Behind the Music, Beyond the Mind – Daniel Levitin’s Masterclass on Sound and Successful Ageing
Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, bestselling author and musician whose work encompasses music, the brain, health, productivity and creativity. He is the Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at Minerva University in San Francisco and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal.
He is the author of the best-selling books This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, A Field Guide to Lies and Successful Aging (published in the UK as The Changing Mind). He has published more than 300 articles, in publications that include Science, Nature, PNAS, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal.
As a musician, he has performed with the likes of David Byrne and Sting, has released two solo albums, produced and consulted on albums by artists including Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell, and has been awarded 17 gold and platinum records.
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02:07 How Daniel came to explore neuroscience, music, and writing in his career
- Generosity in attributing success to unintentional pursuits amidst numerous failures.
- Reflecting on childhood experiences of educational categorisations and parental influence.
- Father’s example of narrow specialisation versus encouragement to explore diverse interests.
- Inspiration is drawn from Leonardo da Vinci’s multidisciplinary approach to life.
- Embracing stubbornness in rejecting the notion of pursuing only one path, striving for continual growth.
06:38 Time management and prioritising tasks effectively
- Continuous pursuit of improvement in time management.
- He has been using index cards for task organisation for over 15 years.
- Daily prioritisation of tasks with adjustments made before bedtime.
- Incorporating flexibility in scheduling inspired by Sting’s advice during the Police reunion tour.
10:48 The role of an artist
- Creativity favours a prepared mind; readiness enhances inspiration to capture.
- Daniel rarely feels like a mere vessel for creativity; hard work is essential.
- Both inspiration and hard work are crucial in the creative process.
- Victor Wooten’s analogy: “Music will visit when ready; be present.”
- Similarities between creative flow and spiritual inspiration.
- Debunking myths in neuroscience: “We use 100% of our brains; multitasking is a myth.”
14:53 The optimal approach for brain functioning regarding multitasking, attention, and focus
- Multitasking incurs a metabolic cost, depleting brain glucose and decreasing efficiency.
- Importance of prioritising tasks to maintain focus and productivity.
- Transitioning between tasks based on productivity levels rather than distractions.
- Contemplation on the degree of control individuals have over their brains and actions.
- On the debate in neuroscience regarding free will versus determinism, considering the complexity of human behaviour and learning.
19:43 A routine for maintaining brain health and nourishment
- Global strategies for brain health include pushing oneself out of comfort zone.
- Engaging in new experiences and interactions, such as trying new restaurants and activities.
- Embracing novelty to counteract the natural tendency towards risk aversion with age.
- Daily practices for brain maintenance encompass healthy eating, sleep, hydration, and exercise.
- Supplementing with vitamins B12 and D, following non-controversial practices for one’s age.
26:02 Research findings on friendships for cognitive health and brain function
- Social connections correlate with better ageing outcomes, including lower Alzheimer’s risk.
- Social interactions provide mental and emotional stimulation, fostering cognitive reserve.
- Neuroprotective effects of socialising are evident, though specific psychobiology remains to be elucidated.
- Friendships benefit from routine and effort, requiring commitment and flexibility, particularly as one ages.
- Strengthening relationships involves a willingness to initiate and accept invitations, akin to building strong marriages or work relationships.
29:20 A synopsis of ‘The Organized Mind’
- Fundamentals remain unchanged despite increased research, offering nuanced insights.
- The book addresses the era of information overload, impacting cognitive function.
- Focuses on understanding brain response to overload and practical strategies for minimising distraction and enhancing critical thinking.
32:08 One strategy for managing the information that comes at us
- Set a designated time for social media use, and turn off notifications to avoid constant distraction.
- Make difficult decisions early in the morning when critical faculties are at their best, avoiding fatigue-induced vulnerability to persuasion.
33:59 How to effectively harness the benefits of technology acting as an extension of cognitive capabilities
- Externalise memory: Adopt strategies to store information outside your brain, like leaving reminders or using digital calendars.
- Share calendars: Collaborate with colleagues or family members by using shared calendars for better coordination.
- Explore virtual assistants: Consider leveraging AI-powered virtual assistants to enhance productivity and organization, and schedule time to research and implement them.
37:10 Daniel’s research into observing jazz musicians to understand how their brains function during the creative process
- Charles Limb conducted an fMRI study with jazz musicians improvising over complex chord changes.
- While it was expected to see increased brain activity during improvisation, the most significant finding was a specific brain area associated with self-consciousness and negative self-thoughts shutting down completely.
- This shutdown of the internal critic allowed for uninhibited creativity to flow during improvisation.
- Jazz musicians balance familiarity with novelty during improvisation, relying on known scales, rhythms, and harmonies while combining them in new ways to create unique musical expressions.
44:35 Our relationship with older music
- The brain undergoes significant neurodevelopment from birth to around age 12, creating and then pruning connections based on exposure and necessity.
- While exposure to music during this developmental period can wire the brain to specific musical elements, it doesn’t prevent individuals from experiencing new musical delights later in life.
- Many veteran musicians continue to tour not just for financial reasons but also because performing and connecting with audiences remain fulfilling and meaningful aspects of their profession.
The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin
The World in Six Songs by Daniel Levitin
This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin
A Field Guide to Lies and Successful Aging by Daniel Levitin