Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

Psychologists and neurologists have shown that the brain has two different processing systems for listening to music. The sequential system responds to new and unfamiliar music and once it "gets it" or figures out the rhythm or melody or emotional content of the music, it rewards the brain by releasing dopamine and other endorphins. You may have experienced this sensation when listening to something unusual, and all of a sudden, say, the drums kick in and it all immediately makes sense and then you enjoy the rest of the performance, and maybe even want to hear it again.

The veridical system (I'm not the one who made these names up) responds to music it's heard before and once it recognizes a passage, it too releases dopamine and endorphins. This is that sensation you get when a familiar songs comes over the radio and the world suddenly seems brighter and lighter.

So basically, I hate to tell you this, but it's not the music we enjoy, it's the drugs the music allows our brains to manufacture that we enjoy.

I'll go a step further.  Certain people, due to our past experiences, elicit certain reactions in our brains, and we become quite fond of the combination of hormones, adrenaline, and serotonin that particular people cause our brain to release.  So from one point of view, we aren't actually attracted to those people - our spouses, lovers, friends, and objects of desire - it's the drugs our brain creates to which we are attracted.

Behaviorists and materialists may conclude from this that in fact there is no such thing as "love" - it's all just a chemical reaction to which we've become addicted.  I think that's taking it too far, and that point of view misses the poetry and the beauty of our existence, but it is something to consider, especially when we find ourselves caught up in the emotional thrall of love and attraction - to others, to ourselves, and to music.

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