Science Is Cool – Do – A Deer, A Female Deer. Fa – A Long Long Way To Run….

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Remember the book / movie “Flowers For Algernon” where a mentally retarded man (that’s the way they referred to it in the story, so I’m using it) was given an experimental treatment of something that made him suddenly not only become normal, but to possess superior mental and cognitive abilities?

It was one of my favorite books and stories when I was a kid. I SOOOOOO wanted that shortcut in life, so I could be smart and not have to work as hard at it!

Yeah!  I was pretty damned lazy!

Well, they haven’t found a way to do THAT yet. But, they did discover an interesting side effect to an existing epilepsy drug that can reopen specific learning pathways that close off when you become an adult.

Here’s the abstract:

Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo—evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period.

A friend on facebook pointed my to an article on the Raw Story website describing some of the findings. But the article skips some of the details in the study, which I find to be some of the more interesting aspects of the study and absolute pitch.

“Absolute pitch (AP), the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a musical sound without any reference point, has long fascinated musicians, music scholars, psychologists, and neuroscientists (Stumpf, 1883; Mull, 1925; Takeuchi and Hulse, 1993; Zatorre, 2003; Levitin and Rogers, 2005). Individuals who possess AP, constituting about 0.01% of the general population, are able to identify the pitch class, i.e., one of the 12 notes of the Western musical system, e.g., C, D, G#, of a sound with great accuracy “

Only 0.01% have absolute pitch! I would have thought it to be much higher.

And this:

“Training that begins after the age of 9 very rarely leads to AP, and there are no known cases of an adult successfully acquiring it (Brady, 1970; Ward and Burns, 1999; Levitin and Rogers, 2005).””

How many ads are there in the back of musician magazines advertising this or that sure-fire program that will teach you perfect pitch?

Anyway, read the whole study. It’s fascinating.

PS. Since I’m a musician… OK. That’s stretching things a bit… A lot!… I wonder where I fit into the rating scale of those with absolute pitch. On the one hand, If you asked be to sing a note in “C” right now, I’m not sure if I could do it. However, when I’m playing guitar or singing, if a note anyone, myself included, is even an N’th degree sharp or flat, I hear it, a lot of time more so than even my fellow musicians. Drives me nuts! And I always assume it’s me, which drives me even MORE nuts!!!! 🙂

2 Comments to “Science Is Cool – Do – A Deer, A Female Deer. Fa – A Long Long Way To Run….”

  1. By Jeff Alberts, January 8, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    One of the first books I read as a kid that made me cry.

    For the record, the movie was called “Charly”, the name of the main human character.

  2. By Sonicfrog, January 8, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

    Charly… Oh Yeah. It’s been a LOOOOONG time.

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