The Woman Who Couldn’t Hear Music and the Woman Who Couldn’t Stop

Two strange Oliver Sacks stories about the mind and music from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

It’s not that she was deaf. She could hear normally. It’s just that music made absolutely no sense to her — to her it was “somewhere between unintelligible and excruciating,” according to renowned psychiatrist and neurologist Oliver Sacks. He had never seen anything like it before. And the fact that everyone else could made the woman feel like a freak. That is, until she learned that she had a neurological condition called amusia and was put in touch with others who share it.

And then there was a woman who kept hearing old songs that weren’t there. She heard them so clearly she went looking in vain for their source in the world around her. But that’s not where they were — something in her brain was playing them just for her. (She was better-off, at least, than the man who hallucinated terrifying Nazi marching songs he’d heard during his Jewish childhood in 1930s Germany.) 

The late Dr. Sacks was fascinated with music and the brain, and these are just two bizarre stories from one of his bestsellers, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less