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Medical Why do we like music?

  1. Nov 15, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    How did and why would we evolve such that we receive enjoyment from music? Is this a more complex form of communication than simple speech, so that somehow musical hominids had an advantage over non-musical ones, or, could our fondness for rhythms be due to a memory of our mother's heartbeat, or even our own? Is the fondness for music a primitive or an advanced evolutionary trait - it seems to be common to man and beast alike, but do birds and whales really sing? How does music cause the release endorphins, or whatever happens when it causes us to relax while listening? In short, how and why do we enjoy it?
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 16, 2005 #2


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    What is the purpose for the fact that all humans have a pleasing response to a combination of things like contour, key, tone, tempo, rhythm? I hope someone will answer you properly, in the meantime here are some rough notes of various, fairly repetitive, possibilities.
    1. Music could be rewarding because it is a function important to survival- improving our pattern recognition techniques, our recognition of time, or demonstrating these for greater chance of selection (Miller). This could be a reason for a brain’s tendency for binding.
    2. As it evokes emotion, and as emotions may be a central organizing process for consciousness (Panskepp), then the function could be to effect cognition for survival or other purposes.
    3. Important mammalian emotions include fear, rage, separation distress, play, lust, nurturance, seeking; awareness of mortality, another (Panskepp), exercising these emotions in a pretend play scenario may be important. It could be used to distinguish our emotions (disgorging perhaps in our free time) for better use of them, either for natural selection, or for greater cognition that could be involved in other purposes.
    4. As could appreciation of the exercise of creative freedom, possibly further to do with dealing with our awareness of mortality.
    5. As music activates the ancient cerebellar vermis (Letivin), the implications of function could be archetypal, or at least something ‘ancient and important’.
    6. As different parts of the brain react to different elements of music, the function of these elements may be constancies, eg, temporal order or Schoenberg’s atonality, essences of perfect platonic universals(along Shopenhauers lines).
    7. As different parts of the brain react to different elements of music and filter and combine them within the brain so that the brain creates the music we hear (Mark Jude Tramo), Hegel’s ‘concept’ could be implied as function.
    8. In music as in all art, primary function, logic, objectivity, etc is suspended for more ambiguous, open appreciation, for example via metaphor, the function of which may be prelogical judgement for morality(Kant), greater perception, more integrated, holistic perception or knowledge, again for survival or other purposes.
    9. Music, like all art, could be a human response to nature, symbolising it, giving it an artificial rather than real state, from which all other knowledge is produced, for adaptive or other purposes. ‘Classifying objects into categories is obviously vital for survival… Seeing a deep similarity- a common denominator as it were- between disparate entities is the basis of all concept formation whether the concepts are perceptual or abstract’-Ramachandran and Hirstein.
    10. As Ivan mentions it could be a language (Cooke), for various possible purposes.
    11. Music’s function could be something like enhancing perception, I think, via aesthetic subsystem. (Josephson)
    12. Music could be a functionless bi-product of important human functions (Pinker).
    13. As different activities coincide with differing exposure to musical style, musical appreciation may be learnt to a degree and this could imply a social function.(Henslick?)
    14. The answer could be beyond our understanding (Langer).
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2005
  4. Nov 16, 2005 #3


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    Here is a copy of a good paper:
  5. Nov 16, 2005 #4


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    and the end of this article.

  6. Nov 16, 2005 #5
    Superb article !!!
    Thanks =).
  7. Nov 17, 2005 #6
    As the article suggests, music affects distributed areas of the bain, in one area it touches the emotional part hence we get different feelings,

    Consider a musician randomly experimenting with differents sounds when composing music, he then finds out by trial and error, when playing a certain tune, he gets a feeling or awe. Then he puts it all together into a musical piece.

    Since all humans are similar, the music should similarly affect the emotional part of the brain, depending on your nurture.

    This is just my theory, I'm not a musician.
  8. Nov 18, 2005 #7


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    Not all composers compose by trial and error, nor even by listening to sounds. There are examples of composition existing in the brain first. Some composers (e.g. Mozart) have claimed to have seen a whole new composition in a flash. Paul McCartney woke up humming 'Yesterday', and wondered who wrote it, to realise he just did. Beethoven composed while deaf. As well, some similarly enjoy the music without hearing it. Like Bach preferring to read music in the comfort of his armchair at home than going to hear a concert.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2005
  9. Nov 18, 2005 #8
    Does anyone know much about the theory of memes? I don't have much of a grasp on it. I read one article and on the back of that bought The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmoore, a book so badly written I buried it. As such, this is a novice's understanding.

    The theory is that units of information, memes, like genes, self-replicate, and much faster than genes do. Picking up a catchy tune, for instance, or reading a great book, or passing on some great cooking tip, or some other technique. Less desirable memes die out.

