Friday, February 29, 2008

Your Brain On Music

This isn't strictly (or, to be honest, at all) relevant to the course, but I've just been reading Daniel Levitin's "This Is Your Brain On Music which is a fascinating look at why we spend so much time and energy on music, and invest so much emotionally and intellectually in it, from a psychology/neuroscience point of view. It's a fun, accessible read, and I'd recommend looking through the site. Levitin had quite an interesting life as a musician and music producer before going back to university later in life (in fact, looking at his wikipedia entry, he's almost nauseatingly accomplished)

On the website this is particularly enjoyable (though I've never heard of "Parthenon Huxley" myself) - a list of pop and rock songs which refer to neuroanatomy in some way:
* "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em/ That I ain't got no cerebellum ."
The Ramones, "Teenage Lobotomy."

Actually, the cerebellum (which is in the back of the head at the base of the skull) would not be directly affected by a lobotomy (which disconnects the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain). But you can't blame The Ramones, one of my favorite bands; after all, they went to a "rock and roll high school" and spend their leisure time not reading books about brain anatomy, but " Hangin' out in 100B, watchin' Get Smart on TV, thinkin' about you and me." But looking at it another way, they may be right. As we are just beginning to learn, there are massive connections between the frontal lobe and the cerebellum, so it is true that anyone with a frontal lobe lobotomy is going to suffer impairments in cerebellar connectivity. [Chapter 6]

* "When a rattle of rats had awoken,
The sinews, the nerves, and the veins.
My piano was boldly outspoken, in attempts to repeat its refrain."
Paul McCartney, "Monkberry Moon Delight"

Sudden noises can launch a startle response in the brain that tenses our muscles (a sinew is a tendon), put our nerves on alert, and dilate our arteries as a means of increasing our blood pressure and preparing for a fight or flight. Nerves are part of the peripheral nervous system. Afferent nerves convey sensory signals to the central nervous system, for example from skin or organs, while efferent nerves conduct stimulatory signals from the central nervous system to the muscles and glands. Afferent and efferent fibers are often arranged together, forming mixed nerves.

* "Something in my heart stopped when you walked by. . .
Cerebellum breakdown when you said 'hi'
San Francisco Bay went completely dry "
Parthenon Huxley "Something in my heart"

A sudden emotional experience, such as seeing that special someone you're in love, especially unrequited love, puts all our senses on alert. The cerebellum is responsible for motor responses, and yes, the lyric is accurate in that a breakdown of normal function there is what happens when faced with an exciting or emotional experience. Parthenon couldn't have known this in 1987 when he wrote the song, but the recent discovery of mirror neurons" in the brain has shown how prescient this lyric was; seeing someone walking activates neurons that help us coordinate and implement our own walking. [Chapter 6] Parthenon Huxley is one of my favorite, and most inspiring, songwriters. You can get his music here:

* "The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
you raise the blade, you make the change
you rearrange me ' till I'm sane
you lock the door
and throw away the key
there's someone in my head but it's not me"
Pink Floyd, "Brain Damage"

For most of us, the seat of our feelings of "me-ness" is in the brain; we identify that which makes us "us" with something inside our heads, and that is the brain. Perhaps a reference to lobotomy, the lyric accurately portrays the 20th century resolution to the mind/body problem. [Chapter 3]

* "Fame, it's not your brain, it's just the flame that burns the change to keep you insane Fame"
David Bowie, "Fame"

The space oddity is right, the brains of famous people are not fundamentally different from anyone else's, and the brains of musicians -- although they do undergo some changes as a result of practice -- are not architecturally different from other's as far as we know. Experience shapes a brain, but musical experience doesn't do this any more than experience with chess, driving a taxi in London, or listening to the Animaniacs. [Chapter 7]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

UCD/St John Of God's Research Project

From ""
Sent Wednesday, February 27, 2008 10:17 am
To All Staff
Subject Volunteeers for Socialisation Project
Dear Colleague,

I am writing to ask for your help with a research project being carried out in UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, University College Dublin in conjunction with St. John of God Mental Health Services. The purpose of the research project is to establish and evaluate a programme which will enable people living in the community who are experiencing mental health problems to socialise. As part of the research project we are hoping to recruit a group of volunteers who are willing to commit to spending a couple of hours a week undertaking social activities with a person who has an enduring mental illness.

The research project will last approximately nine months and if you are willing to participate as a volunteer or require further information on the study please contact a member of the research team on or telephone 01-716672

An expression of interest does not commit you to taking part.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this important study.

Kind regards,

Dr. Ann Sheridan
Principal Investigator
UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems
Health Sciences Centre
University College Dublin
Dublin 4.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Welcome incoming final years!


Welcome the incoming final years who have followed this link on Blackboard! First of all, look around, feel free to comment, and if anyone would be interested in posting themselves, drop me a line ( and we can set you up. Secondly, the lectures will kick off March 13th in Belfield, in C005. Niall Crumlish, who as you can see posts here already, will be holding forth to you all.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A link to an article in the Irish Independent from Saturday 9th Feb.

It was in response to this from 1st February. (Probably better to read this first).

These touch on the relationship of psychiatry to the legal system and the media; the expectations that people have, and the need to be clear about what we do as psychiatrists, and doctors.