Saturday, February 28, 2015

Music soothes the old brain




Recently, I found myself in a room with a saxophone.

Apparently, I arrived in the midst one of those “common but mysterious short-term memory failures, [where] people find themselves in a room, without remembering why they ended up there.”

Precisely. 

So, there I was, a little bit breathless, and pondering:  Moments ago I was there, but now I am here.  With a saxophone. 

Why am I here? 

This is not an existential question.  I know why I am here.  I am here to make the world a better place.  Duh.  Everyone knows that, right? 

Nevertheless, in spite of my certainty regarding the meaning of life and my place in the universe, I was hard-pressed to know what-the-what I was doing in that particular room at that specific moment with an E-Flat saxophone.

And then there was the sax itself, staring back at me; also no doubt, wondering how we wound up together.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…!

Researchers say the doorway may be to blame. 

That’s right.  According to Gabriel Radvansky, a psychologist at the University of Notre Dame, the very act of walking through a doorway may tell your brain since a new scene has begun, it should store prior memories, thereby causing strange memory lapses.  

"Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an 'event boundary' in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away… Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized."

OK.  Perhaps it is existential.  I think I forgot why I came into this room; therefore I am essentially still in the other room. 

Or, maybe these ‘event boundaries’ are my own personal wormholes whereby Morgan Freeman messes with me just because he can. 



In theory, mental event-boundaries are useful (so says Mr. Notre Dame) because they help us organize our mental timelines and remember not just where, but also when a particular event happened.

I get it.  It’s like when Mr. Plath asks me, for example, how long we’ve had Netflix and I piece together the answer by saying, “My hair was still long because the first one of those red envelopes got stuck in it when I thought I had to lick it to seal it and my hair got in the way.  And I thought we’d be able to get ‘Finding Nemo,’ which was about 2004; but of course we never could, which makes me wonder if we should go ahead and subscribe to HBO Go or one of those other movies services?”

It is patching into place memories – like passing through doorway after mental doorway, event boundary after event boundary, until he’s gone into another room wondering why he even asked me such a question in the first place.



But I digress.

I have crossed through a portal into a room which contains a saxophone.  To find out why, I need only retrace my steps, turning back the swinging doors of the event boundaries that brought me here.

Easy peasy.

Let’s see:  I had been wondering, after mistaking an old movie for a good movie, “What is that thing where you forget the ending of a bad movie and wind up watching the whole thing with a nagging suspicion that you’ve seen it before only to find, in the last unraveling of the plot, that you do remember the stupid ending of the thing and you just lost two precious hours of your life watching it again?”

So I went online to find out how to stop doing that annoying thing. 

I found an article at Live Science entitled “People with Dementia May Have Hidden Talents, Strange Case Shows.”

It told the story of a man in South Korea who was formerly meek and mild but got dementia and began saying what he thought at work without regard for the feelings of others.  Kind of like what’s-her-name at Sony Studios who said Angelina Jolie was a self-absorbed brat or whatever.  But then he started playing the saxophone and it made him nicer again.

And I thought, wow, that could be me.  The hidden talent part, I mean.


And I wound up in a room with a saxophone.