Posts from the ‘thesis’ category

The Science of Awe

Cedar Wright enjoys a view of the long way down, moments after getting the first ascent of the Virgin Tower in Enshi Grand Canyon National Park, China

“Scientifically speaking, the storm brought me into a state of awe, an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. And about three-quarters of the time, it’s elicited by nature.”
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San Diego Scientist Illuminates Link Between Light And Health

Evening Edition

Above: We all know that proper diet, exercise, and sleep can improve our health. But emerging research suggests we might want to consider something else, too. Something so ubiquitous, few of us ever stop to reflect on it. That something is light. KPBS science reporter David Wagner profiled one San Diego researcher who’s illuminating the importance of getting light in the right amount at the right time.

Continue reading…

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Adaptive Room Personalizes Its Settings to Soothe Workplace Stress

In collaboration with a dynamic team of academics and professionals in mental health, Philips created a healing space that adapts to meet individual stress-relieving needs. Depending on where users stand, the room changes its shape and soundscapes to create new calming ambient experiences. This open space is built to combat various work-related tensions such as burnout and anxiety. Ideally, this innovation will fit perfectly in hospitals, mental healthcare facilities and even airports.

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Three key themes are introduced in order to reduce people’s stress levels: paced breathing, personal balance, and ambient experience. Embedded sensors under the soft flooring of this high-tech sanctuary trigger space partitions that enclose different areas. When a person moves from one area to another, they intuitively create their own individual space. Soothing rhythms and tones are generated by the people in room, nothing is prerecorded. To help re-energize people, pulsating lights that range in color and hues were installed to help control their pace of breath. Continue reading…

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Corridors of the Mind

ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN talking for years about “biophilic” design, “evidence based” design, design informed by the work of psychologists. But last May, at the profession’s annual convention, John Zeisel and fellow panelists were trying to explain neuroscience to a packed ballroom.

The late-afternoon session pushed well past the end of the day; questions just kept coming. It was a scene, Zeisel marveled—all this interest in neuroscience—that would not have taken place just a few years earlier.

Zeisel is a sociologist and architect who has researched the design of facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. Architects, he explains, “understand about aesthetics; they know about psychology. The next depth to which they can go is understanding the brain and how it works and why do people feel more comfortable in one space than another?” Continue reading…

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Why Movies Like Oscar-Winning ‘Undefeated’ Make Grown Men (and Women) Cry

The newly minted Oscar winner for best documentary, Undefeated, has left many critics gushing—with praise, but also tears. The true-life sports tale follows a struggling high school football team in a poor area of Memphis, Tennessee, whose fortunes begin to turn under the guidance of a devoted and determined coach. The emotional story has reduced folks at ForbesEsquire, and other media outlets to sniffles and sobs. It made us wonder: What actually causes people to cry at movies? Continue reading…

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How meditation can reshape our brains (and revisiting neuroplasticity)

I learned some of this at MARC (at UCLA) and found it fascinating.

Neuroplasticity is visited in this video. I often post about neuroplasticity and how that concept allows us to understand that we can heal and change our health and wellbeing by changing our brains.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Found on beyondmeds.com

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Brain Scans Predict Subjective Beauty

When we find something aesthetically pleasing, the sensory areas of the brain light up, and the more beautiful we find, say, a piece of art,  the greater the brain activity in certain regions, a new study shows.

By further investigating the connection between humans’ subjective preferences and brain activity, scientists will someday be able to pinpoint various characteristics that make a painting, musical number or other sensory experience beautiful, researchers said.

“For the first time, we can ask questions about subjective preferences and relate them to activity in the brain,” lead researcher Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. “There are some people who would prefer [beauty] to remain a mystery, but that’s not how scientists view things.”

In a previous study, Zeki found that an area in the pleasure and reward center of the brain is more active when people view a painting or hear a piece of music that they think is beautiful, compared with art they didn’t find particularly pleasing. Because the brain activity of study participants rose accordingly with their ratings of beauty, the results suggest that scientists can look at the brain to objectively measure an experience that seems wholly subjective.

“So the question that we askedis: Do beautiful objects have any specific characteristics that render them beautiful?” Zeki said.

Measuring beauty in the brain

If you look at a painting, video or some other piece of visual art, there are many “domains” that could contribute to the perception of its aesthetics, such as color, shape and motion. For the new study, Zeki and his colleague, Jonathan Stutters, zeroed in on motion, which is the simplest visual attribute, Zeki said.

