Seems like it’s all about music this week at the Thinking Meat Project, which is a nice coincidence because the Lotus World Music Festival is in town (one of the high points of my year) and I’m enjoying a lot of great music this weekend.
Oliver Sacks has a new book out (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) that I’m eager to read. Several of his recent New Yorker essays have described people who also figure in the book (including musicologist Clive Wearing, whose story I linked to the other day). Wired has published an enjoyable report of its interview with Sacks.
I was very interested in what Sacks had to say about psychoactive substances and music. He describes an experience he had at the peak of a “a sort of pharmacological mountain” he had ascended, and a similar experience that was mediated solely by music rather than by drugs. I’ve never even smoked pot, much less experimented with anything more intense, so I can’t know what I’d feel if I ever did. However, music and some types of natural surroundings can evoke moments of insight and connectedness and profound spiritual emotion in me that seem to resemble the kind of thing people say they experience when they’re high. Since Sacks was able to compare his own experiences in the two different sets of circumstances, that lends some credence to my idea that maybe what I feel really is similar to some types of drug-induced emotions.
I was also struck by what he had to say about mystical experiences, mostly I suppose because I agree so strongly with it:
I intensely dislike any reference to supernaturalism, but I think there can be profound mystical feelings which do not have to call on fictitious agencies like angels and demons and deities. The whole natural world is bathed in wonder and beauty and mystery. The feeling of the holy, the sacred, the wonderful, the mystical, can be divorced from anything theological, and is conveyed very powerfully in music.