Of Mice and Zen and Factoids


The + Plus, magazine, is for those interested in mathematics and its applications.  While I am certainly not a mathematician, musician or scientist, I am mildly curious about a lot and obsessively curious about little. My curiosity is often triggered by my ventures into the ‘blogosphere’. So for those who do have a real interest in music, mathematics or science, with perhaps some talent in these areas, an article in + Plus with the title What makes an object into a musical instrument? may interest you.

Not every object sounds good when you bang it.

‘Factoid’ is a word now in regular use as part of the programme content of a Radio 2 show. A factoid being,  ‘An assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as a fact; a simulated or imagined fact. (SOED). The Internet seems a breeding ground for factoids.

My factoid and its connection with music, concerns a piece of music called ‘Gloomy Sunday’. Also know as the ‘Hungarian Suicide Song’. The information I recalled from some time ago, was that more people committed suicide to this piece of music than any other. It wasn’t written as a vocal but I have included a vocal version by Billie Holiday ( a sad singer for a sad song – Billie Holiday Gloomy Sunday). I haven’t tried to correlate the viewings of ‘Gloomy Sunday’ on the web with recorded suicides. Suicide is not a subject that I leap to.

The mice connection came about in my search for the music ‘Gloomy Sunday’ and suicide.  ‘A student named David Merrell devised an experiment to discover how music would affect the ability of mice to learn new things. Merrill had one group of mice listen to classical music 24 hours a day and another to heavy metal music. He then timed the mice as they ran through mazes to see if the music affected their speed of learning. Unfortunately, he had to cut the first experiment short because the heavy metal mice all killed one another. In a second experiment, mice that listened to Mozart for 10 hours a day dramatically improved their maze-solving abilities, while the heavy metal mice actually became worse at solving mazes than they had been at the beginning of the experiment’.

Another factoid? I decided to look for a supporting source and found a more comprehensive report at the Schiller Institute Symposium “Towards A New Renaissance in Classical Education”. Well that’s a clincher, or so I thought until I found what you might call a ‘Snake Dancers’ site, which also claimed credence for their causes through Merril’s experiment. It turns out that the former is linked to Lyndon LaRouche and in the latter case (and I don’t know if they’re connected to the ‘ole country boys’) they do seem to have omitted the case for an apparent correlation between ‘country music and suicide’ . Eventually I came across Music and Learning , which mentions David Merrill’s experiment under the section on Scientific Studies, unfortunately this paper is no longer available but another source is here.  I’ll settle for the latter as validation of the experiment, with the first two firmly filed under ‘factoid fruit cakes’.

One response to “Of Mice and Zen and Factoids

  1. Joshua Merrell February 16, 2015 at 14:52

    For the record…. the David that you mention as the experimenter is not the same as the David who gave the TED talks speech. The David Merrell (spelled with two e’s) who performed the experiment is my brother. If you want to know He’s neither a musician nor a computer scientist. He is a resident studying family medicine in Greensboro North Carolina.

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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Join our monthly competition and share story ideas...

The Real Economy

Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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