The researchers used a computer program to generate sets of white dots moving on a black background. The eight patterns all had the same number of dots and changes in speed, but differed in the way the particles moved: Some of the patterns involved dots that moved uniformly on a grid, while others had groups of dots that moved in a seemingly random way.

They then had 16 adults view the patterns twice — once while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, and once before going into the machine. With each viewing, the participants had to rate how much they likedeach visual stimulus.

“It turns out that there are certain patterns that are almost universally liked,” Zeki said, referring to those preferred by 14 out of the 16 participants.The researchers also found that a certain sensory brain area called V5, which is thought to play a major role in motion perception, activated more strongly when the participants viewed patterns they preferred the most.

By analyzing the participants’ preferences and the fMRI data, the researchers were able to pick out certain characteristics — such as the separation between dots — that made some patterns more preferable than others.

In a follow-up experiment, which was not detailed in their study published online today (Feb. 21) in the journal Open Biology, Zeki and Stutters created other patterns that utilized the characteristics they found. Participants overwhelmingly preferred these new patterns to the old ones.

Tip of the iceberg

“It’s nice to see that people are breaking down the aesthetic experience to basic processes,” said Marcos Nadal Roberts, a psychologist at theUniversity of the Balearic Islands in Spain, who was not involved with the study.”If we don’t break it down to smaller pieces, it will be very hard to understand the bigger picture.”

But, Roberts notes, the research is not saying that beauty can be reduced to a merely objective experience, because the participants in the study had slightly different likes and dislikes. For example, one of the participants in the study didn’t strongly prefer any of the patterns, while another participant preferred a pattern that no one else did.

“Beauty is not just about an object and all its features, it’s also about the person and all of his or her features,” Roberts told LiveScience. “So it’s subjective and objective, both happening at the same time.”

Roberts said that the study could have been more relatable to the real world if the researchers had used more natural forms of motion, such as the movement of waves in the ocean, the flocking of birds or the rustle of leaves in a tree as the wind blows.

The abstract motion of dots isn’t something that people would typically say is “beautiful,” Zeki concedes.

Zeki is now looking to tease out preferred characteristics in the other domains, and eventually combine them to get a better picture of the objective qualities of visual beauty. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Actually, it’s not even the tip, it’s just a few micrometers of the tip.”

Via livescience.com

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Nature That Nurtures: Hospital gardens turn out to have medical benefits

By Deborah Franklin via Scientific American Magazine

To get an inkling of what a well-designed hospital garden can mean to a seriously ill child, watch the home video posted on YouTube last August of Aidan Schwalbe, a three-year-old heart-transplant recipient. The toddler is shown exploring the meandering paths, sun-dappled lawn and gnarled roots of a branching shade tree in the Prouty Garden at Children’s Hospital Boston. “He loves to be out in the garden feeding the birds and squirrels,” wrote Aidan’s grandmother in an August blog entry. “They will all weigh 30 lbs. each by the time we leave here!”

The garden that Aidan loves—with its vibrant greenery, shaded places to sit and walk, and small, half-hidden animal sculptures that fascinate visitors of all ages—is “one of the most successful hospital gardens in the country,” says Clare Cooper Marcus, an emeritus professor in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dismissed as peripheral to medical treatment for much of the 20th century, gardens are back in style, now featured in the design of most new hospitals, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects. In a recent survey of 100 directors and architects of assisted-living residences, 82 percent agreed that “the design of outdoor space should be one of the most important considerations in the design.” But can gardens, in fact, promote healing? It turns out that they often can. Scientists around the world are now digging into the data to find out which features of gardens account for the effect.

Common Sense Put to the Test
The notion that the fresh breezes, dappled sunlight and fragrant greenery of a garden can be good for what ails us has its roots in ancient tradition and common sense. But a much cited study, published in 1984 in the journal Science by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, now at Texas A&M University, was the first to use the standards of modern medical research—strict experimental controls and quantified health outcomes—to demonstrate that gazing at a garden can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other ailments.

Ulrich and his team reviewed the medical records of people recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban Pennsylvania hospital. All other things being equal, patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.

