Monday, December 03, 2007

Oliver Sacks' Brain

One of the most amazing stories from Oliver Sacks' book, An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, is "To See And Not See" and it gives us a glimpse into the remarkable miracle of ordinary, garden variety, everyday sight. Couple that with Dr. Paul Brand's observations from The Gift of Pain (essentially a re-release of Pain, The Gift Nobody Wants) and you suddenly realize that virtually everything you know --or think you know-- is processed by an organ without any senses of its own, encased in a dark box. And, if you think about it too long, it really freaks you out a bit...

Part of the fun of working with Jeremy in mixing the live House of Bread recordings was growing to recognize all the more how differently we process sound and memory, memory of music and intervals. An example: Rowena from our church just died unexpectedly but, all things considered, mercifully-- her daughters and some friends came to church on Sunday and instead of a sermon Fr. C gave us the opportunity to stand up and share (including memories from a week earlier when she was in church and had a word about someone feeling "sad - but not depressed") and as we drew to a close he announced, "Lynn is going to sing a song she wrote and then we'll continue with the creed." Happily Jeremy & Buzz stood up with me because this was a complete surprise and while I was fairly sure I'd remember the lyrics (and did), I was also pretty sure I didn't remember the chords (!!! - stop laughing. I've written about 400 songs and play 10 songs every Sunday w/the worship team; I try not to memorize them) - happily Jeremy remembers the intervals and he filled in where I fell apart.

Better yet, I think only the three of us were aware, not the family and congregation. So I can't begin to explain how I memorize (mostly repetition, I think) versus how Jeremy simply remembers. He hears the tempering of instruments and therefore recognizes the key in which a piece is played; I transposed one of my songs one Sunday morning and he said, "ah, that's good, it sounds better in A." I simply can't imagine hearing that way; the only way I know if someone has changed the key on something I'm singing is if it moves it out of my range.

Next: The Female Brain

Note: The very cool brain image at the top of this entry is by Sven Geier; he works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and creates cool fractal art. Thanks, Sven!