Monday, June 29, 2009

On Music, Heart & Brain Health, and Michael Jackson

(Above: A visualization of music; a tribute to Michael Jackson. Notice the visual pattern: high-variability that has self-similar segments throughout, giving rise to multiple long-range correlations that make the song coherent and enjoyable for listening.)

(Above: Lebron James comments on the important role that music plays in his life; especially, in regards to his energy levels and emotional states--note that he diversifies and listens to various types of music.)

(Above: Bernie Williams, the athlete & now the artist, who integrates sports and music so brilliantly. He led the Yankees in center field for many years; now, he's making professional strides as a musician.)

Aside: My previous essay in this domain = An Argument from Physiology

... AND, as this post shows, MUSIC!

Why Music is So Important to Health

It's a heart-brain thing. Actually, more accurately, it may be a HeartBrain thing.

The intricate signaling patterns that drive our physiologies depend upon epigentic mechanisms, leaving our open-loop neurological systems intimately linked to our environmental conditions and stimuli. External energy radiates constantly, bombarding us from all directions, in various forms, and our bodies detect, process, and respond to these energy sources throughout the day in important ways. Music is one such energy source that our minds, bodies, and souls perceive (via sensory receptors, interneurons, and other neurological pathways, including those in the brain). Every day, our bodies absorb and react to energy from sound waves. Consequently, the patterns of these sound waves can have 'pacesetting' effects on our physiologies. By influencing and shaping the electrical signaling patterns in our hearts and brains, music plays an intriguing role in determining our health states. As Lebron James describes above, music can change our moods and energy levels in profound ways. At the cellular level, these responses occur because our neurons 'play along with the music', firing in synch with the beats and rhythms of the songs we hear. This synchronization phenomenon is important because it turns out that the music we love and enjoy looks, when visualized, just like healthy heart beat patterns do: they both display non-linear, self-similar, multifractal complexity with power-law long-range correlations and scale-invariance. Now for the 'chicken or the egg' question: Do we create fractal music as a manifestation of how our bodies are naturally built to operate (an ancestral default); or, do we compose fractal music because we hear it, like it, and respond by developing more of it? In practice, it is probably an inseparable positive, reinforcing feedback process.

Either way, fractal dynamics are very important to understanding diseases, aging, and health, and Ary Goldberger et al. study these intricacies diligently at the Rey Institute for Nonlinear Dynamics in Medicine at Harvard University. This abstract from one of their magnificent papers says it all, dispelling misinformed views of homeostasis:
According to classical concepts of physiologic control, healthy systems are self-regulated to reduce variability and maintain physiologic constancy. Contrary to the predictions of homeostasis, however, the output of a wide variety of systems, such as the normal human heartbeat, fluctuates in a complex manner, even under resting conditions. Scaling techniques adapted from statistical physics reveal the presence of long-range, power-law correlations, as part of multifractal cascades operating over a wide range of time scales. These scaling properties suggest that the nonlinear regulatory systems are operating far from equilibrium, and that maintaining constancy is not the goal of physiologic control. In contrast, for subjects at high risk of sudden death (including those with heart failure), fractal organization, along with certain nonlinear interactions, breaks down. Application of fractal analysis may provide new approaches to assessing cardiac risk and forecasting sudden cardiac death, as well as to monitoring the aging process. Similar approaches show promise in assessing other regulatory systems, such as human gait control in health and disease. Elucidating the fractal and nonlinear mechanisms involved in physiologic control and complex signaling networks is emerging as a major challenge in the postgenomic era.
Consider a musical piece that featured a repetitive beat, without much variability. This piece would annoy us and bore us to death. Well, if visualized, this repetition would resemble the sinusoidal and simplistic heart beat pattern of a person with Congestive Heart Failure, someone near death:

Conversely, a musical song that displays high multifractal variability, as Michael Jackson's song does in the visualization above, elicits positive responses from us; we love listening to his music. It's no surprise then that a healthy human heart beat pattern resembles Michael Jackson's music:

Sure, on the surface, this graph looks messy; but, that's life--life is messy and involves interpreting what seems like intractable uncertainty. Yet, just like in the visualization of Michael Jackson's song, this picture captures beautifully the striking similarity between the patterns found in MJ's recording and in the heart rate recording from a healthy person.