Esther Sternberg, a physician and neuroimmunologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, calls Ulrich’s work “groundbreaking.” At the time, studies showing that loud sounds, disrupted sleep and other chronic stressors can have serious physical consequences were only just beginning. “In 1984 we all took it for granted that hospitals were noisy, smelly, disorienting mazes,” says Sternberg, who details the history in her book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. “But it hadn’t occurred to us that stress could affect a patient’s healing—or that we could do anything about that.”

Fortunately, as the evidence implicating hospitals as major engines of stress builds, the stack of data suggesting that gardens and planted alcoves can encourage healing has grown, too.  Just  three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity.

Indeed, the benefits of seeing and being in nature are so powerful that even pictures of landscapes can soothe. In 1993 Ulrich and his colleagues at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden randomly assigned 160 heart surgery patients in the intensive care unit to one of six conditions: simulated “window views” of a large nature photograph (an open, tree-lined stream or a shadowy forest scene); one of two abstract paintings; a white panel; or a blank wall. Surveys afterward confirmed that patients assigned the water and tree scene were less anxious and needed fewer doses of strong pain medicine than those who looked at the darker forest photograph, abstract art or no pictures at all.

“Let’s be clear,” Cooper Marcus says. “Spending time interacting with nature in a well-designed garden won’t cure your cancer or heal a badly burned leg. But there is good evidence it can reduce your levels of pain and stress—and, by doing that, boost your immune system in ways that allow your own body and other treatments to help you heal.”

Growing Insight
Still, research shows that not all gardens are equally effective. In 1995 Cooper Marcus and landscape architect Marni Barnes received a grant from the nonprofit Center for Health Design to analyze the physical layout and daily use of several hospital gardens in northern California. In 32 hours of observations, which included taking detailed notes and interviewing users (who collectively made 2,140 visits), the researchers noticed several patterns that have been borne out in subsequent studies of other sites.

Among their findings: users mostly visited gardens seeking relaxation and restoration from mental and emotional fatigue. Tree-bordered vistas of fountains or other water features, along with lush, multilayered greenery of mature trees and flowering plants, appealed most. Those results are consistent with Ulrich’s findings of the healing power of a “window view” and also correspond with the theories of evolutionary biologists that people prefer views that are reminiscent of the savannas where humans evolved. Throughout human history, trees and water have signaled an oasis, and flowering plants have been a sign of possible food. Open views deter surprises by predators, and shaded alcoves offer a safe retreat.

The more greenery versus hard surfaces, the better. “We found that a ratio of at least 7:3 seems to work best,” Cooper Marcus says. Less greenery signals a “plaza or shopping mall courtyard” and is not as relaxing.

What you can do in the garden is as important as what you see. The results of “behavioral maps” tracking visitors’ actions while in a garden suggested a need for private conversation areas; smooth, tree-lined paths that invite strolls but that will not trip wheelchairs or intravenous poles; lightweight furniture that can be tugged into the shade or sun; and naturalistic landscaping that lures birds, squirrels and other wildlife.

One finding, in particular, surprised Cooper Marcus and Barnes. Stressed hospital employees accounted for as many visits to hospital gardens as stressed patients, and interviews confirmed that staffers depend on the greenery. “I feel like one of the Mole People,” an employee who works in the basement radiology department of a Berkeley, Calif., hospital told the researchers. She said she comes to sit amid the trees of the rooftop garden daily to relax and meditate. “It’s a big mental, emotional lift.”

Different generations seem to value the same things in gardens, but research has turned up differences, too. In 2005 clinical psychologist Sandra A. Sherman and her colleagues conducted a study of three gardens at a children’s cancer center in San Diego to try to figure out what worked and what did not. Some of the findings made intuitive sense. A mosaic turtle sculpture that small children could climb, for example, was more alluring than a crane sculpture the kids could only look at. Other results were less obvious. A riverlike water feature where kids and parents could splash and float boats together was twice as popular with the kids as a child-size playhouse that adults could not enter.

Focusing on the other end of the age spectrum, Susan Rodiek of Texas A&M has looked at long-term care institutions. In her studies, published in 2009, of a random sampling of 68 assisted-living facilities, Rodiek talked to 1,100 residents and 430 employees. “Older people,” she found, “need and benefit from outdoor space and greenery just as much as the young.”

But the adults desire some different features. Middle-aged adults, for example, tend to look for peace and quiet in the garden, and older adults are more likely to seek stimulation. At one new senior residence Rodiek studied, the facility’s architect had created a lovely, secluded lawn and pond at the back of the apartment building. But every afternoon, the researchers noticed, at around the same time, the elderly residents dragged their lightweight aluminum chairs to the front of the building to be part of the community of commuters passing by. “You can only watch a pond for so long,” Rodiek says. “And a grass lawn doesn’t change much.”

