Seed Magazine published a fascinating article a couple years ago – a discussion between musician/artist David Byrne and behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin.
My favorite part:
DL: Yeah, and I think, ultimately, some aestheticians and philosophers would say that the goal of art is to get you in the same mind-set or heart-set as the artist was in when they created the work. They’re trying to create a mirror emotion experience.
Stevie Wonder told me that he wrote songs by putting himself in a particular emotional state, recalling a specific event or feeling. And then when he recorded them, he tried to get back into the same state.
DB: I would argue that if the song is written well, you don’t have to begin the performance of the song in that emotional state. But by the time you get to the end, the song will have regenerated the emotions that you want to express. So you end up with the feeling that you want to express, but you don’t have to have it going in.
DL: Right. And there is a neurological basis for this, actually. It starts with the finding that when we’re imagining music, it uses the same neurons and circuits as when we’re actually hearing it. They’re almost indistinguishable.
So when you’re imagining or remembering something, it could be music or a painting or a kiss, disparate neurons from different parts of your brain get together in the same configuration they were in when you experienced it the first time. They’re members of a unique set of neurons that experienced that first kiss or that first bungee jump or whatever it is that you’re recalling.
Actually, it’s in the word “remember”—you’re re-membering them. You’re making them members of this original set again. I think that’s what memory is.
Just for fun… a great David Byrne moment: