DANIEL J. LEVITIN QUOTES

American cognitive psychologist (1957- )

Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep ... music is a part of the fabric of everyday life.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, This Is Your Brain on Music

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Tags: music


Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic. The appreciation we have for music is intimately related to our ability to learn the underlying structure of music we like--the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages--and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Composers imbue music with emotion by knowing what our expectations are and then very deliberately controlling when those expectations will be met, and when they won't. The thrills, chills, and tears we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated by a skilled composer and the musicians who interpret that music.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, This Is Your Brain on Music

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A song playing comprises a very specific and vivid set of memory cues. Because the multiple-trace memory models assume that context is encoded along with memory traces, the music that you have listened to at various times of your life is cross-coded with the events of those times. That is, the music is linked to events of the time, and those events are linked to the music.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, This Is Your Brain on Music

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The amount of scientific information we've discovered in the last twenty years is more than all the discoveries up to that point, from the beginning of language.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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Love is about feeling that there is something bigger than just ourselves and our own worries and existence. Whether it is love of another person, of country, of God, of an idea, love is fundamentally an intense devotion to this notion that something is bigger than us. Love is ultimately larger than friendship, comfort, ceremony, knowledge, or joy. Indeed, as the Four Wise Ones once said, it may be all you need.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The World in Six Songs

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Although I don't know Paul McCartney, a mutual friend told me that Paul was reading my book, This Is Your Brain on Music, and stopped after chapter two. McCartney said he was concerned that if he learned more about how he does what he does (as far as composing music), he may not be able to do it anymore!

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, "From Musician to Neuroscientist: An Interview with Daniel Levitin, PhD, author of This Is Your Brain on Music", American Academy of Audiology

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The mammalian brain evolved exquisite place memory because that was essential for survival. This is why squirrels have such a good memory for where they buried their nuts.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, "The Organized Librarian: An Interview with Daniel J. Levitin", Library Journal, August 6, 2014

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The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger (tutor to Nero) complained that his peers were wasting time and money accumulating too many books, admonishing that "the abundance of books is a distraction." Instead, Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books, to be read thoroughly and repeatedly.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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Tags: books


The brain has an attentional mode called the "mind wandering mode" that was only recently identified. This is when thoughts move seamlessly from one to another, often to unrelated thoughts, without you controlling where they go. This brain state acts as a neural reset button, allowing us to come back to our work with a refreshed perspective. Different people find they enter this mode in different ways: reading, a walk in nature, looking at art, meditating, and napping. A 15-minute nap can produce the equivalent of a 10-point boost in IQ.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Observer, January 18, 2015

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Decision-making is difficult because, by its nature, it involves uncertainty. If there was no uncertainty, decisions would be easy! The uncertainty exists because we don't know the future, we don't know if the decision we make will lead to the best possible outcome. Cognitive science has taught us that relying on our gut or intuition often leads to bad decisions, particularly in cases where statistical information is available. Our guts and our brains didn't evolve to deal with probabilistic thinking.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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Serendipity is important for discovery. The scientific experiments I've designed were nearly all inspired by an article that I just happened to come across while I was looking for something else. The way we get that in the digital world is by building artificial intelligence-based recommendation systems. Of course, this is what Pandora is. I've been telling them for years that they should add a serendipity knob, a virtual knob that you turn to increase how adventuresome you're feeling. This translates into how far away from your core preferences you're willing to let them take you, because that can change from day to day and hour to hour.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, "The Organized Librarian: An Interview with Daniel J. Levitin", Library Journal, August 6, 2014

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Although it is easier to find information these days, it is easier than ever before to find misinformation, pseudo-facts, unsupported and fringe opinions, and the like. Children should be taught at an early age what constitutes evidence, how to detect biases or distortions in newspaper accounts, and that there exist hierarchies of information sources. In the medical field, for example, a controlled experiment published in a peer-reviewed journal is a better source than a blog by the Ginseng Growers Association, promoting the health benefits of their own product.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Observer, January 18, 2015

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Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive, representational flexibility necessary to become humans.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, This Is Your Brain on Music

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In order to be a world-class expert in anything, be it audiology, drama, music, art, gymnastics, whatever, one needs to have a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean that if you put in 10,000 hours that you will become an expert, but there aren't any cases where someone has achieved world-class mastery without it! So the time spent at the activity is indeed the most important and influential factor.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, "From Musician to Neuroscientist: An Interview with Daniel Levitin, PhD, author of This Is Your Brain on Music", American Academy of Audiology

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Tags: experts


Each time we dispatch an email in one way or another, we feel a sense of accomplishment, and our brain gets a dollop of reward hormones telling us we accomplished something. Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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Tags: Internet


Librarians are more important than ever before ... are uniquely qualified to help all of us separate the digital wheat from the chaff, to help us understand the reliability of the data we encounter.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, "The Organized Librarian: An Interview with Daniel J. Levitin", Library Journal, August 6, 2014

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The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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Tags: mind


No one alive today has a single ancestor in his or her past who died in infancy. We are the champions, my friend!

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The World in Six Songs

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For the artist, the goal of the painting or musical composition is not to convey literal truth, but an aspect of a universal truth that if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies and cultures change. For the scientist, the goal of a theory is to convey "truth for now"--to replace an old truth, while accepting that someday this theory, too, will be replaced by a new "truth," because that is the way science advances.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, This Is Your Brain on Music

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Tags: truth