Religious music in your brain

Carl Zimmer’s article on musical hallucinations in the July 12 New York Times, with the catchy title Neuron Network goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an iPod, was widely blogged.

Less widely noted was the fact that in this study of 30 cases the music heard was religious in a surprising two-thirds of the cases; that figure includes both hymns and Christmas songs. An astonishing 20% of the subjects (six people) reporting hearing the hymn Abide With Me.

Remember, these were old people; the average age was 78. In a lecture, Dr. Nick Warner, one of the authors of the original study, conjectured that death was on the mind of these oldsters and “Abide With Me” gave them comfort and hope.

I love that tune myself. I recall fondly singing it as a child on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the church my family attended, at the end of the service. No doubt that’s the song I too will be hallucinating when I get to that point.

The lyrics of this song have a nearly Buddhist sensibility, talking about emptiness and oneness, light and darkness, presenting a compelling analogy of the passing of one day to the passing of one life:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

One Response to “Religious music in your brain”

  1. Marianne lewsey Says:

    I am constantly hearing Christmas and religious hymns whenever I am not concentrating on a task. I also hear some old popular songs ‘Tammy’ & “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, “Star Spangled Banner” Every tune is in the same beat of 3/4 time. How do I stop this, it is driving me mad.

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