I have often felt a little envious of my professional musician friends. Not for the obvious reasons (getting to play in a band and get paid for it, or the accompanying status/sex-appeal), but because they had such a direct line to an audience's emotions. Writers can certainly influence a reader's emotions, but only by engaging the person's mind, first. The words have to be processed intellectually before they can be understood and felt emotionally. It's a quiet, thoughtful impact, even when it happens. A far cry from having an entire audience jump to its feet, almost involuntarily, and start moving in response to the rhythm, harmony, and energy issuing forth from the stage.
A brilliant orator might bring an audience to its feet, but the response would be to an idea, even if the idea was emotionally expressed. And the crowd would know what it was cheering about. Ask someone why a piece of music moves them, and they will probably find it harder to explain. For music speaks to a place deep inside of us that feels more than thinks; that knows resonance without questioning the details; that can hear and be comforted by the outpouring of heartbreak and survival in a blues ballad without even knowing the words.
But some researchers suspect that music and words may be more closely linked than I ever would have thought. So closely linked, in fact, that the study of music may actually be able to help ameliorate the language deficits of children with dyslexia.
How is that possible? The exact mechanism of the process isn't clear yet, but researchers at Harvard University have apparently seen a correlation between early-childhood music training and "enhanced motor and auditory skills, as well as improvements in verbal ability and non-verbal reasoning," And that correlation, they say, is even more pronounced in children with dyslexia. Gottfried Schlaug, one of the researchers, told the Acoustical Society of America that the results "suggest that a music intervention that strengthens the basic auditory music perception skills of children with dyslexia may also remediate some of their language deficits."
Those results are also supported by another paper being presented at the Acoustical Society of America meeting next week. Dr. Laurel Trainor and colleagues at McMaster University in West Hamilton, Ontario, have conducted several studies of children to gauge the impact of musical training. In one study, they compared two groups of children: one who were starting music lessons, and one who were doing other activities, like sports. They tested the electrical activity in the children's brains for a year and found that while both groups changed as the children developed, the children taking music lessons changed more ... especially in the areas "related to attentional processing."
"This is significant," Trainor wrote, "because it suggests a mechanism whereby music lessons could affect other cognitive processes, such as language and mathematical skills."
Now granted, music lessons involve a more focused learning process than simply sitting back and enjoying a collection of sounds. But there may also be a link between language and the evolution of music itself--which might help explain the ability of music to impact language processing.
A while back, I read a piece by Natalie Angier in the Science Times about the evolution of both language and the human ear. It appears that eight genes involved in shaping our ears underwent significant change over the past 40,000 years, and that our ability to distinguish and use a complex language evolved along with our more refined auditory infrastructure. "Moreover," she says,
"the avidity with which our auditory sense seeks to organize ambient noise into a meaningful acoustical pattern--a likely consequence of our dependence on language--could help explain our distinctly human musicality."
And a love of music is, apparently, a uniquely human trait. Other mammals, Angier notes, do not really appreciate music, despite the prevalent myth about music's power to soothe the wild beast. "If you give monkeys a choice between music and silence, they choose silence pretty strongly," reported Dr. Josh McDermott of the Center for Neural Science at NYU.
A similar thought was put forward in an article last December in The Economist on the evolution of music. It explored various theories about why we like and react to music, from sexual selection to group and community bonding. The sexual selection theorists believe that expertise in music evolved because it provided a courting advantage, similar to a peacock's colorful tail--which would certainly seem to be true in terms of musicians' ability to get dates after performances, at least in the rock and roll world. Music may also have evolved as a way to bring groups together as a community.
But according to Dr. Steven Pinker, a language theorist at Harvard, our appreciation for music may have evolved as a side-effect of our focus on sounds--a focus necessary to develop a complex language. As the article put it, just as a body that's designed to seek sugar and fat for survival finds itself enthusiastic about cheesecake, even though cheesecake itself isn't required for survival, "a brain devoted to turning sound into meaning is tickled by an oversupply of tone, melody and rhythm." So in the course of learning to distinguish nuances of difference in tone, sound and shape of vowels, consonants, and complex verb forms, we may have developed a delighted appreciation for all sounds and tones.
But even if all those correlations and theories are true, they still don't fully explain why music resonates so directly and brings forth such a range of emotions in people. Why do particular musical sounds move us so? The sounds in a word--even a really good word like "inexplicable"-- don't have the same effect. Researchers are looking into that one, too. But perhaps it's because we have been surrounded by sound far longer than we have known words: Our mothers' heartbeats and swishing blood and fluid even before we were born. The singing of birds, rain on a tin roof, the creaking of a porch swing, or the rustling of leaves by a gurgling brook. The cry of another child, the terrifying crack of lightning, or the scary howl of an animal nearby.
In the end, maybe the reason we respond to music more viscerally than language is simply because music was actually the first language we ever learned ... before thought, before words, when emotion was all we knew.
Note: I will be offline for the next week finishing a book project, returning November 3rd.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
The condition has long been considered untreatable. Experts can spot it in a child as young as 3 or 4. But a new clinical approach offers hope.
This is a good day, Samantha tells me: 10 on a scale of 10. We’re sitting in a conference room at the San Marcos Treatment Center, just south of Austin, Texas, a space that has witnessed countless difficult conversations between troubled children, their worried parents, and clinical therapists. But today promises unalloyed joy. Samantha’s mother is visiting from Idaho, as she does every six weeks, which means lunch off campus and an excursion to Target. The girl needs supplies: new jeans, yoga pants, nail polish.
Listen to the audio version of this article:Download the Audm app for your iPhone to listen to more titles.
At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
The question isn’t whether a president can directly control the bureau—it’s whether other institutions, and the public, are going to let him get away with it.
