­gies like fMRI have giv­en neu­ro­sci­en­tists, psy­chol­o­gists, and philoso­phers bet­ter tools with which to study how the brain responds to all sorts of stim­uli. We’ve seen stud­ies of the brain on Jane Austen, the brain on LSD, the brain on jazz improv…. Music, it seems, offers an espe­cial­ly rich field for brain research, what with its con­nec­tion to lan­guage, bod­i­ly coor­di­na­tion, math­e­mat­ics, and vir­tu­al­ly every oth­er area of human intel­li­gence. Sci­en­tists at MIT have even dis­cov­ered which spe­cif­ic regions of the brain respond to music.

And yet, though we might think of music as a dis­crete phe­nom­e­non that stim­u­lates iso­lat­ed parts of the brain, Brownell pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy Dan Lloyd has a much more rad­i­cal hypoth­e­sis, “that brain dynam­ics resem­ble the dynam­ics of music.”

He restates the idea in more poet­ic terms in an arti­cle for Trin­i­ty Col­lege: “All brains are musical—you and I are sym­phonies.” Plen­ty of peo­ple who can bare­ly whis­tle on key or clap to a beat might dis­agree. But Lloyd doesn’t mean to sug­gest that we all have musi­cal tal­ent, but that—as he says in his talk below—“everything that goes on in the brain can be inter­pret­ed as hav­ing musi­cal form.”

To demon­strate his the­o­ry, Lloyd chose not a musi­cian or com­pos­er as a test sub­ject, but anoth­er philosopher—and one whose brain he par­tic­u­lar­ly admires—Daniel Den­nett. And instead of giv­ing us yet more col­or­ful but baf­fling brain images to look at, he chose to con­vert fMRI scans of Dennett’s brain—“12 giga­bytes of 3‑d snap­shots of his cranium”—into music, turn­ing data into sound through a process called “soni­fi­ca­tion.” You can hear the result at the top of the post—the music of Dennett’s brain, which is appar­ent­ly, writes Dai­ly Nous, “a huge Eno fan.”

In his paper “Mind as Music,” Lloyd argues that the so-called “lan­guage of thought” is, in fact, music. As he puts it, “the lin­gua fran­ca of cog­ni­tion is not a lin­gua at all,” an idea that has “after­shocks for seman­tics, method, and more.” Sev­er­al ques­tions arise: I, for one, am won­der­ing if all our brains sound like Dennett’s abstract ambi­ent score, or if some play waltzes, some operas, some psy­che­del­ic blues.…

You can learn much more about Lloyd’s fas­ci­nat­ing research in his talk, which sim­pli­fies the tech­ni­cal lan­guage of his paper. Lloyd’s work goes much fur­ther, as he says, than study­ing “the brain on music”; instead he makes a sweep­ing­ly bold case for “the brain as music.”

via Dai­ly Nous

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

The Neu­ro­science of Drum­ming: Researchers Dis­cov­er the Secrets of Drum­ming & The Human Brain

New Research Shows How Music Lessons Dur­ing Child­hood Ben­e­fit the Brain for a Life­time

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Marcel Garbi says:

    …turn­ing data into sound is too far from what Music is.

  • zaph mann says:

    I appre­ci­ate sound spaces and elec­tron­ic music, but I think there is sig­nif­i­cance in your crit­i­cism of this trans­la­tion. Could it just be a ruse to get a TED talk? If oth­er brains actu­al­ly did (through the same method) pro­duce punk rock, zyde­co or smy­phonies I’d be very impressed; how­ev­er I reck­on they’d all sound like this pleas­nt but ran­dom stuff.

  • James Barlow says:

    …It fig­ures Den­net’s brain would sound like Ives’ “The Unan­swered Ques­tion” –lol!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.