Musical Hallucinations and
Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I didn't write this for me. I wrote it for anyone else who has similar brain functions to mine, and might stumble onto this page. If that is you, please take comfort in knowing that you are probably okay, since I am. It's not a disease, it's just a condition, and can be lived with, and even enjoyed.
Being a scientist, I had to study to find the source of my inspiration. Unlike the classic poets, musicians, and Bards, I had no muse. I had something else, and it would not shut up. Initially, I had help from one of my sisters, and later, I tracked CAPD information on my own. Oops, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin again.
From my earliest memories, I have always had music playing in the background of my mind. I don't hear it in my ears, but at a spot inside my brain, between the ears, and to the rear of the skull. I thought everyone had it, and so, didn't mentioned it.
One day, when I was five, my oldest sister, Annette, was watching me while the parents were out, and we were playing a board game. The music was very good, and so I commented on it. She asked, "What music?"
I have to explain about Annette and I, so that you will understand the rest of my story. Annette was/is very bright. While still in high school, she had already began to form the basis for her theories of cognitive psychology and child development. Though she never published her work on the topic, she applied her theories while raising her two daughters. Both of her children could read at the third-grade level when they were just four years old.Even earlier, I was Annette's guinea pig for her experiments in human learning. When she took Algebra in high school, I was four. I was curious, and so she showed me what she was doing. She was patient, and taught me the language of mathematics. Together, we learned Algebra while she did her homework. I became good at it, and sometimes found the answers to a hard problem before she did. When Annette took Geometry, I was at the kitchen table each night doing homework with her. Perhaps that early training was why I am now a mathematician?
Annette has always believed that we do not challenge children to learn enough when they are most inquisitive, at the earliest years, when all their neurons are in a learning mode. Carl Friedrich Gauss invented several mathematical methods while just a child. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was also a child prodigy. While Gauss' parents were not well educated, his father taught him math as a child, and Mozart's father was a leading violin instructor in Europe. Sure, the kids were gifted, but they had to be taught and challenged. Gauss did not become a musician, and Mozart did not become a mathematician, though it could have been, if they were to have had the other's parents.
With Annette's encouraging discussions of "my music" and her library research, I learned that I have what are called "musical hallucinations." It is completely different than "auditory hallucinations," where a person hears voices in their head. (I do not have that.) The New York Times has a good article on musical hallucinations: Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod.
Timothy Griffiths of the Newcastle University Medical School in England is an expert on auditory disorders. His research indicates that a person can hear musical hallucinations every hour of the day without any other distortion of reality. When sounds first enter human brains, they activate a region of neurons near the ears called the primary auditory cortex which processes sounds heard by the ear. It is similar to the receiver on a radio. The auditory cortex reads the vibrations of the eardrum and converts it into electrical brainwave signals that are sent to other regions of the brain, which analyze the signals, recognizing complex features of music, such as rhythm, key changes and melody.
Research has shown that the primary auditory cortex neurons can misbehave without affecting any other part of the brain. Additionally, MRI data have shown that people who "listen" to their musical hallucinations show brain images very similar to normal people who are listening to music, while people who ignore their musical hallucinations show brain images similar to normal people when there is no music playing in the MRI room.
For me, it makes sense. It must tie into another brain condition I have, Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). CAPD is easiest to describe as auditory dyslexia, where sounds get flipped and jumbled at the part of the brain described above. Musical notes are pure tone, and so don't get jumbled. The speach sounds do get jumbled, especially in the presence of noise, fans and air conditioning. I can hear the tones of a person's voice, but can't pick out the words. I have learned to read lips to help me "hear" at those times.
So, like the composer Robert Schumann I hear music in my head. I always have. Schumann went crazy. As I write this, I am 48 years old, and show no signs of insanity. I think I am safe from that. Still, like Schuman, I might like some of the music I hear, and decide to write it down. That is where my music compositions come from.
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