    So some caveman somewhere starts beating two rocks together randomly, making bad noise. People walk away. Another caveman does so with rhythm. People stop and listen. So far, if this were the first moment a musical meme reproduced, there is a level of coincidence that the beat in question was innately attractive to the animal hearing it - a case of information and genetics crossing paths.

    Those listening to the good beat admire the percussionist. They then strive to reproduce that beat so that they might be similarly admired (in the exact same manner a young teenager will try to imitate his or her favourite rock star). Not everyone will be capable of it, and those that are seem more attractive, and may succeed in reproduction better and beget children with their talents. Moreover, each good reproducer of the beat will pass that on to others, increasing the spread of the meme, increasing its importance in society, and increasing the number of people capable of reproducing it.

    So already, the meme has had some impact on the evolution of the species. Like genes, the beat might not be reproduced exactly, but will undergo minor (or even major) mutations. Some of these will be awful and die, some will be good and prosper, but some might be even better than the original beat. But what is better? Perhaps it appeals to a wider range of people (attracts listeners the original beat didn't), or perhaps it is more popular within those that liked the original. In the former, the meme has evolved towards increased suitability in its host carrier. In the latter, the meme has essentially changed its host environment to increase its own effect effectiveness (i.e. that meme may not have been successful without the one before it). For instance, we now would admire a piper on the streets of Edinburgh, but what would the first rock-hitters have made of it? They'd probably have found a different use for their rocks. Anyway, whether a beat appeals to more people, or whether it appeals to a given person more, it is what we'd call a catchier riff.

    So the meme has found an aspect of our genetics that both we and it can exploit. The hitherto unobserved talents possessed by the percussionist improve his or her fitness, while the talent itself improves the meme's fitness. From here on, the two go hand in hand, with more rhythmically, and later musically, inclined humans becoming more prevalent due to their fitness, while at the same time increasing the fitness of the memes and spreading existing ones further.

    The leap from beats to notes is easy enough to make. Even a drum kit wouldn't work without pitch. Just like finding a good beat, finding the objects that compliment each other well would have the same effects of repulsion and attraction, the difference being that the attracted audience has already evolved to be musically inclined.

    Obviously there had to be something in the human mind that was predisposed to enjoy the beat, tune, whatever, but I think the point is that that's what memes do - they find the parts of us that will increase their chances of survival and reproduction. We like music because music found us.

    I don't know what the latest thinking on the theory is. Anyone got more up to date thinking/debunking?
  10. Nov 18, 2005 #9


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  11. Nov 18, 2005 #10
    waht said:
    music affects distributed areas of the brain, in one area it touches the emotional part hence we get different feelings

    fi said:
    Not all composers compose by trial and error, nor even by listening to sounds. There are examples of composition existing in the brain first.

    The way I reconcile these two bits is to ignore waht's assumption of a trial and error discovery. Maybe initially it occurs that way, or maybe the musician only needs to be a reciever for some time first, but eventually I believe the brain learns to translate it's own emotional state into music. Taking the trial and error example again, although acknowledging it's not the only route, one might discover different emotional states resonating with sounds frequently enough for their mind to begin cracking the underlying relationship, producing hypotheses (in the form of inspirations or ideas that come into their mind for music that would hopefully be resonant with their current state of mind) that can be tested to refine the internal machinery. Ultimately you have a finely tuned system in the musician's mind for translating their mood - and in the gifted musician this can be expanded to any mood they can imagine. So I think of music as some sort of really crude hologram of the brain's state. So I think a good bit of musical appreciation then depends on your receptivity to influence from sound, and your congruence with the author's mind (which can be trained - if you see people you esteem laughing to a type of music, your brain probably modifies itself slightly, in the auditory circuit, so that the music has a higher likelihood of resonating with that emotion).

    Of course I only apply all of that direct brain influence stuff to certain subtle basic parts of much which are universal to all genres. Much of the stylistic difference (although I believe death metal is more likely to whip your brain into adrenergic overdrive than, say, country) can be attributed to bits that aren't naturally resonant - i.e. if you weren't paying attention at all they wouldn't affect you - but that your mind can appreciate.

    Whatever, whenever I write something like this I can't manage to believe it once I've fleshed it out. I'm rushing out the door now so no time to reflect, edit, and possibly delete; make of it what you will. I certainly think there is some natural resonant aspect, and that in the future people will be able to hack a studied mind with light/sound (to what degree I'm not yet sure).

    Last edited: Nov 18, 2005
  12. Nov 20, 2005 #11
    I think the "pre-function" was actually comunication, the priority was 'species' oriented rather than socially inquisition?

