The Monday Morning Memo: It’s Party Time

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1By Roy H. Williams

May the name of Peter Gorner live forever, Amen.

On Monday, April 23, 2001, the Chicago Tribune published a story about the brain that I’ve waited 4 long years to read. In this story, the Tribune’s Pulitzer prize-winning science reporter, Peter Gorner, wrote, “A study published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggests for the first time that the rules of music may be processed in the same region of the left hemisphere located just above the ear, called Broca’s area, that handles speech and language syntax... ‘Music training is known to lead to enhanced verbal abilities and this may explain why,’ said psychologist Burkhard Maess, of the Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Science in Leipzig, Germany, who conducted the research.”

When I saw these words, I lifted my arms into the air and my face toward heaven and said, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

You may recall a chapter called “Surprising Broca” in my 1999 book, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, which said, “Although none of the neurologists I’ve consulted can positively confirm or deny it, I am convinced that while a speaker uses Broca to arrange his words into understandable sentences, the listener uses Broca to anticipate and discount the predictable. When your listener hears only what she has heard before, it’s difficult to keep her attention... When speaking or writing, visualize Broca’s area as a theater stage upon which your play will be performed in the listener’s mind, and think of Broca as a theater critic - the judge who will determine whether or not to walk out on your play. If you will present your play on this mental stage and gain the smiling approval of the judge, you must electrify Broca with the thrill of the unexpected.” (p. 71, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads)

Since 1997, I’ve taught that the Emerald City of human persuasion is the prefrontal cortex, (the part of the brain responsible for decisions, planning and judgment,) and that Broca’s area is the all-important tollbooth at the entrance to the Yellow Brick Road, (the dorsolateral prefrontal association area), and that the toll required at Broca’s tollbooth is surprise — specifically, unpredictable words in unusual combinations. To say the least, I’ve endured a great deal of criticism from those who have conducted Internet key-word searches and have been unable to find anything about Broca’s area anticipating the predictable. My response to their indignant email demands for documentation has been flimsy at best; “I never read it. It was not taught to me. Can a man not speak the truth without quoting someone else?”

For those who are wondering exactly how Burkhard Maess and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute bailed me out, allow me to explain: using magnetoencepholography, Maess scanned the brain signals of a number of musically naïve volunteers while a series of chord sequences was played. When the volunteers heard a chord that was musically unrelated to the others — one that did not belong – a stronger magnetic field than usual was measurable in their brains. “The magnetic field came from a region called Broca’s area, which is thought to be involved in understanding complex language.” (Nature Neuroscience, vol. 4, p 540.) In other words, Broca was stimulated by that which was not anticipated.

Glory to God in the highest. Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward men.

And God bless Peter Gorner.

 

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