The Search for Standards
To help ensure that outdoor areas promote as much healing as possible, Rodiek has recently created a checklist, drawing on the evidence described above, that administrators of long-term care facilities and others can use to evaluate their garden design. And she is working on one geared specifically to hospitals so that hospital-accrediting agencies can set standards.

Codified standards are needed because therapeutic gardens are becoming so popular. “New hospitals are now competing on the basis of whether they have a ‘healing garden’ or not,” Cooper Marcus says. “But when you go to look, some are not much more than a rooftop with a chaise lounge and a few potted plants.” Designing a good garden for health care settings “isn’t rocket science,” she adds. Yet basing the design on good science instead of whim will strengthen the healing nature of nature.

What Makes a Garden Healing?
The following checklist, based on research, shows what works:

Keep it green
Lush, layered landscapes with shade trees, flowers and shrubs at various heights should take up roughly 70 percent of the space; concrete walkways and plazas about 30 percent.

Keep it real  
Abstract sculptures do not soothe people who are sick or worried.

Keep it interesting
Mature trees that draw birds and chairs that can be moved to facilitate private conversation foster greater interaction.

Engage multiple senses
Gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to soothe best. But avoid strongly fragrant flowers or other odors for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Mind the walkways
Wide, meandering paths that are tinted to reduce glare allow patients with low eyesight, wheelchairs or walkers to get close to nature. Paving seams must be narrower than one eighth of an inch to prevent trips by patients trailing wheeled IV poles.

Water with care
Fountains that sound like dripping faucets, buzzing helicopters or urinals do not relax anyone, and neither does the strong smell of algae.

Make entry easy
Gardens should not be far away or behind doors that are too heavy for a frail or elderly person to open.

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Art and minds: hospital trust brings in culture to promote wellbeing

It’s always good to read and hear this!
Artist Lucy Burscough

Artist Lucy Burscough in the atrium of the Manchester Royal eye hospital. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Lucy Burscough is at her easel in the atrium of Manchester Royal eye hospital, completing a portrait of the hospital trust’s chairman, Peter Mount. She’s in the middle of painting the bottom part of his jaw, and one of his ears is still a pencil line. The resemblance is impressive.

Patients waiting for appointments sit nearby, as you’d expect in a hospital, seemingly unflustered by the presence of an artist. Around the corner, a group of people are knitting in a circle by the main hospital entrance. Needles clack with spools of brightly coloured wool as the knitters talk quietly.

Culture Shots is a week-long series of events at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS trust, aimed at promoting health and wellbeing through exposure to art and culture.

It is the first time in the UK that a trust has hosted a museums and galleries week within a hospital setting. A series of lectures, workshops and performances are taking place in conjunction with institutions including Whitworth art gallery, Manchester art gallery, Manchester Museum and Salford museum and art gallery.

Burscough, the artist in residence at Galaxy House, a residential psychiatric unit for young people, is interested in how society views mental health. “Everybody has preconceptions about mental health and it would be good if we could bust a few myths,” she says.

She has a diptych in which one painting has pieces missing and the fragments reappear in the second. “A friend of mine’s mother has bipolar disorder and she says when she’s on drugs to keep the condition in check, she feels like pieces of her are missing as its part of her personality,” she says.

When she works with young people, she says, it is interesting to see how their self-esteem is improved by having their portrait painted. The portraits cannot identify the patients, so instead of faces she focuses on hands or an eye and nose

“I felt they were quite brave having their portraits done,” she says. Every one of them were invited to their own private view but none of them felt they could come as they had moved on with their lives when they left hospital. But I hope one day that they’ll be able to revisit the portraits.” Each has been given their own printed copy of her work.

Burscough adds: “Yesterday I was in an ante-natal clinic and I had a lot of people coming in asking for portraits of their babies. The staff have been interested, too. It’s something a bit different.”

On Monday, the Manchester Royal Infirmary atrium hosted a live performance based on the story of the suffragette and councillor Hannah Mitchell, which was well-received by staff and visitors.