    For instance, prior to the use of tonic sounds, Humans/Like-types, would have had not verbal comunication, the mouth developed from an "air-breathing-hole" only, to that of using the moments between breaths to play around with sounds, one human may have just twiddled with the intake of air, and copied the whistling of external birds etc..?

    The language of communication prior to the spoken word, was in effect 'birdlike' for the developing Humans. Once the tonic range was completed, emerging offspring would develop whistling skills to a complete "language", this is still inherent in some of today's isolated communities of tribal culture. Now if you remember your first try at "whistling", you may recall that the first go ended up as a 'duff' note that amused all your friends, my niece for instance keeps making sounds like (fff..fff..thth..!).

    This action is the first foundation of actual speach recgognition, as a species we actually made more 'duff' notes that 'pure' notes, it was the msitakes that were developed into spoken words, but deep inside the brain, the tonic pure structure of primordial 'whistles', filters out the language into associated meanings, example if you are walking down a street and see an old friend at some distance away, it is the "whistle-mode" that you instinctly go into, this would get a response form quite a few strangers , all of who turn their heads into the direction of the"tuned" sound.

    I would have thought music is a repeat of those ancient communications, where a two-party team of tribesmen used to entice "birds" down from the safety of trees by mimicking their birdsong, and thereby the use of sound provided us with an easy option for survival, food comes down from tree beckoned by the fake-call?

    Tonic information brings parties together in ancient times, as well as today, such as a DJ playing music, triggers people to gather at one location, the dancefloor?

    The Human development of music for communication is nothing than an extension, of the inherent ancient process of a 'copied' natural frequency, the whistle?
  13. Nov 27, 2005 #12


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    Although I like the previous answers posted, I don’t think they say enough, especially about the depth of emotion involved- similar to food or sex according to Somasimple’s post.

    Emotion is something like experiential judgement, evolved (at least in reptiles and higher phyla) so that less room in the brain is devoted to stimulus-response mechanisms, and more room devoted to information storage, and because it allows flexible decisions. (Cabanac)

    Emotion became greatly involved in the processing of stimulus, I’m not quite sure how, but we need to be emotionally ready to receive information, and this information is filtered according to categories useful to us (Newton). Visually- motion, then light waves (colour) are bound according to similarity, then form, etc are grasped; aurally- novel sounds, the absence of sound, harmony etc. Emotions must play an important part here, as how we feel about things must help us decide how to react. In time, surely more situations and related emotions have evolved. I think mental creativity exists at this stage- exploring (integrating, testing seemingly unrelated pathways…) symbolized phenomena, our emotions involved with this, and possible reactions. Eventually we become consciously aware of these emotionally contrived symbols of phenomena. (Sometimes, in fact, we react before awareness.)(Panskepp, Domasio?)

    Creative activity is translating perceived, symbols into external symbols- cotarded’s hologram. ‘By concretely symbolizing an emotion, we explore far-reaching meanings that go far beyond stimulus-response theories that would try to exhaust the meaning of emotion by nailing it to the stimulus or type of stimulus that triggers the emotional “response”(see Panksepp 1988).’-Ellis. External symbolisation has allowed us to record and explore further abstracted concepts to the extent of all conscious knowledge, including, or culminating so far, as the physics exhibited in this forum.
    Panksepp cites a reason for this as the need to experience emotions, real or symbolised, to provide reason for living.

    During the course of this evolution, at some stage, some spot in our brain came to conceive the 4 dimensions we now perceive. I suspect, with some help from Kant, that where visual art helped us come to understand more the spatial dimensions, music was important in conceiving the temporal dimension, and its effect on us. That is, the distinctions we evolved to understand between sounds and there absence developed into distinctions between their similarities, discords, patterns and focus in time, due to our continuing exploration and needs. I think the principles of successful art must be a result of how phenomena is emotionally originally perceived. For example, focus in art reflects the mental conditions necessary for conscious awareness. I think evolutionary needs, like Spin Network’s communicative reasons or El Hombre’s social, dictated further exploration.

    I think music touches us on many levels (an all inclusive idea) that it touches across various phyla, and across the human species, as it is so closely connected to our understanding. Also that it has evolved to touch us on a cultural level, with styles that we acquired an appreciation for, for social purposes. Also, on an individual level, as the emotions evoked are necessarily ambiguous due to the fluidity of creative process, and is conducive to individual interpretation. Finally, I’m of the view that there is also a greater, highly speculative, highly optimistic, platonic/zennish/slightly Hegelian reason why we like music/art- that the path the survival of the organism has chosen for us to understand the universe can lead somewhere and the involvement of emotions is, as has evolved to be the case, an important part of the journey. That science and other knowledge, emotions, and integrated in creativity will make sense of the route and as a consequence discover its destination.
  14. Dec 16, 2009 #13
    My personal "theory" is that we like music because of human's fascination of order.
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