Donald Trump is leading this country into new and dark places. At each new reveal, administration critics ask their version of the question satirically posed by Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che playing NBC’s Lester Holt: “Did I get him? It’s all over?” But no, as the punchline confirms, it’s not over—and a fascinating Friday Twitter exchange shows why not.
I eagerly await the flood of experts explaining why Donald Trump firing Comey to obstruct justice is not obstruction of justice. 😐
Famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz has emerged as one of Donald Trump’s most full-throated defenders first in the Russia matter, then in the Comey firing. In so doing, he has devised a bold argument, already rapidly being taken to heart by other Trump defenders: an astonishing and novel claim of the president’s absolute personal control over the FBI.
Isabel Caliva and her husband, Frank, had already “kicked the can down the road.” The can, in their case, was the kid conversation; the road was Caliva’s fertile years. Frank had always said he wanted lots of kids. Caliva, who was in her early 30s, thought maybe one or two would be nice, but she was mostly undecided. They had a nice life, with plenty of free time that allowed for trips to Portugal, Paris, and Hawaii.
“I wasn’t feeling the pull the same way my friends were describing,” she told me recently. “I thought, maybe this isn’t gonna be the thing for me. Maybe it’s just going to be the two of us.”
At times, she wondered if her lack of baby fever should be cause for concern. She took her worries to the Internet, where she came across a post on the Rumpus’ “Dear Sugar” advice column titled, “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us.” The letter was from a 41-year-old man who was also on the fence about kids: “Things like quiet, free time, spontaneous travel, pockets of non-obligation,” he wrote. “I really value them.”
The story of a decades-long lead-poisoning lawsuit in New Orleans illustrates how the toxin destroys black families and communities alike.
Casey Billieson was fighting against the world.
Hers was a charge carried by many mothers: moving mountains to make the best future for her two sons. But the mountains she faced were taller than most. To start, she had to raise her boys in the Lafitte housing projects in Treme, near the epicenter of a crime wave in New Orleans. In the spring of 1994, like mothers in violent cities the world over, Billieson anticipated the bloom in murders the thaw would bring. Fueled by the drug trade and a rising scourge of police corruption and brutality, violence rose to unseen levels that year, and the city’s murder rate surged to the highest in the country.
The American office was, until a few decades ago, the last stronghold of fashion formality. Silicon Valley changed that.
Americans began the 20th century in bustles and bowler hats and ended it in velour sweatsuits and flannel shirts—the most radical shift in dress standards in human history. At the center of this sartorial revolution was business casual, a genre of dress that broke the last bastion of formality—office attire—to redefine the American wardrobe.
Born in Silicon Valley in the early-1980s, business casual consists of khaki pants, sensible shoes, and button-down collared shirts. By the time it was mainstream, in the 1990s, it flummoxed HR managers and employees alike. “Welcome to the confusing world of business casual,” declared a fashion writer for the Chicago Tribune in 1995. With time and some coaching, people caught on. Today, though, the term “business casual” is nearly obsolete for describing the clothing of a workforce that includes many who work from home in yoga pants, put on a clean T-shirt for a Skype meeting, and don’t always go into the office.
Instead, the Netanyahu government is nervous about the new administration.
In Tel Aviv on Monday, Donald Trump will not receive a gleaming gold medal or join a boisterous sword dance. But his 28-hour stop in the Holy Land should have been the highlight of his first foreign tour as president of the United States. Israel’s ruling right-wing greeted his election with glee, and for good reason: The new president seemed ready to fulfill its deepest wishes.
During Trump’s campaign and transition, he vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. (The United States, like most countries, keeps its mission in Tel Aviv to avoid wading into the dispute over the contested holy city.) He nominated a U.S. ambassador, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who supports Israeli settlements—not only in his words, but as the president of a foundation that donated millions to Beit El, an ideological settlement outside of Ramallah. Trump said he would be open to a one-state solution, a statement that seemed to casually discard decades of bipartisan U.S. policy. Several hawkish lawmakers even started drafting a bill to annex large chunks of the West Bank, a step that would permanently foreclose a two-state outcome. “The era of a Palestinian state is over,” Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, cheered at the time. “Obama is history. Now we have Trump,” Miri Regev, Israel’s populist culture minister, declared.
Firsthand accounts from the Clinton White House during Kenneth Starr’s inquiry may offer a preview of what’s to come for President Trump’s staff.
If Donald Trump’s staff thinks that life in the White House has been hard the last four months, they ain’t seen nothing yet.
From Watergate to the Valerie Plame affair, the layering of a major independent investigation on top of the normal travails of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has always added an excruciating set of complications to one of the world’s most challenging work environments. Now that former FBI Director Robert Mueller has taken over the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, current White House staffers are joining this exclusive, if undesirable, club. Perhaps the best way to see how the administration’s inner life will look in the coming months is to reflect back on a presidency that was practically defined by such investigations: Bill Clinton’s.
An image of the president inaugurating a counterterrorism center with the Saudi and Egyptian leaders went viral.
President Trump’s visit this weekend to Saudi Arabia was largely hailed as a success: He appeared to enjoy himself on his first foreign trip as president; he announced billions in Saudi investment in the U.S.; and his speech on terrorism was well received. But it was one photograph Sunday that got much of the attention online:
In the image, Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi have their hand on an orb that lit up upon their touch, an image that immediately drew humorous comparisons online with comic-book villains, Star Warsprotagonists, and Star Trekmind control—not to mention references to the Illuminati and Lord of the Rings. Saudi news reports set the record straight, saying the illuminated orb was, in fact, a globe, and that by placing their hands on it, the three leaders “officially activated the” Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh, a facility that will monitor extremist messaging in real time.