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jggunn

Charles Wheatstone

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Although Charles Wheatstone is well-known for his inventions -- ranging from the concertina to the electric telepraph and Wheatstone bridge-- the scientific genius behind this work is less recognized. For example, Wheatstone did not simpy invent the stereoscope but wrote remarkable scientific papers on the physio-neurological basis of human stereoptic vision. The famous neurologist Oliver Sacks (who is currently writing a book on music and the brain) recently published an article in the New Yorker ("Stereo Sue" June 19, 2006) examining how individuals who do not develop the capacity for such vision by an early age will never be capable of actually perceiving in this dimension. In the article, Sacks notes that although the uniqueness of this human capacity has been noted from ancient times to Leonardo and beyond, it was Wheatstone who first discovered that the "disparities between the two retinal images were in fact crucial to the brain's mysterious ability to generate a sensation of depth -- and that the brain somehow fused these images automatically and unconsciously." The stereoscope was the result of his experiments which confirmed this hypothesis. One might wonder if there is not some definite connection between the pathways of the brain and the structure of the concertina.

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One might wonder if there is not some definite connection between the pathways of the brain and the structure of the concertina.

 

Since the proportion of concertina players among the population remains (mercifully) small, the neural pathways of concertinists might be an interesting aberration for Sacks to consider in one of his wonderfully entertaining pieces of writing. "The man who forsook his wife for a concertina", perhaps?

 

Steve

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...examining how individuals who do not develop the capacity for such vision by an early age will never be capable of actually perceiving in this dimension... One might wonder if there is not some definite connection between the pathways of the brain and the structure of the concertina.

 

So, are you saying you won't be able to learn to play your concertina because you didn't start when you were but a wee lad, and worked those digits into a neural frenzy?

 

"by an early age" is rather vague.

 

It makes sense that people who do not learn to "see" in the thier childhood would have problems developing depth perception, but then I think of this story:

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/09/06/...in1977730.shtml

 

and then you need to re-think that arguement.

 

AND ol Charlie didn't invent the concertina when he was but a wee lad, with a brain itching at new neural pathways,

 

but rather as an adult - so there!

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One might wonder if there is not some definite connection between the pathways of the brain and the structure of the concertina.

 

Hmm... In Wheatstone's day, the study of neurology was not very advanced. That was around the time when we were just beginning to associate brain damage with certain kinds of language disorders. I think that Wheatstone's development of the concertina was guided more by his own experiences.

 

I'm not sure what can be said about pathways of the brain and the structure of the (English) concertina, because people with differing amounts of musical proficiency appear to process music differently in the brain.

 

What I remember about the neural organization for music is that for musically inexperienced right-handed people, the right hemisphere of the brain processes music and the left hemishpere processes language. However, for musically adept people, music becomes more like a language and so the left hemisphere takes over. If I remember correctly, the early work on correlation of brain function and music was done by Dr. Doreen Kimura, only thirty or so years ago.

 

Many musical instruments require the use of both hands. The right hemishphere of the brain controls the left hand, and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right hand. The English concertina appears to be more "balanced" than many instruments in the manner that it requires both hands to be used to produce music.

 

Using both brain hemispheres to direct motor movements of playing melody notes may slow the playing process a tiny bit, but dividing the work of playing fast melody lines between the two hands can be a great advantage.

 

Brian Humphrey

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I'll just add that some of what I know about how the brain processes music is from my own ancient resarch. Back in 1973, when I was still a kid in college, I was lucky to co-author what may have been the first EEG (brain wave) study to show that there is more brain activity in the left side of the brain during language tasks, and more brain activity in the right side of the brain during musical tasks (for musically inexperienced people). Nowadays, I'm a speech-language pathologist, and I still have an interest in how the brain processes language and music.

Brian Humphrey

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I had to go and read some more on ol' Charlie. I didn't realize he had actaully worked in his father's music shop. I would expect that he then would have been very exposed to music at "an early age", and he did have some inventions which dated back to roots in his teens.

 

Personally, I find the concertina a wondeful microcosm of music. You can not help admire a man who continued inventing till he was in his seventies. However, notes on pyschology and neurology may be stretching it a bit.

 

I've done a lot of research on artifiical neural networks, and they have been in use for quite some time now (ever use one of those hand writing recognition PDAs?). In some respects, the pads and levers look like neural network diagrams, (much like the game of "twister" with its colored circles and tangled limber extremeties) unfortunately the simialarity ends there.

 

Still, he was a remarkable inventor.

Edited by Hooves

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