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E is for Ecstasy – and Einstein

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Music induced ecstasy (from the Greek ekstasis to stand outside) – often begins with “chills” up and down the spine and can suddenly appear out of nowhere. Researchers are now closer to finding out what is going on.

Dr Robert Zatorre, neuroscientist at McGill University measured dopamine release in response to music that elicited “chills,” changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing, and temperature. ‘Chills’ or ‘musical frisson’ is a well established marker of peak emotional responses to music. Dopamine is known to play a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining behaviour that is biologically necessary.

“These findings provide neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry in the brain,” says Dr. Robert Zatorre. “To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that an abstract reward such as music can lead to dopamine release.”

Einstein was no stranger to ecstatic musical states, he played string quartets socially with Leon Barzin, (my conducting guru) and the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz and this subject (along with the relationship between gravity and “what we perceive as time”) often came up during their musical evenings. Einstein summed up the effect of music on his life as follows:

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” 

 

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