Sunday , September 23 2018

Music the DJ in our DNA – Biology bound to the rhythm of life

Dr Mohammed Qassim delivering his lecture

Music has always been a part of human existence. Every recorded culture throughout the history of man has had music in one way or another. Many experts think that music is an evolved adaption.

It is coded into our DNA the same way the instinct of fight or flight is. And considering the fact that humans best adapted to survive pass down advantageous traits to the next generation, then music is considered to be advantageous to our survival, for it has yet to disappear from our cultures.

In a lecture held at Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyah — Yarmouk Cultural Centre as part of the 23rd Annual Cultural Season, Dr Mohammed Qassim stated that science has proven through undisputed facts that music has numerous positive impacts on people of all ages, it contributes to the development of the brain and its learning capabilities, it aids in arranging thoughts and retrieving memories.

It ignites emotions and has many more positive impacts and results that no other art or sport has been proven to accomplish. Dr Qassim is an assistant professor in electronic engineering, specializing in artificial nerve cells and deep learning networks. He provides consultation for the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) and actively works towards simplifying science for the public and presents it through lectures throughout the Middle-East and social networks.

Dr Mohammed Qassim asserted that there is no quarrel over the fact that music is part of the human dynamic since cultures started being recorded and maybe before then. But in recent years, as our world becomes more interconnected, voices from men of religion calling for the prohibition of music have become louder and louder. He said that we have all heard what they have had to say and heard others over the matter, but we have yet to allow the voice of science to claim anything, the one voice that cannot be disputed.

To that end, Dr Qassim questioned some of the arguments being given by those prohibiting music, saying that as long as it does not have any kind of musical instrument in its composition, it is not considered music and is called a “Nasheeda”. But the backgrounds of these acceptable genres are made through synthesizers where a single human voice is not included and musical scales are produced. “Is the synthesizer not considered a musical instrument?”

The Holy Quran itself is advised to be recited in a musical non-monotonic tone. It is what makes people listen to the words more carefully. He asserted that he does not want to get into a dispute with religious men, but for the sake of science, changing the terminology of a matter does not make it “Halal” or acceptable in Islam, citing that once he had a banking program that he developed, and upon approaching a certain bank to propose his system, they were unhappy with the term “interest”, as the bank was Islamic, asking him to change it to the term “Murabaha”, a more acceptable term for Islamic banks, despite the fact that the system itself is the same. He then went on to tell the story of how he used to be a musical young man and excelled in playing the piano. He later met a friend and made him more religious, and since music was prohibited, he threw his piano out and destroyed it with a sledgehammer.

Later on, in life, the more he learned about the benefits of music through his studies and research, the more he was drawn back to the piano and eventually bought himself a new one, resuming his musical journey. Furthermore, as much as we want to separate music from human existence, we are always going to fall short, as even human speech possesses the element of rhythm, something that music also possesses. For this reason, people have favorite lectures, because their rhythm of speech is attracting to them.

To prove this further, Dr Mohammed played a video of a young man playing the drums in perfect harmony with a dialogue between two people playing in the background. Listening to music alone has remarkable benefits, as evident with music therapy with Parkinson’s and Dementia patients or simply the deteriorating brain of an old person. Music helps them coordinate their movement, retrieve and organize their thoughts and revitalizes emotions and memories. But when we consider the effects of playing a musical instrument, Dr Mohammed Qassim affirms that the number of benefits increase.

Studies have proven that playing musical instruments improves cognitive skills most effective at a younger age but stretches throughout adulthood. It also improves listening skills. People who play musical instruments gain a heightened ability to differentiate and identify background noises.

The lecture highlighted how scientific research in the past regarding the affects of music on the human brain was inconclusive due to the lack of the necessary equipment and technology. But nowadays, researchers have the ability to map the brain and study the effects on a neurological level, demonstrating the almost intimate relationship between the human brain and music, as is the case with Dr Nina Kraus a professor at Northwestern University, investigating the neural encoding of speech and music. She has concluded that humans are biologically bound to sound. It is something that the body requires in order to survive, and this is why the brain processes auditory stimuli faster than visual.

In a study she was conducting on the relationship between sound waves and brain waves, she found that after stimulating the brain with particular musical notes, the brain reacts with an electrical wave that mirrors that very note, and when stimulated with a clip from a familiar song, brain waves fire to complete the rest of that song.

These are just highlights of the work she is doing, and that science has yet to fully understand the nature of the relationship between the human brain and sound. One thing is clear. Every individual on this green earth has his/ her own musical identity. No two individuals are alike. It is part of our identity that most likely begins with our mothers singing us to sleep.

 

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Times Staff

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