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Neuroethics Playlists

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Emory Neuroethics Program has put together our second playlist of neuroethics-themed songs!

Listen on Spotify
About the songs

1. Unwell by Matchbox Twenty
This song is about someone apparently struggling with their mental health while insisting that they are not “crazy.” Lead singer Rob Thomas said he wrote the song for people who are “messed up and feel alone” to assure them that they are not alone.

2. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens
“Carrie & Lowell” is the title track from a Sufjan Stevens album about the death of his estranged mother who struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The song references her chaotic life and use of antipsychotic medications.

Sufjan Stevens performing.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

3. Phantom Limb by The Shins

While the song itself is about a teenage lesbian couple who are not accepted in their small town, the title references phantom limb syndrome: a neurological condition where a person who has had a limb amputated can still feel sensations in the missing limb.

4. I’m Alive by John Oszajca
A rock song about a cyborg who develops sentience and emotions. He is smuggled out of the laboratory where he was created and, once free, tries to experience life as a human.

5. They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV
This 1966 novelty song about a man’s mental breakdown after his girlfriend (or possibly his dog) leaves him was controversial around the time of its release because some thought it was mocking the mentally ill.

6. I’m Going Slightly Mad by Queen
Freddie Mercury wrote this song around silly metaphors for insanity such as “one card short of a full deck” and “knitting with only one needle.” It could be seen as illustrative of the often negative and inaccurate ways people view mental illness. Or it could just be a harmless, funny song.

7. Who’s Crazy / My Psychopharmacologist and I from Next to Normal
The 2008 musical Next to Normal focuses on a suburban mother seeking treatment for bipolar disorder and psychosis. In this song her character describes the side effects of her psychiatric medications and compares her relationship with her psychopharmacologist to a romance. Meanwhile, her husband reflects on how their marriage has been effected by her worsening mental health.

8. Lithium by Nirvana
According to Kurt Cobain, this Nirvana song is about a man who turns to religion to cope with his girlfriend’s death. The title might be referring to the use of certain lithium compounds as psychiatric medications.

9. Dress Rehearsal Rag by Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen avoided performing this song, about a man contemplating suicide, because he thought it was too dark and might even encourage people to kill themselves—an interesting concern that raises the issue of an artist’s responsibility for their audience’s mental health.

10. The Stranger by Billy Joel
In “The Stranger,” Billy Joel sings about the different personas we adopt in different situations. The song might also be about multiple personality disorder or Carl Jung’s concept of the “shadow.”

A statue of Eleanor Rigby in Liverpool.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

11. Chiron Beta Prime by Jonathan Coulton

This comedic Christmas song, about people enslaved by robots on an asteroid mine, plays off the science fiction theme of a “robot uprising.” The prevalence of that theme, perhaps, reveals our fears about artificial intelligence.

12. Dopamine by Third Eye Blind
In this song, the singer explains that a failed relationship of his was not based on love, but rather them both enjoying the dopamine rush, which he compares to a drug addiction. If all of our thoughts and feelings are based on the actions of neurons and neurotransmitters in our brain, could it be possible that all of our experiences are no more “authentic” than the high from recreational drugs? 

13. Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles
Focusing on loneliness and depression, this song is considered a turning point in The Beatles’ career, where they expanded beyond typical rock and pop. Music critic Richie Unterberger described it as being “about the neglected concerns and fates of the elderly.”


And the first Neuroethics Program playlist (originally posted on this blog in 2011) is now on Spotify.

Listen on Spotify

Listen on YouTube 

About the songs

1. I Feel Fantastic by Jonathan Coulton
This deceptively happy-sounding song is written from the perspective of a man who uses (abuses?) mood and cognitive enhancing pills. It is from Jonathan Coulton’s album Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Cybernetic Arms which was commissioned by Popular Science magazine to accompany their 2005 issue on the future of the human body.

2. Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches
This surreal song (accompanied by an even more surreal video), by the Australian electronic group The Avalanches, is composed of audio clips and music samples from various sources. It opens with a woman being told that her son was expelled from school because he is “criminally insane” and “needs therapy”.

3. Mastermind by Deltron 3030
Mastermind is a track on the sci-fi concept album Deltron 3030 (by the rap group of the same name). In it, the character Deltron Zero compares his rapping ability to neurosurgery.

4. Better Living Through Chemistry by Queens of the Stone Age
This rock song takes a skeptical stance on psychological drugs and the religious-like faith some have in their ability to better our lives. The title is based on the DuPont chemical company slogan “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.”

5. Ode to the Brain by Symphony of Science

For his Symphony of Science videos, John D. Boswell takes clips of scientists speaking and sets them to music. Ode to the Brain includes clips of Carl Sagan, Robert Winston, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Jill Bolte Taylor, Bill Nye, and Oliver Sacks.

6. The Sounds of Science by Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys brag about their musical talent, comparing it to the genius of scientists such as Newton and Galileo.

7. An Experiment by Mates of State
“It’s an experiment, experiment with me” sings Kori Gardner of this indie pop group.

8. Where Is My Mind? By The Pixies
Being followed by a fish while scuba diving inspired Pixies frontman Black Francis to write this song where he wonders where his mind really is.

9. Country State of Mind by Hank Williams Jr.
An ode to rural life and the “country state of mind.” 

Ray Charles in 1967.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

10. Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles

Ray Charles’ version of the official state song of Georgia.

11. Trouble in Mind by Nina Simone
In her version of this Richard M. Jones blues song, Nina Simone laments her troubled mind and depressed mood.

12. Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain by DJ Shadow
This instrumental hip hop track uses samples from funk, jazz, and psychedelia to create a musical representation of a “scattered” brain.

13. Brainwave by Nomo
This instrumental piece (influenced by electronica and traditional African music) is a musical interpretation of brainwaves.

14. An Eagle in Your Mind by Boards of Canada
An eagle in your mind is another electronic music piece that explores the mysteries of the mind.

Want to cite this post?

Queen, J. (2018). Neuroethics Playlists. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from


  1. I was surprised to see the omission of "Veronica" by Elvis Costello. A sad and powerful exploration of dementia as seen by an observer (in this case, EC himself, noting the decline of his grandmother). Issues of elder care and self-perception


  2. IMHO:

    I noticed the omission of "Veronica" last month, as well. This song is a n absolute clarion call for many AD researchers and social advocates.

    Some of the great questions in Neuroethics are posed within the lyrics and the tone of musical compositions throughout the human experience (and yeah, further back in history than our regular playlists). Imagery guides perception. I suspect that when broadened to anthropology, our poetry informs sentiment and concern WRT to a spectrum of neuroethical dilemmas, not just as exposition but as a benchmark for use in any given age.

    To wit, I have a few lame additions to any supplement to your list that includes ‘Veronica”.

    • Transition to adulthood – “The Music Must Change” [The Who].
    (there is a lyric and tempo change when Pete Townsend sings … "But is this all so different? We're doing it all again? …) Profound anxieties and weathering the storm.

    • Theory of Mind – “Cars Are Cars” [Paul Simon]
    (likewise with this… "But people are different, they change with the curve, from time zone to time zone, as we can observe"…) Children are not just miniature adults.

    • Neuromodulation/pharma-DBS/optical – “Shadows in the Rain” [Sting]
    (Just a personal favorite…"woke up in my clothes again this morning, don't know exactly where I am, I should heed my doctor's warning, He does the best with me he can"…) Stigma evaporates in the shared humor (working with the docs here)

    Like I said, IMHO.


  3. Thank you for your comments and suggestions!

    Those songs seem like they would make good additions to any future playlists we might do.


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