No matter what I pick up to read these days, it seems like this one message is clear: When it comes to the brain, it’s all connected. You can’t separate the visual process from any type of behavior, emotional, physiological, or physical. You also can’t separate the visual process from the rest of the senses. While there are some that are more heavily intertwined than others, the auditory system is so close it can’t be ignored.
We use the auditory process, including our sense of vibration, to help us determine our location in the spatial environment around us and to judge the location of objects producing sound and vibration. Vibration is also felt by our proprioceptive sense. Since the two main things we have to orient ourselves against gravity are the ground below us and the space around us, our ability to accurately perceive soundwaves is critical.
Besides being the geek that I am about vision and its pervasive role in human behavior, I also have a longstanding passion for music. I grew up playing the piano and added the flute and piccolo as I got older so I could be a part of marching and symphonic bands. I continued this through college, even picking a college largely because of the band programs there. My tastes vary widely, and there’s not really a genre that I don’t have a least a song or two from in my collection. What I listen to depends on my mood, as I’m sure it does for a lot of you reading this. Ever wonder why that is?
Kenny Chesney’s “I Go Back” echoes this sentiment. Music can transport you to a different place and time. For some, it even evokes other sensory experiences, such as smells or tastes. Many of us experience emotions when hearing certain songs, which may frequently be related to the lyrics. However, there are other qualities to music that often affect our brains, and therefore our behavior. It might be the beat of the song, including whether it’s fast or slow, subtle or strong. Can you feel the bass “thumping” your chest, or is there no identifiable drum? It may be the pitch of the vocalist or of the predominant instruments; are they singing high or low notes, female voice or male voice, is there a lot of lead electric guitar, horns, strings, piano, or bass guitar?
Some of our more challenging patients who have visual-integration dysfunction also have other sensory processing difficulties. This can range from the severe, as in the case of the patient who says “I tend to be sensitive to lots of things, including sound or the feel of materials in clothing,” to the more subtle case, who can’t identify a single symptom but yet can’t manage to use neutrality in a dynamic, functional sense. If we’ve given them the ability to be neutral through visual and physical intervention, and there are no orthopedic reasons why they shouldn’t be able to maintain it, we are forced to look at what other sensory processes might be obstacles.
This brings us to the Interdisciplinary Integration Symposium for 2016. It is such an exciting time to be in involved with PRI. For me, personally, it answers more of the “how did I get this way” question that I know many of you have as well. It also gives me a chance to bring two of my passions in this world together, vision and music. For our patients, it’s another tool we are researching and understanding more about every day. For a few of them, it’s already been the icing on the cake.
The thing I love about this most is that we know we will never have all the answers to why this amazing brain of ours does what it does; but it sure is exciting to keep trying to find out all we can.
Keep moving beyond sight!