Understanding the Text

1. Sacks quotes and discusses Mark Twain’s 1876 short story, “Punch, Brothers, Punch!” Why does he refer to this story? What points does it help him make, both when he first cites it and near the end of this essay?

2. According to Sacks, some people compare musical brain worms to visual “afterimages.” In his view, how are these two phenomena similar and how are they different? How does the distinction between the two reflect differences in our visual and auditory senses?

3. Why are brain worms probably more common now than they were in the past? How does this prevalence suggest changes in the way we consume music- and in the  role music plays in our lives and culture?

Reflection and Response

4. At several points in the essay, Sacks uses rhetorical questions. How does he use these questions to structure his discussion? Do you find this approach effective? Why  or why not? Point to specific transitional moments in the text.

5. In what way is this a personal essay? In what way is it a piece of science writing, concerned with empirical data and conclusions? How does Sacks move between the two forms?

Making Connections

6. In “Why We Love Music – and Freud Despised It” (p. 26), Stephen A. Diamond writes about Sigmund Freud’s apparent melophobia, or fear of

music. What insight might Sacks’s discussion and analysis of brain-worms provide into Freud’s aversion to music – and vice versa? Like Diamond and Sacks, Freud was a brain scientist. Do you find that these discussions of psychology, neuroscience, and cognition broaden and deepen our under- standing of music, or reduce and oversimplify our view of it?

7. What is your own experience with brain worms, sticky music, and catchy tunes? Give specific examples. Are you susceptible to them? Do you find them pleasing? Oppressive? Do you have techniques, as Sacks discusses, for ridding your mind of musical brain worms?

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