Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Catching the Brain Improvising via fMRI

Artistic creativity is magical but not magic.
~ Charles Limb

Charles Limb is a head and neck surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the faculty of Peabody Conservatory of Music at The Johns Hopkins University; trained as a jazz musician, he composes and plays piano, sax, and bass—and, as you'll see toward the end of the video below, he can do a mean rap, too. 

Practicing medicine and music with a passion, Limb brings his knowledge of both to bear on his fascinating research into how our brains create and perceive music. Recently, using functional MRI technology (fMRI) for neural imaging, Limb has been working with professional jazz musicians and hip hop and rap artists to learn what parts of the brain are involved in producing the kind of creativity that takes place during improvisation. He's especially interested in uncovering the neurological bases for music as expressive communication. 

In his 16-minute TEDTalk, Limb discusses some of his research and the implications of its results for understanding creativity of all kinds. He's careful to note that the "science" of innovation is in its infancy and that questions about how creativity works, what creative genius is, and how to best study creativity scientifically still outnumber answers. 

An interesting interview with Limb is here. Another, with TED, is here. Limb was the subject of these Peabody Magazine features, "The Science of Improv" and "Music on  the Mind", and also discusses his work in this Hopkins Medicine video feature.

Brain Images of Creativity

Explanation of Limb's Creativity Research (how conducted and results)


M.L. Gallagher said...

Very inspiring -- and what an amazing man.

Cassandra Frear said...

I've often thought about how music is so powerful for us. It's actually healing, did you know that?

It is somehow a thing that slipped down from heaven to visit the earth so we would be able to anticipate what is to come.

Ann said...

Limb's work is fascinating. I've always thought it interesting that many physicians are also avid musicians.

I agree with Cassandra's comment about the healing properties of music. Jazz pianist, singer, and composer Melody Gardot credits music in her recovery from a serious accident that resulted in brain trauma.

S. Etole said...

It reaches a part of us that words alone can't.

L.L. Barkat said...


I like to improvise. Especially with my cooking. :)

(Loved your simple cherry blossom poem at Seedlings, btw! :)

Anonymous said...

his two interests are coming together.

Laura said...

So absolutely awesome!

I have a friend who is traveling to John's Hopkins next week for a very delicate brain surgery. He was turned down by two other facilities because it is so risky.

I am so grateful for people like Dr. Limb.