Unfortunately, Michael Jackson, a person who primed his 'pump' (heart) on healthy fractal signals for so many years, producing music that permeated the globe and crossed generations and cultures (music is a universal language), misused powerful drugs that degraded the multifractal complexity of his heart beat, breathing, and neuronal signaling patterns, resulting in sudden cardiac death. In essence, the many drugs that Michael Jackson was taking made his heart beat look like the dangerous Congestive Heart Failure graph above, making him susceptible to cardiac arrest. Drugs dampened out and muffled the vibrant 'music' of Michael Jackson's heart.

So, what do we do to improve our own health states in the wake of Michael Jackson's passing? We honor his musical legacy by engaging music advantageously in our daily lives. Although, this is not a passive activity. Psychological research shows the tremendous effects that our cognitive processes have on how much 'bang for the buck' we get out of our activities. For instance, a study of housekeepers showed that those workers who were told that performing their cleaning and organizing tasks met the recommendations for daily exercise experienced marked health improvements when compared to control group members who did not receive such information. Psychology matters. It changes our physiologies; it's psychophysiology. Thus, when listening to music, whether it is Bernie Williams playing the guitar, Sophia Melon playing the bass for KSM, Jay-Z doing what Jay-Z does best, or Cold Play performing Viva la Vida (a very fractal-friendly song, by the way. See below.), we should remind ourselves from time to time that listening to music enhances our health. Bernie Williams describes this musical psychophysiology perspective well:
“Music gives you rhythm, makes things flow, a lot of things you can utilize in baseball having a musical mind,” he says. “You have coordination, the rhythm, timing. There’s nothing better than having everything flowing in the game, and musically speaking, you can compare it to being in the zone, everything flowing, like it’s effortless. And it happens in both fields.”
In fact, when he’s on the field, he’s often got a tune in his head.
I am not a musician (unless you count tapping/banging/playing my fingers against/on the steering wheel in my car; I am pretty good at that, lol), but I have a lot of respect for those with musical prowess. I am an athlete who values music as Lebron James does, and my instruments are golf clubs and tennis racquets, two very fractal sports, as well as soccer boots and balls and basketballs (I spent my childhood on courses, courts, and fields, not in garages, at piano seats, or on stage). A musical note for me is a well-struck seven-iron to a back right pin; a step-over and upper-V shot from just outside the 18-yard box; a cross-over drive followed by a behind-the-back pass for a score; or, a winning backhand passing shot down the line. It's kinetic energy. Powerful multifractal musical patterns that resonate to our bones also appear in the movement and energy expenditure patterns (see Levy flights; well-designed golf courses and well-played golf rounds display Levy flight patterns) in many aspects of athletics and training (sprinting = yes; fractal, variable, and intermittent with high-intensity, low-duration; but, marathon running = no; simple, sinusoidal, and repetitive). Admirably, Bernie Williams integrated music and athletics authentically, creating flow throughout his mind, body, and spirit, beating to a fractal drum, creating synergy that propelled him to achieve his goals and perform amazing feats in both disciplines.

Be like Bernie: Embrace healthy multifractal living patterns, from music to athletics, and engage and tap into the additional power of perceptive psychology by reminding yourself regularly that these wise activities and choices will improve your well-being--mentally, physically, and emotionally (and perhaps, spiritually) in profound ways.

From reducing stress responses before, during, and after cardiac surgery to improving the health of patients with heart disease, music is (energy) medicine that can supplement other healing modalities in cost-effective ways (iTunes away!). Music is, after all, a FRACTICAL (fractal + practical) 'cheap health option' that carries little downside risk with potential for worthwhile upside benefit. The deep emotional reach is there; just consider how so many people bonded to Michael Jackson through his music: over the years, our minds associated positive feelings, thoughts, and physiological responses with his fractal dancing, singing, and performing productions. His music served a public health function; a fractal 'pacesetting' public health function. In the wake of his passing, his legacy allows us to learn by grace, rather than by hard knocks, the importance of caring for our hearts and brains in respectful ways. Harnessing music is one such graceful way.

It's a HeartBrain thing.

Let music reign.

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