This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin

This is a must-read-must-have for every music student, music teacher, wannabe musician (my badly off key neighbour included) and composer, and is a easily readable guided tour through the creative and neurological workings of the human mind.

Daniel Levitin, professional musician and sound engineer turned neuroscientist, is in a unique position to write this fascinating, flabbergasting, entertaining & enlightening exploration of the human mind and the human-created experience that is music.

Levitin’s love for music illuminates each page, and he effortlessly interweaves brain-scan findings with a line-by-line lyrical breakdown that explains exactly why ‘JailHouse Rock” really rocks. His diagrams and explanations of which different areas of the brain are engaged by specific musical instruments are worth the price alone. The perfect gift book for anyone interested in music and its effects on the mind. Start with even a quick skim and you’ll find yourself drawn along, ultimately experiencing music in a whole new way.This is a well documented, thoroughly footnoted and seminal text which is such a great read it’s almost impossible to put down.

Fans of V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain please take full serving of Levitin’s appetizer.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin

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Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea By Chelsea Handler

Just because one can, doesn’t mean one should. This adage certainly applies to Chelsea’s role as a writer and a narrator. In this garbled collection of memories and experiences, her overenthusiastic voice does not compensate for the irrelevance and frivolousness that is this book, maybe a Hollywood flick might just cut it. Anecdotes cover a range of topics from sex to sibling rivalry to parental humiliation, all showcasing how smart and witty she can be-in hindsight. Ramblings about how she’s freaked out by red-headed men or whining about her arrest and short stint in prison, attempts to be funny fall a little flat and her valley-girl persona wears quickly. Her lively voice has the potential to do well with audiobooks and once again maybe a movie, but the overall tone and ecstatic energy she emits only emphasizes the inconsequential prose. Readers may find themselves asking for a double hit of Mr. Vodka to help reach the end of this one.

As should be clear from the title, this book isn’t for kids and the content can be pretty racy. If you aren’t easily offended, however, it will probably be the best mindless book of banter you read this year.

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea By Chelsea Handler

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea By Chelsea Handler

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid published initally over 20 years ago debates, beautifully, the question of consciousness and the possibility of artificial intelligence. It is a must read book that attempts to discover the true meaning of “self.”

The book gives the reader an introduction to cognitive science drawing heavily from the world of art to illustrate the finer points of mathematics. The works of M.C. Escher and J.S. Bach are discussed as well as other works in the world of art and music. The line up for this book ranges from mathematics and meta-mathematics to programming, recursion, formal systems, multilevel systems, self-reference, self-representation and others.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, is anything but a dry and boring book a boring (gasp) topic. Along the lines of Alice in Wonderland, before each of the book’s twenty chapters, Hofstadter has includes a witty dialogue, where Achilles, the Tortoise, and friends discuss various aspects that will later be examined by Hofstadter in the chapter to follow.

With these wonderful dialogues, Hofstadter created and entirely new form of art in which concepts are presented on two different levels simultaneously of form and content. The more obvious level of content presents each idea directly through the views of Achilles, Tortoise and company. Their views are sometimes right, often wrong, but always hilariously funny. The true beauty of this book, however, lies in the way Hofstadter interweaves these very ideas into the physical form of the dialogue. The form deals with the same mathematical concepts discussed by the characters, and is more than vaguely reminiscent of the musical pieces of Bach and printed works of Escher that the characters mention directly in their always-witty and sometimes hilarious, discussions.

One interesting example is of “Crab Canon,” that precedes Chapter Eight. This is a short but highly amusing piece that can be read, like the musical notes in Bach’s Crab Canon, in either direction-from start to finish or from finish to start, resulting in the very same text. Although fiendishly difficult to write, the artistic beauty of that dialogue equals Bach’s music or Escher’s drawing of the same name.

Other topics include self-reference and self-representation. The examples given can, and often do, lead to hilarious and paradoxical results.

In playfully presenting these concepts in a highly amusing manner, Hofstadter slowly and gently introduces the reader to more advanced mathematical ideas, like formal systems, the Church-Turing Thesis, Turing’s Halting Problem and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, discuss some very serious topics and it can be a daunting book to handle and absorb. But it is always immensely enjoyable to read. The sheer joy of discovering the puns and playful gems hidden in the text are a part of what makes this book so very special. Anecdotes, word plays and Zen koans are additional aspects that help make this book an experience that many readers will come to feel to be a turning point in their lives.

A profound and beautiful meditation on human thought and creativity, this book is indescribably gorgeous and definitely one of a kind.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter