Aired Tuesday June 30th, 2009 at 7:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
Can the power of music make the brain come alive? Throughout his career, Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and acclaimed author whose book "Awakenings" was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions. While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music. NOVA follows four of these individuals - and even peers into Sacks' own brain - to investigate music's strange, surprising and still unexplained power over the brain in "Musical Minds," airing Tuesday, June 30, 2009, at 7 p.m. on KUED-Channel 7.
According to Sacks' latest book, the national best-seller "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain," anatomists cannot identify the brain of a visual artist, writer or mathematician - but they can recognize the brain of a professional musician. Music affects more parts of the brain than language does; clearly, humans are musical animals. Can music aid people battling severe neurological disorders? To find out, NOVA follows the BBC's Alan Yentob on an intercontinental quest - from New York to England and Ireland - to meet individuals whose disorders are chronicled in Musicophilia, bringing Sacks' latest work to life through their intimate and phenomenal stories.
Three of the four case studies cope with neurological disorders: Tourette syndrome, autism and amusia, the musical equivalent of color-blindness, which results in deafness to certain elements of music. The last subject is a former surgeon and rock 'n' roll lover who, after being struck by lightning, became obsessed with playing classical piano. Three of the four have somehow, almost magically, unlocked a part of their minds to develop musical talents that were otherwise unimaginable.
While these extraordinary stories offer examples of music's unquestionable power over the mind, scientists have yet to fully understand what happens in the brain as we experience music. In an effort to unravel the mystery, NOVA puts Dr. Sacks himself into a functional MRI (fMRI) machine for two experiments. In the first, cutting-edge visualization shows that when Sacks imagines a piece of music, his brain reacts differently from when he actually hears the song. The second test shows Sacks' overwhelming neurological response when he listens to one of his favorite pieces, Bach's Mass in B Minor; however, when compared to a similar piece by Beethoven, Sacks' brain is almost unresponsive, revealing his clear distaste for the latter composition.
For the first time on television, NOVA provides a rare glimpse into the mind of the world's most famous neurologist. And, with Sacks' help, "Musical Minds" highlights the unusual disorders these subjects face, even as it underscores how these people manage, survive and transcend, often triumphantly. As Sacks says, it seems music can bring back the feeling of life when nothing else can.
The four case studies in "Musical Minds":
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