The remarkable Bob Milne

Radiolab is featuring a short podcast on pianist Bob Milne. Aside from being a remarkable musician and ragtime pianist, Milne also has the uncanny ability to listen to multiple pieces of music simultaneously. Neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann gave Milne a test where he would have to keep in his mind four orchestral pieces starting at different times. She then started the recordings of the same pieces and ten or so minutes later, she would ask him where he was in each of the pieces. He was almost exactly in sync with each one. As a control she tried this on an experienced conductor who could keep in sync for only one piece. One of the dogmas of cognitive science is that we cannot really do multi-tasking but this is clearly a counter example. It would be extremely interesting to see if he could follow simultaneous conversations or watch simultaneous movies. Is this ability exclusive to music? Does having this ability incur some cost? Is there a trade-off? I think that mapping out the full capabilities of the human mind is very useful for understanding how the brain works.

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3 thoughts on “The remarkable Bob Milne

  1. Trade off? I can’t stand piped in music in restaurants at any time. It robs me of my own thoughts. Am also sensitive to screaming kids but not as bad as muzak. Out of tune pianos don’t bother me in the least: they’re normal. Also, I’m very narrow. Am only interested in a very few things and heck with everything else. Thanks for writing about me. All you say above is normal for me so I don’t know what to say about it. Bob Milne

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  2. Hi Carson:
    No, I can’t follow two conversations at once. In fact, I have a hard time trying to do 2 things at once of any kind. Can only think about one thing at a time. bob

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