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musical hallucinations

Dear Al, Bill, et al.,

Al - You appear to be making history! I've never yet heard of anyone
TRYING to experience musical hallucinations - and SUCCEEDING (though
I must confess that I've tried also, though  unsuccessfully). Your
interpretation is intriguing, and I agree that this may well be part
of the picture - it's not unusual for these effects to be exacerbated
by noise.  But all the reports that I've read - and all the people
who experience such hallucinations  with whom I've talked - describe
symptoms that are persistent, vivid, loud, localized somewhere in
real space, outside their control, and definitely annoying. Also they
can describe the sound quality in detail - often the music initially
sounds pleasant, and then, over days or weeks, the music degrades in
quality so that it sounds like a scratched phonograph record.

One intriguing aspect of these hallucinations is that they are
generally religious or patriotic in nature. Perhaps such music is (or
perhaps it was) heard in childhood more often than other types of
music - and perhaps in future decades, people will instead
hallucinate  songs from advertisements or cartoons. But who knows!



Dear Diana, Bill, and list,

A few years ago I became interested in top-down processes in
auditory perception.  I was aware of an example where a professor
started a piece of music in his class, then gradually raised the
noise and got each student to indicate when he or she could no
longer hear the music.  When the noise was intense, he shut off
the music altogether.  Some students continued to hear the music
for some time. [I don't know the reference for this incident, or
even if it is true, but it is widely cited.]

I asked myself whether the preliminary playing of the music was
really necessary.  It happened that subsequently I was on a
plane, near the engines at the back, in a very noisy spot.  I
told myself that I would hear music -- not just imagine it, but
hear it through my ears.  I listened for the music very hard.  At
first I only heard a couple of notes; eventually, as I strained
to hear what was there, I could hear sustained melodies.  With
repeated practice, hearing the music became less and less
effortful.  To make a long story short, the dominant experiences
were of marching music and male choirs.

I tried it on another occasion with a different kind of noise.
My belief is that the acoustic structure of the noise plays an
important role in the nature of the hallucination, with the brain
constructing interpretations that use the spectral distribution
of the raw auditory experience.  When medication is involved, the
medication  may be triggering tinnitus with specific spectral
characteristics, and the brain tries to interpret the "sound" as
meaningful signals.  One question that occurs to me is where the
rhythm comes from for the marching music.  One's heartbeat would
be a plausible source


Al Bregman
Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
Dept of Psychology, McGill University
1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1

     Phone:  +1 (514) 398-6103
     Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896
Home phone & Fax: +1 (514) 484-2592
Email:   al.bregman@mcgill.ca

Diana Deutsch
Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

858-453-1558 (tel)
858-453-4763 (fax)