Music

Dr Sacks work suggests another dimension to this. Readers will recall the case of Mrs O’C who achieved a sense of serenity and completeness by accessing previously hidden memories of her childhood. He is interested that the form taken by Mrs O’C’s recovered memory was music. Melodies and scenes are a common characteristic of temporal lobe disturbances, Sacks says – they can be generated by stimulation of a point in the cortex. Our inner life is in some ways essentially ‘melodic’ or scenic’. Indeed, it seems to be this sense of scene or melody that gives experience its personal vividness, its meaning. This draws attention to the structure of memory in our brains. There is on the one hand, a computational organisation of schemata, programmes akin to the pattern of computers. On the other, there are personal reminiscing structures that take the form of scripts or scores, of stories or music. Sacks suggests that there is evidence from music therapy that there is a separate, though of course connected, structure for musical memory.

If it is the case then that we derive a sense of meaning and completeness from the ‘true past’ captures as stories or music, rather than as computational entities, the range of mental processes involved in personal change can be seen to be far wider than some of the cognitive behavioural manualised programmes often use. Programmes that address the computational part of the brain are still worth doing, but it seems unlikely that such approaches on their own will make a significant impact on offenders whose behaviour is connected with a ‘different kind of music’, and interventions that engage with the reminiscing brain structures as well as with computational cognitive deficits would seem potentially important.

Addictions work has long been aware of this, although ambivalent about the extent to which non computational interventions can be recognised as treatment. AA and Narcotics anonymous are both structured around a discipline of storytelling for example. Some of the ideas around ‘recovery communities’ allow for what can be understood as ‘reminiscing’ activity – shared storytelling amongst peers, positive social activity etc. It would be interesting to see if music could be used more substantively in such settings.

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