The eye hospital has a series of brightly coloured glass sculptures on permanent display, with a sign by the entrance imploring people to “please touch” the tactile art. Other sculptures are dotted around the modern building: a metal fish appears from a cabinet, and there’s a flutter of butterflies across a wall.

During 70 sessions over the week, the positive contribution to health of spending time in museums and galleries will be promoted.

At St Mary’s hospital atrium, in a portable obscure darkroom (Pod), Harriet Hall from Interference Art is encouraging people to empty their pockets or handbags and take photographs of objects, which they develop themselves and take away.

The portable obscure darkroom at Manchester Royal eye hospital

The portable obscure darkroom at Manchester Royal eye hospital. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

“It’s something that goes against the instantness of cameraphones and goes back to traditional methods,” she says. “A lot of the doctors have been laughing, saying we look like we’re a decontamination tent, and here we are in our lab coats, which is very doctor-esque.”

Heavily pregnant women in pyjamas and dressing gowns walk past and stop to inquire what the Pod is about. “It is about giving people something unexpected,” Hall says.

Wendy Gallagher, arts and health programme manager at the Whitworth gallery and Manchester Museum, says the relationship with the trust developed over three and a half years. “There are 10,000 staff who work at the hospital sites and it is an opportunity for them to access creative arts, which have benefits for health and wellbeing, as well as the patients,” she says.

The arts institutions and hospitals have worked on a dementia reminiscence project. Art as therapy is recognised as being beneficial to health and, as Gallagher points out, “it’s not rocket science. If there’s an activity taking place during a person’s stay in hospital it can reduce the need for analgesia.”

She says: “During the royal wedding patients who were usually given analgesia two-hourly had an eight-hour interval as they had something to distract them.” And it wasn’t because the staff were busy watching the nuptials.

A parent whose daughter, Beth, was one of those whose portrait was painted during her stay at Galaxy House, praised the scheme for bringing children’s mental health into the public eye. “It is definitely something that, as a parent, I feel is pushed under the carpet and hidden away. We are living proof, so are all the other children, that it can happen to any family at any time and I really do thank you for recognising that they are beautiful children behind the illnesses.”

Article via The Guardian

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Yosemite in HD

Truly inspiring… I can barely spell in my excitement over the beauty of this thing. The nighttime just blows me away!

This video is a collaboration between Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty. All timelapses were shot on the Canon 5D Mark II with a variety of Canon L and Zeiss CP.2 Lenses.

via [Jondo]

Project Yosemite Website: http://projectyose.com

Thanks to Dynamic Perception for their motion controlled dolly and continued support!

Dynamic Perception Website: http://dynamicperception.com

Music is “Outro” from the new album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83.
Publishing: http://emimusicpub.com
Licensing: http://bankrobbermusic.com

This whole project has been an amazing experience. The two of us became friends through Vimeo and explored a shared interest in timelapsing Yosemite National Park over an extended period of time. We’d like to expand this idea to other locations and would appreciate any suggestions for a future project.

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/#!/SheldonNeill
https://twitter.com/#!/barple

Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/sheldon.neill
http://www.facebook.com/delehanty

Contact info: info@projectyose.com
Behind The Scenes: http://vimeo.com/35223326
By Dalton Runberg

Yosemite HD | 2K will be hosted on YouTube shortly. Link coming soon!

Our hearts go out to the family of Markus Praxmarer who lost his life while climbing Half Dome on September 19, 2011.

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Musical therapy is making breakthroughs

Over the summer I participated in a workshop held for art and music therapists. It was there that I knew for sure that I could only work within the realm of passive therapy. I would be useless otherwise, since I cried at every story that was told that day – it was heart wrenching, yet beautiful what these special individuals are able to offer to others in pain.

Technology enables people with severe physical and mental disabilities to communicate and enjoy a more enriching life.

By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic

January 22, 2012

There is a great deal of music in the world, and no one knows exactly why. But it does have its ready uses. The music business can make you rich and famous. The pianist Christopher O’Riley admitted in The Times last week what a lot of classical musicians won’t: He learned the piano, at least in part, to attract the attention of girls.

As I write this, a sparkling new recording of Tod Machover’s “Sparkler,” an infectious overture for orchestra and live electronics, is playing on my stereo and making itself useful. The CD, “but not simpler…,” is drowning out trucks on a nearby home construction site whose backup beeps are loud enough to wake the dead a mile away. “Sparkler” is more effectively fueling my fingers as I type than was my morning double cappuccino. The music is lifting my spirits and making writing almost fun. Even so, I’m not getting the greatest, if least explicable, pleasure “Sparkler” can provide. That’s obtained by giving the score undivided attention.

