Music, the Neural Harmonics of Emotion, and How Love Restrings the Brain – The Marginalian

“Lights and shadows flutter continually across the inner sky, and I know not where they come from nor where they go,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in his notebook one spring day in 1840. “Neither do I inquire closely about them.” “It is dangerous to consider such phenomena carefully. It is appropriate to create a substance where at first it was only a shadow … It is better not to seek to explain it in an earthly language, but to wait for the soul to understand itself. “

A century later, the French philosopher Simon Weil—another unfamiliar seer in the depths of the soul—thought the paradox of friendship, remarking that “it is wrong to wish we could understand before we explain ourselves to ourselves.”

For one consciousness to understand the other – to understand what it is I would like to be Another – may be the biggest challenge to connect and coexist, because each of us moves through life half opaque to ourselves. We aim the analytic mind—those wonderful millennia of new tools in the process of evolution—in obfuscation, but obscuring the lens of self-understanding is something more primitive: emotion clouds the eyes of life, often without our awareness, altering what we see and making us react not to what is there but What do we know. A person of moderate self-awareness can come to terms with the experience of a nervous, exasperated, or melancholy mood that seems to descend upon him seemingly suddenly, when in reality he has been fused from an unseen and pervasive atmosphere of untreated feeling: who among us has not, in a human moment, I directed a flash of anger at the wrong person for the wrong thing because something else entirely filled the sky of the mind with the charged aura of wrongdoing.

Why emotion so easily clouds the lens of experience is what trio psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fary Amini and Richard Lannon have been exploring all along. general theory of love (a public library) – the utterly revealing book that remains, in my life of reading, the single most illuminating investigation into the neurotic nature and psychological nurturing of why we feel what we feel and how this shapes how we become who we are.

Art by Arthur Rackham from a rare edition of 1926 storm. (Available as a hard copy.)

Drawing an analogy to music—which may be central to our sense of vitality precisely because it shares a basic neuropsychological mechanism with emotion—Lewis, Amini, and Lannon examine the formation of feeling out of neural notation, shedding light on the interconnectedness and difference between emotion and mood:

Emotions have the fading of the musical note. When a pianist taps a key, the hammer strikes the matching string inside your instrument and tunes it to vibrate at its characteristic frequency. As the amplitude of vibration decreases, the sound decreases and dies. Emotions work in a similar way: the event touches a responsive switch, an internal sensation tone is released, and soon it turns into silence. (The forms of speech that “wrap on the heart strings” and “strike a chord in me” have found a home in our language for just this reason.) Increased activity in emotion circuits produces no sound, but (among other things) expression. When the neural excitation exceeds the ambiguous threshold of consciousness, what appears is a Feeling The conscious experience of emotional activation. As neural activity diminishes, the intensity of the feeling decreases, but some residual activity continues in those circuits after the feeling has become imperceptible. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, passion suddenly appears in the drama of our lives to push players in the right direction, then fades into nothingness, leaving behind a vague impression of its former existence.

One of Arthur Rackham’s rare 1917 illustrations of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. (Available as a hard copy.)

Against this sentimental backdrop, the dance of mood unfurls, spinning us in turmoil with its disguised percussion:

the mood It exists because of the musical aspect of the neural activity of emotion, the imperceptible lower part of our conscious ears… Mood is a state of enhanced readiness to experience a particular emotion. When the emotion is a single note, striking vividly, suspended for a moment in the still air, the mood is the extended, inaudible echo that follows. Consciousness registers the vanishing level of activation in the emotion circuits poorly or not at all. Thus, the provocative events of the day may leave us with an emotional response waiting without our noticing… As the neural activation that creates a particular emotion gradually decreases, it is easier to provoke it again in the mood window.

Through these imperceptible pulsations and echoes, our present experience resonates with echoes of the past:

Musical tone makes physical objects vibrate with its own frequency, which is the phenomenon of sympathetic reverberation. Soprano breaks the wine glass with the right note as she makes an inexhaustible glassy shiver with her voice. Emotional tones in the brain establish vivid harmony with the past in a similar way. The brain does not consist of a thread and there are no oscillating fibers inside the skull. But in the nervous system, information resonates through the threads that connect the harmonious neural networks. When an emotional chord is struck, it evokes flashbacks of the same feeling.


A certain emotion revives all the memories of its previous states. Each feeling (after the first) is a multi-layered experience, only partially reflecting the present sensory world.

Art by Arthur Rackham from a rare edition of 1926 storm. (Available as a hard copy.)

Over time, our experience rewires the brain, generating a powerful impetus from emotional habit. What we felt comes to shape what we feel easily and quickly, and we unwind the ukulele of reality. We come to perceive the world not as it is but as we are. At the heart of this real-life controversy lies the term Lewis, Amini, and Lanon limbic attractants Pre-conditioned patterns of interpretation of incoming sensory data, densely interconnected and deeply rooted in the limbic brain, are so reflexively activated and powerful that they can mask and overwhelm the initial signal of reality.

The limbic attractors are the source of blindness that makes us so vague to ourselves, but it is also a gateway to transcendence by connecting with other minds, sympathetic and resonant with different emotional tones. Through these mutual harmonics—nowhere more powerful than the limbic bond we call love—we can recreate our own emotional soundtrack:

Since humans remember with neurons, we tend to see more of what we’ve already seen, hear more of what we’ve heard, and only think about what we’ve always thought. Our minds are so burdened with informational stasis that it is not easy to slow down its reckless course… No individual can think his way around his gravity, for they are such an inseparable part of the structure of thought… Because limbic resonance and regulation bind human minds together in a continuous exchange of influential signals, Each brain is part of a local network that shares information – including attractors.


Through the limbic transmission of the attractor’s influence, one person can draw others into his emotional virtual world. When we all engage in interconnectedness, we fall under the gravitational influence of the other’s emotional world, at the same time that we bend his emotional mind with ours. Every relationship is a binary star, a smoldering flow of mutual force fields, deep and ancient influences emanating, feeling, feeling, emanating.

“Every good atom of mine belongs to you.” Leah Halloran’s art The universe in verse. (Available as a hard copy.)

In any binary star system, this limbic resonance allows two people to harmonize their attraction, tuning into the musical tones that flow easily from every consciousness – the Pythagorean music of the spheres and the celestial harmonics of Kepler, here on Earth, in the infinite universe of the human heart:

In a relationship, another mind reviews; One heart changes its partner. This astonishing legacy of our shared state as mammals and neurotic beings is limbic revision: the ability to reshape the emotional parts of the people we love, as our attractors activate certain limbic pathways, strengthened by the brain’s relentless memory mechanism. Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on who we love.

Complete this part of the illuminator in the college general theory of love With poet Ronald Johnson on matter, music, and mind, then revisit José Ortega y Gasset on how our loved ones shape our character and George Saunders in shattering our patterns to break our hearts.

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