musical hallucinations (Diana Deutsch )

Subject: musical hallucinations
From:    Diana Deutsch  <ddeutsch(at)UCSD.EDU>
Date:    Wed, 7 Aug 2002 15:03:16 -0700

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! Cheers, Diana >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 > >Regards, > >Al Bregman >------------------------------------------------- >Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor >Dept of Psychology, McGill University >1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue >Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1 > >Office: > Phone: +1 (514) 398-6103 > Fax: +1 (514) 398-4896 >Home phone & Fax: +1 (514) 484-2592 >Email: al.bregman(at) >------------------------------------------------- -- ----------------------------------- 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) ddeutsch(at) -----------------------------------

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Electrical Engineering Dept., Columbia University