Machover, an intriguing futurologist as well as an inventive composer, runs the departments in hyper-instruments (acoustical instruments given spiffy electronic features) and opera of the future at MIT’s ultra-high-tech Media Lab. Last week, he was at UC Santa Barbara to speak on “Music, Mind and Health: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Well-being through Active Sound,” one of four lectures he’s given recently at the university’s Sage Center for the Study of the Mind.

Music, Machover said, touches on just about every aspect of cognition. There are theories that music exists to exercise the mind and to help coordinate its separate functions. Music lovers intuitively know what researchers have verified, that music modulates our moods, helps us move, stimulates our language skills, strengthens our memories and can wondrously bring about emotional responses without their bothersome consequences.

The practical applications of music for healing are irresistible. Cutting-edge music therapy can help Parkinson’s patients walk, enables the autistic to rehearse their emotions and provides opportunities for stroke victims to regain speech and motor movement. Music is usually the last thing Alzheimer’s sufferers recognize. It is our final way to communicate with them, and now it seems music can play a significant role in forestalling Alzheimer’s.

This is terrific news. I’m also looking forward to the optimistic day when we will be reimbursed for the price of symphony and opera tickets by BlueCross BlueShield.

But that’s not all. In an inspiring feedback loop, Machover and his MIT minions, which include some of the nation’s most forward-looking graduate students, are applying their musical gadgets to therapy. The process of making remarkable restorative advances is changing how they think about and make music. And that could affect how the rest of us might think about and make music in the not-so-distant future.

It all began with Hyperscore, a program Machover developed to enable children to compose by drawing and painting on a monitor. A sophisticated computer program translates their artwork into a musical score.

Machover’s team took Hyperscore to Tewksbury Hospital outside of Boston, which serves patients with severe physical and mental disabilities, including the homeless. The residents, many of whom were physically unable to communicate or were otherwise uncommunicative, discovered their inner composer. Through Hyperscore they found they could express themselves in a way that bypassed language.

A few patients with hopeless prognoses and no meaningful life had significant enough changes in their pathology that they could actually think about at least partial recovery. Some found a decrease in auditory and visual hallucinations. There were behavior changes in many that allowed for socialization.

Dan Ellsey became the model patient. Born with cerebral palsy and unable to speak, he was forced to communicate with a clumsy headset that pointed to letters to spell out words. He had little control of his body movements. He was in his early 30s, had never been more than five miles from where he was born and seemed doomed to spend a cocooned life in the hospital.

The Media Lab scientists designed a more refined headset for Ellsey that not only inspired him to compose (he turned out to have interesting musical ideas) but even allowed him to perform by controlling tempo, loudness and articulation. He blossomed, and Ellsey, while still a severely affected cerebral palsy patient, has become an active participant in the Hyperscore program, performing, making CDs and teaching other patients. He was a star at the 2008 TED conference.

What this work with music therapy has shown Machover and other researchers is the potential for what he has dubbed “personal” music. This will be a music tailored to an individual’s needs, be it medicinal or simply a matter of taste.

A noted MIT neurologist, Pawan Sinha, for instance, is learning how to analyze brain waves to determine what you are hearing when listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Machover imagines making a piece of music that is your brain listening to the symphony and then creating a Beethoven Fifth jukebox consisting of pieces based on different people’s way of listening to Beethoven. The jukebox might then serves as “an automatic empathy system.”

Traditionally what a composer has done, Machover explains, is to create a piece that will reach the largest number of people. But as our knowledge of how music affects our bodies and minds grows, the opportunity will arise when a piece of music can be designed specifically for your life experiences, needs and moods. A piece can even be made to change over time as you change.

Machover is already putting some of these ideas into action. At dinner after the talk, he told me he would be flying the next morning to Silicon Valley, where he would visit Google. He is writing a score for the Toronto Symphony that will have an interactive online component looking for Internet expertise. Wonderful as musical healing is, I expressed dismay about a brave, new world of personal music. Music has always been for me about discovery, about giving a listener new experiences, not reinforcing preferences or prejudices.

But Machover was a step ahead of me. He said that my personal music could be designed to provide all things that I never could have possibly expected. I felt better already.

Article found @ Los Angeles Times

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