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How is music playing ‘in my head’ related to the physical sense of hearing?

I often have music playing ‘in my head’; sometimes a favourite tune, sometimes an annoying jingle! How is this related to the physical sense of hearing, and could we ever harness this ability to perhaps create music without instruments, or to bypass the vocal chords and allow for ‘telepathic’ communication?
Phil Howard from Greater London (Age 25-34)


2 Responses

  1. Hi Phil,

    When we imagine something vividly the active areas of the brain include many of those that would have been active if the experience was really happening. With regard to hearing, if you brain-scan someone watching a face talking, but with no sound, activity is detected in the auditory areas – not only are we all to some extent lip-readers, when we see speech we ‘hear’ it.

    So, it is safe to assume that your music is activating the same regions as when you are actually listening. However, it would be very difficult to harness this to put orchestras out of business! For a start, you are effectively hearing a memory – you’d need to hear the real thing first. Also, it would be difficult to trigger a desired piece of music without perhaps inserting electrodes into the brain! As for telepathic communication, if it were using the mechanisms I’m talking about you could never hear and understand a new sentence – only ‘old tunes’ would play. I think we’d soon get tired of hearing people repeating themselves!

  2. Thanks for the reply Peter! It’s very interesting to hear about the soundless face talking experiment.

    It’s also interesting that this issue touches on that of creativity. What I was trying to get at in my question was the ability to compose music, or to think a sentence without saying it. One can even ‘mouth’ a sentence, making all the right movements, but not projecting with the vocal chords. Of course to pick up such a signal would require some hard wiring into the brain (or tongue or ear?), but is there, in principal, some way to extract what I’m thinking in such a specific case? (I’d imagine that normal thought is such a complex mix of signals it could never be so.)

    Would this be extendible to capturing images from the ‘mind’s eye’? If an image on the retina converts to an optical nerve signal, can that process be reversed to extract an image of what I’m imagining?

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