<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >


This essay offers a novel theoretical perspective on the evolution of music. At present, a number of adaptationist theories posit that the human capacity for music is a product of natural selection, reflecting the survival value of musical behaviors in our species’ past (e.g., Wallin et al., 2000). In sharp contrast, a prominent nonadaptationist theory of music argues that music is a human invention and is biologically useless (Pinker, 1997). I argue that research on music and the brain supports neither of these views. Contrary to adaptationist theories, neuroscientific research suggests that the existence of music can be explained without invoking any evolutionary-based brain specialization for musical abilities. And contrary to Pinker’s claim, neuroscience research suggests that music can be biologically powerful. By biologically powerful, I mean that musical behaviors (e.g., playing, listening) can have lasting effects on nonmusical brain functions, such as language and attention, within individual lifetimes. Music is thus theorized to be a biologically powerful human invention, or “transformative technology of the mind.”

1. introduction

The past decade has witnessed a rapid rise in cognitive and neuroscientific research on music. This has led to renewed interest in evolutionary questions about music, which originate with Darwin’s discussion of the topic in The Descent of Man (1871). There are now several adaptationist theories arguing that musical behaviors originated via biological evolution due to their survival value for human ancestors. In contrast, nonadaptationist theories propose that musical behaviors are a human invention. The most prominent such theory, that of Steven Pinker (1997), regards music as a pleasure technology built from pre-existing brain functions (such as language, emotional vocalization, etc.), and posits, “As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless” (p. 528).

Pinker’s idea that music is an invention built from existing brain functions provides a useful null hypothesis for evolutionary debates over music. His assertion that music is biologically useless, however, is problematic. While Pinker was likely referring to music’s impact on human biology over evolutionary time, as opposed to within the lifetime of individual humans, his writing does not make this distinction. Furthermore, the metaphors he uses to describe music (e.g., “auditory cheesecake,” or “recreational drugs”) imply a view of music as having little biological significance at either evolutionary or individual timescales. While Pinker’s (1997) characterization of music as auditory cheesecake seemed to trivialize music, in more recent writings he has been more careful about assessing the value of music in human cultural life, noting, “The arts could be evolutionary by-products, and be among the most valuable human activities for all that” (Pinker, 2007, p. 170).

A central point of this essay is that discussions of the biological significance of music should conceptually distinguish music’s effects over evolutionary time from its effects within individual lifetimes. The need for this distinction is driven by evidence from neuroscience. Neuroscientific research suggests that music is an invention that builds on diverse, pre-existing brain functions, rather than a trait that originated via processes of natural selection. This is consistent with Pinker’s thesis. However, growing evidence from neuroscience also suggests that music is biologically powerful, meaning that it can have lasting effects on nonmusical abilities (such as language or attention) during the lifetime of individual humans. Importantly, these effects can be observed not only in trained musicians but also in ordinary individuals who engage regularly with music. Thus, I believe that music should be regarded as a biologically powerful human invention or “transformative technology of the mind.” (For brevity, henceforth I refer to this idea as TTM theory.)

Questions & Answers

where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
Privacy Information Security Software Version 1.1a
Got questions? Join the online conversation and get instant answers!
Jobilize.com Reply

Get the best Algebra and trigonometry course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities. OpenStax CNX. May 13, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11201/1.1
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities' conversation and receive update notifications?