Music to My Ears

Music affects the emotional centers of our brains, sometimes leaving deep grooves we can reference in the future to feel how we felt when we first heard it. Music works like language does to communicate with the listener - basically sound and dynamics - and even synch with others.

From the Greater Good on why we love music:

“If I’m a performer and you’re a listener, and what I’m playing really moves you, I’ve basically synchronized your brain rhythm with mine,” says Large. “That’s how I communicate with you.”

"...when people listen to unfamiliar music, their brains process the sounds through memory circuits, searching for recognizable patterns to help them make predictions about where the song is heading. If music is too foreign-sounding, it will be hard to anticipate the song’s structure, and people won’t like it—meaning, no dopamine hit. But, if the music has some recognizable features—maybe a familiar beat or melodic structure—people will more likely be able to anticipate the song’s emotional peaks and enjoy it more. The dopamine hit comes from having their predictions confirmed—or violated slightly, in intriguing ways."


In the 1950s, for example, German researchers noticed a patch on the side of the brain in which neurons had little myelin, compared with neighboring regions. But the finding was soon neglected.

“People tended to ignore it, and it was lost in the literature,” said Dr. Van Essen.

The computer rediscovered the odd territory, and Dr. Van Essen and his colleagues found that it becomes unusually active when people listen to stories. That finding suggests the region, which they call 55b, is part of a language network in the brain

~ Updated Brain Map

Emotional Equations

"Our emotions preceded our ability to put them into words. The emotional center of the human brain, the medulla oblongata, formed before the thinking part of the brain, the neocortex. Scientists from Charles Darwin to Paul Ekman to Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall have found common emotions in all animals, including human beings. And the pioneering work of scientists such as Antonio Damasio, Candace Pert, Joseph LeDoux, and others have that our thinking and feelings are part of a complext mind-body ecosystem."

~Chip Conley, Emotional Equations


Palm Reading

I know I am headed for a big change. I just don’t know when. A friend's mother noticed my right palm one night when my friend and I were cleaning up after a batch of home-made cookies in high school.

She peered down into my open palm and declared, "That’s a head change."

I looked down at the lines in my palm not seeing what she saw.

"That’s your head line – your thinking line and here’s your life line," she said and traced the lines that diverged.

"And here," she tapped my retracting hand, "is the break."

She was right. Smack dab in the center of my head line was an empty space. An open area at the center of my palm – untraversed by lines – head, heart or life.

I brushed her off by withdrawing my hand. "That tickles," I said.

She watched after me with a serious look in her eye.

Throughout the years, showering or washing my hands, I've looked down into the empty space at the center of my palm and wondered, when?

Reality Break

A recent nightmare where Andy Cohen starred as my therapist and had to restrain me as I exploded Theresa-style tipped me off. Time to take a “reality” break. What at first was just good gossipy fun has descended into emotional strife. The griping, back stabbing, poor communication and relentless judgment going on between the “ladies” of the Real Housewives franchise has stoked some unpleasant emotions in me.

As I watched Andy Cohen engage with these women on a weekly basis always hiding his feelings about the women and the events with a big smile and crossed eyes, I noticed that I began to take on the anger and frustration he seemingly cannot express.

So I've decided I can’t watch it anymore. That means protecting my brain from these women and other television shows that are sad and debilitating.

I didn’t realize that I had such control over my life until a woman once told me this- “As an adult, you get to decide what enters your brain.”

As a child, I didn’t have much choice in the matter, but now, I do. As a result, I've eliminated all Law & Order shows, most of Lifetime (the channel regularly likes to kill women), and all local news programs ("single women at risk in San Francisco, news at 11").

The fear mongering across the board is unhealthy. So I'm putting a stop to it.

Get In My Brain

When I was younger (ahem) and studying all night, I would rest my head on my open book (should give you a sense of my age) and wish the words would somehow penetrate my brain by osmosis.  

Believe it or not, we're getting closer to that possibility:

"In 2011, scientists working in collaboration with Boston University and A.T.R. Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, published a paper on a process called Decoded Neurofeedback, or “DecNef,” which sends signals to the brain through a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, or FMRI, that can alter a person’s brain activity pattern. In time, these scientists believe they could teach people how to play a musical instrument while they sleep, learn a new language or master a sport, all by “uploading” information to the brain."



