Music and Altered Cognitive States - William Beeman

The study of altered cognitive states and their relation to religious ritual has a long pedigree in Anthropology. Music is a nearly universal feature as a concomitant to the production of altered cognitive states. However, the exact mechanisms for producing altered cognitive states in humans is still largely unknown. In this paper I will review current research speculation about the nature of these states, focusing primarily on [UTF-8?]“trance,”  and its neurological basis, and the ways that music may serve as a medium for producing it. I will draw examples from fieldwork conducted in Japan, Bali, India and North America. 

Music, Models, and the Neural Mind:  Approaching a Modern Synthesis? Norman Adler. Harry  Ballan

In the history of science, there are oscillations between periods of analysis and periods of synthesis.  One of the great synthetic events in the modern history of biology, was signaled with by the publication in 1942, Julian Huxley’s   Evolution: The Modern Synthesis.  We begin our presentation with a synthetic biological approach and we explore the possibility of finding correspondences between the ‘models’ that are used to describe musical structures and neuroscientific structures.  We will look for the existence of specific formal entities, like Modules, Oscillators, Directed Movements, Agonist/antagonist organization (e.g. Parkinsonian and Choreic motion), and Hierarchical organization (composition, and control).

In the creative hands of the artistic and/or the depths of a folk culture,  the ‘outputs’ of these biological ‘structures’ may be used for ‘transcendent’ function.

So, we can, in this period of scientific-humanistic integration a series of questions: What is transcendence, and what does music have to tell us about it? After our discussions of hierarchies and oscillations, in the nervous system and in musical structures, we can at least put the hierarchy to use as a metaphor. The transcendence that music offers is a transcendence of the "in between" – not the lowest hierarchical levels of busy-ness and relentless activity, nor the eery, purified stillness of the highest levels, but an elevated state, higher than the animals, lower than the angels, somewhere above the dervishes conical hat, both tomb and womb, in the in-between.

Transcendence is Local - Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford)

Spiritual experience is shaped by the brain but also by the ways local culture invites people to pay attention to events in their minds and bodies. This talk looks at the way spiritual experience differs in three new charismatic evangelical churches in the Bay Area, in Accra, Ghana, and in Chennai, India.

Training the Mind, Opening the Heart - Clifford Saron (UC Davis)

Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Intensive Meditation. This talk will summarize our ongoing investigation regarding the ways in which attentional, emotional and physiological processes are modified over the course of three months of intensive full-time training in meditative quiescence (Shamatha) and emotional balance (loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity) taught by Alan Wallace, in a longitudinal randomized wait-list controlled study known as “The Shamatha Project.” A large international collaborative team has employed scientific measures that include established paradigms in cognitive and affective neuroscience, stress and affiliation-related biomarkers, EEG, autonomic psychophysiology, facial expressions of emotion, self-report instruments, daily mood state and journaling, and thematic analysis of structured interviews. Our initial findings demonstrate improvements in adaptive psychological attributes, perceptual and attention-related skills, brain activation changes during meditation and related to visual perception and attention, improvements in inhibiting habitual responses, changes in the emotional response to the perception of human suffering, and changes in biomarkers associated with stress and cellular repair. These findings demonstrate wide-ranging effects of the retreat experience. The presentation will be framed within a discussion of the complex methodological issues confronting research in contemplative practice, the need for an interdisciplinary perspective, and integration of 1st-, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives.

In search of neural correlates of spiritual experiences with music  - Petr Janata (UC Davis)

Descriptions of the strongest emotional experiences that humans have with music often parallel descriptions of spiritual experiences, characterized in part by a sense of extraordinary unity with those sharing in the experience or with the world, universe, etc..  Indeed, music is commonly the vehicle by which one enters these transcendent states. From a neuroscientific perspective, such states present a puzzle: how does a brain that constantly supports a multitude of interactions of a person with the environment give rise to relatively rare states of consciousness that are labeled as spiritual? In this talk I describe a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study that sought to identify patterns of brain activity that arose as individuals from a variety of religious and secular traditions listened to music that was spiritually salient either to them or to others in the study cohort. Remarkably, participants reported experiences that had a spiritual quality while listening to music in the MRI scanner. As initially hypothesized, activity associated with self-selected spiritual music was found in an extensive set of brain areas that are usually not co-activated in typical cognitive neuroscience paradigms. This was particularly true in those participants who experienced greater external unity when listening to their self-selected pieces of music. Although the results of this study must be interpreted with caution, they suggest that insights into music-induced spiritual experiences can be gained in laboratory settings.

The In-Between (Metaxu): Cosmic Sound, Sacred Space, and Human Consciousness in Hagia Sophia  - Bissera V. Pentcheva (Stanford University)

How is sacred space produced in Byzantium and what is its effect on human consciousness?  Focusing on the Justinianic Hagia Sophia and mobilizing the celestial visions of Pseudo-Dionysius, the medieval descriptions of the Great Church, and psalter illuminations depicting the mystical aim of the inauguration ceremony, this presentation uncovers the complex tripartite movement that engenders sacred space.  Turning attention to the phenomenology of sound, I will argue that chant plays a central role in activating the material fabric of Hagia Sophia and thereby, producing a consciousness of being in a space-in-between, a metaxu, where human and divine intertwine.   

Reality and transformation in Magic, Music and Medicine: The architecture of transcendence - Ricardo Rosenkranz (Northwestern University)

In the Magical Arts, the subtext of each performance is transcendence. The successful magician creates a bridge of belief into a second universe. Moving the audience towards that second reality is predicated on the relationships created by the magician. We will explore the role physicians  play in the transcendent journeys their patients most complete. We will contemplate important observations that may be drawn from music and the Magical Arts.

Tuning your instrument: The Budha, the Brain, and Bach

Clifford Saron, UC Davis neuroscientist, and San Francisco Symphony cellist Barbara Bogatin collaborate to offer this experiential workshop exploring the practice of awareness in meditation, music and brain science.  They will examine the parallels between musical and meditative practice and its effects on cognition, perception and self-organization, and show how a musician’s deepening mindfulness allows for greater freedom in performance and interpretation. The morning will include short guided meditations, discussions about neuroplasticity and the embodiment of expertise, and musical interludes of Bach for solo cello. 

© Jonathan Berger 2014