Chapter 4. Music and Language in Dream
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1. Introduction The new field of neuroaesthetics (within which the above topic is lodged) has been expanding rapidly during the last few years, and neuroscientific conferences and lectures have begun to proliferate. An annual conference on neuroaesthetics is now held at Berkeley, under the auspices of the Minerva Foundation. In September 2005, there was a conference on cognitive neuroscience and the arts in New York, sponsored by the Dactyl Foundation. There is a regular public lecture series at Harvard on the same subject. A large meeting on Literature and Cognitive Science, with a neuroscientific component, was held in April 2006 at the University of Connecticut. A major conference on music and the brain, with published proceedings, is held more or less annually at various international venues; abstracts from the proceedings of the 2006 Bologna conference are available at Among relevant conferences in 2008 were one on the neurology of music, held in London and organized by F. C. Rose, and one on music and language, at Tufts University. Moreover, an Academy for Neuroscience and Architecture has been established at San Diego, and there are institutes on neuroscience and music at McGill University , at the Université de Montréal, and at Harvard. Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist (2007) sheds light on some interesting phenomena in the neurology of music. As I mention in the preface, Lehrer proposes that the audience’s rioting at the first performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” may 4 Music and Language in Dream Massey Book1.indb 101 Massey Book1.indb 101 9/9/09 2:51:29 PM 9/9/09 2:51:29 PM 102 The Imagination, Neural be accounted for by the response of certain neurons to unfamiliar sounds. According to Lehrer (pp. 141–142), when these neurons fail to find a pattern in the sounds to which they are being subjected, an excessive discharge of dopamine can follow, producing something like schizophrenia. Whether or not Lehrer’s explanation holds up under scrutiny, and one can think of several caveats, it implies that a neurochemical approach to an aesthetic problem is possible. In view of the strong interest in the neural substrate or accompaniment of music, among the other arts, it seems appropriate to revisit a musical phenomenon that has until now been described only anecdotally, in order to see what light may be shed on it from a neurologically informed perspective. This phenomenon is the musical dream, long familiar in musical circles, but regarded as vanishingly rare by the general public. These dreams are less unusual, however, than the public thinks (Prokop, 1979; Streich, 1980; Grace, 2002; and in a personal communication with William Domhoff, December 7, 2004). They occur more often in people with musical training, but they are not confined to musicians (Prokop, 1979, and Streich, 1980). One can encounter an expression of interest in the musical dream in the psychological journals as early as 1964 (see Knobloch et al., 1964), but it was after the major article published in 1978 by the Stanford psychologist Roger N. Shepard that a steady trickle of publications concerning the musical dream began to appear. Of course, the phenomenon had been known long before to anthropologists and musicians. As associated with rites of passage in some early societies (see Herzog, 1936, and Nettl, 1986), as a theme in fiction (see Tolstoy, [1865–1896] 1991), or as reported by composers (see Wagner, 1978–1980), the musical dream was understood as occupying a significant intermediate ground between psychology and aesthetics. Besides being of interest as a phenomenon in itself, as a form of “endomusia,” the music in dreams is of major theoretical significance because it occupies a unique position in the hierarchy of dream elements. In a word, music is the only faculty that is not alMassey Book1.indb 102 Massey Book1.indb 102 9/9/09 2:51:29 PM 9/9/09 2:51:29 PM 103 Music and Language in Dream tered by the dream environment, whereas action, character, visual events, and language may all be modified or distorted in dream. In addition, the relations between language and music, the two main aural elements of dream, have important implications that remain to be formulated. In this chapter, I intend to review, in approximately chronological order, some of the literature on the musical dream, and then to consider the subject in its own right, since I believe that there is much to be learned from it; the musical...