by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 116 (March/April 2013)
With this issue of Winsights (unavoidably late, for which we apologize), we resume our ever-deepening inquiry into the extraordinary effects music has upon us human beings, as part of our ongoing larger inquiry of how to improve and increase human intelligence and human performance and quality of experience. Here is an increasingly remarkable portion of possible solutions and answers, which we can use to advantage in the meanwhile.
For the past few decades, I have been wondering why and how music has such great power over us. Gradually, part of the answer has been settling into place for me, and tonight, April 29, 2013, while listening to an outstandingly good performance of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto,* enough of it crystallized in my mind, and I thought I might try to share this insight with you.
Music, like a major aspect of mathematics, is a study in relationships. Some music explores and manifests extraordinary relationships. Some of that music, especially in the classical and contemporary classical music, is powerful enough to resonate, at least metaphorically if not literally, with key elements of our being, organizing our being toward higher forms of order. Key to that process is that organ which enables us to perceive and respond successfully to relationships in our surroundings —relationships between things, relationships between people, relationships between people and things (tools and techniques). Thus, music which has enough music in it to engender much of this effect in our brains engenders all sorts of circuitry in our brain to map out these relationships.
“Neurons which fire together, wire together”— Donald O. Hebb, neurophysiologist and psychologist
Once called into being to handle some particular relationship, that circuit is there also to fulfill other functions, to help perceive other relationships. Therefore, getting into richly musical music lays down a network of circuitry which improves our brain’s capacity for handling other experiences as well.
Note: See additional information, answers and possible solutions as to how music affects, and can be made to improve and increase, human intelligence, performance and quality of experience, in these articles:
*There are a good many excellent recordings of this superb Rachmaninoff piano concerto. One of these happens to be the one I was listening to when these insights coalesced for me—the one by Simon Trpceski (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vasily Petrenko (conductor).