Rewriting Your Brain

I've got some bad memories. Who doesn't? But now research shows we may be able to change them - their "emotional impact" - without forgetting them. Here's how it works: "if mitigating information about a traumatic or unhappy event is introduced within a narrow window of opportunity after its recall—during the few hours it takes for the brain to rebuild the memory in the biological brick and mortar of molecules—the emotional experience of the memory can essentially be rewritten."

“When you affect emotional memory, you don’t affect the content,” Schiller explains. “You still remember perfectly. You just don’t have the emotional memory.”

“The only way to freeze a memory,” she says, “is to put it in a story.”

Be Careful What You Think

You can change. Well at least research shows your brain can. It's called neuroplasticity. What's interesting about our brain's ability to change is just how powerful thought is. In fact, scientists discovered that "the region of motor cortex that controls the piano-playing fingers also expanded in the brains of volunteers who imagined playing the music--just as it had in those who actually played it."

Another reason to watch your thoughts and visualize success.

Perchance to Dream

Researchers used brain scans" to reveal dreams. "The researchers awakened the study subjects more than 200 times to ask them to describe their dreams in detail so they could gather data on which patterns of brain activity meant what."

Right now I use a bedside journal and DreamMoods. I've been recording my dreams for years now and see patterns. I can't wait for the dream decoder. Do you remember your dreams?

Beyond the Brain

Beyond the Brain, Tanya Marie Luhrmann's look into the new understanding of schizophrenia, reinforces how much the medical must consider the social. From her article:

In his Second Discourse (1754), Jean Jacques Rousseau describes human beings as made up out of each other through their interactions, their shared language, their intense responsiveness. “The social man, always outside of himself, knows only how to live in the opinions of others; and it is, so to speak, from their judgment alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence.” We are deeply social creatures. Our bodies constrain us, but our social interactions make us who we are. The new more socially complex approach to human suffering simply takes that fact seriously again.


[emphasis mine]



Snap Decisions

Research highlighted in the NYTimes shows that we can overcome our natural tendency to jump to conclusions or make snap decisions by pausing and thinking through our reaction. By doing so we can actually re-wire our responses. "Snap decisions can be important defense mechanisms; if we are judging whether someone is dangerous, our brains and bodies are hard-wired to react very quickly, within milliseconds. But we need more time to assess other factors. To accurately tell whether someone is sociable, studies show, we need at least a minute, preferably five. It takes a while to judge complex aspects of personality, like neuroticism or open-mindedness."

Our automatic responses are so insidious that we often don't even notice them. "...viewing a fast-food logo for just a few milliseconds primes us to read 20 percent faster, even though reading has little to do with eating. We unconsciously associate fast food with speed and impatience and carry those impulses into whatever else we’re doing. Subjects exposed to fast-food flashes also tend to think a musical piece lasts too long."

But all hope is not lost.

"If we know we will overreact to consumer products or housing options when we see a happy face (one reason good sales representatives and real estate agents are always smiling), we can take a moment before buying. If we know female job screeners are more likely to reject attractive female applicants, as a study by the economists Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner shows, we can help screeners understand their biases — or hire outside screeners."

In matters of judgment, it seems, it pays to slow down.

Brain Fitness

I stumbled upon this website that offers a brain fitness coaching online course. The graphic on the page shows the steps to brain fitness: 1. Cover the basics: nutrition, exercise, stress management, mental stimulation 2. Cross-train the brain: with meditation, reframing, biofeedback and cognitive training 3. Coach yourself: to self-monitor, prioritize and develop, implement and iterate a plan.

This got me to thinking. Does a well-lived life have a formula at its core? And if so, is this it? Or is there more to the formula? The thing the jumps out to me about this formula is that it doesn't seem to take into account others - relationships, community. No wo[man] is an island - fortunately or unfortunately.

You Do What You Think

"The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated." This tidbit is from a NYTimes Article and such a good reminder that what we think about ourselves and others makes a huge difference in the reality we encounter every day. It's also validates positive visualization.

The article goes on to say that we can even strengthen our social skills by reading fiction: "individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective."