Radiolab
Radiolab
Dec 8, 2023
A 4-Track Mind
Play • 21 min

In this short episode that first aired in 2011, a neurologist issues a dare to a ragtime piano player and a famous conductor. When the two men face off in an fMRI machine, the challenge is so unimaginably difficult that one man instantly gives up. But the other achieves a musical feat that ought to be impossible.

Reporter Jessica Benko went to Michigan to visit Bob Milne, one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, and a preternaturally talented musician. Usually, Bob sticks to playing piano for small groups of ragtime enthusiasts, but he recently caught the attention of Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann, who had heard that Bob had a rare talent: He can play technically challenging pieces of music on demand while carrying on a conversation and cracking jokes. According to Kerstin, our brains just aren't wired for that. So she decided to investigate Bob's brain, and along the way she discovered that Bob has an even more amazing ability—one that we could hardly believe and science can't explain.

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