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Author Topic: Why do we appreciate music, from an evolutionary perspective?  (Read 7452 times)

Offline greensleeves

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I have always believed of course that evolutionary progress ordinarily occurs because some advantage is accrued by the species. In man, hearing is not our best developed sense, and certainly there are other species in which it is a more significant sense. And yet our brains have somehow 'seen fit' to give us an appreciation of notes and sounds which harmonise in certain ways which we call music. Our brains have not however seen fit to furnish us with better hearing of all sounds - high and low pitched - which would seem to me to have been a more useful evolutionary step than musical appreciation. Why have we evolved an apparently purely aesthetic love of music, rather than a more practical acuteness of hearing, such as is found in many other mammals. (And a second question - why do different human brains respond differently to different music? Why does my brain like old folk music while my friend's brain likes heavy metal?!) Thanks.
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:29:00 by greensleeves »


 

Offline yamo

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It did not kill us.
 

Offline greensleeves

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Sorry Yamo - don't understand the relevance!
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:29:24 by greensleeves »
 

Offline yamo

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I have always believed of course that evolutionary progress ordinarily occurs because some advantage is accrued by the species. In man, hearing is not our best developed sense, and certainly there are other species in which it is a more significant sense. And yet our brains have somehow 'seen fit' to give us an appreciation of notes and sounds which harmonise in certain ways which we call music. Our brains have not however seen fit to furnish us with better hearing of all sounds - high and low pitched - which would seem to me to have been a more useful evolutionary step than musical appreciation. Why have we evolved an apparently purely aesthetic love of music, rather than a more practical acuteness of hearing, such as is found in many other mammals. (And a second question - why do different human brains respond differently to different music? Why does my brain like old folk music while my friend's brain likes heavy metal?!) Thanks.

How do you know that bats don't like Bach?  The evolutionary answer is not that love of music gave us an advantage.  The answer is either that a love of music did not kill us or that conditions have not arisen that make musicality a sufficient liability.  Musicality is a random mutation...if it exists as you describe it at all.  It's not a question of aesthetics but survival.
 

Offline Pikaia

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And why do parrots like music?

 

Offline Bored chemist

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I suspect, but can't offer  any real evidence for the idea that we like music because we like patterns. Patterns make it easier for us to understand the world and music (usually) has strong repeated themes to it
 

Offline greensleeves

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I think that as the bored chemist says, we humans do seem to be attracted to patterns in life, so maybe recognition of patterns in sound does lead naturally to appreciation of those patterns as music.

I guess also that if recognition of these musical patterns is a random genetic development which does no harm, as Yamo suggests, then there is no reason why it should not occur by chance, and no reason why it should be eliminated by evolution.

Incidentally, parrots are interesting. Not sure if swaying to the sound of music demonstrates love of music, but parrots do have a bizarre and diverse ability to mimic words (and music?), despite the fact that - unlike many birds - they don't naturally sing. In the wild they tend to just squawk!

Thanks to all.
« Last Edit: 23/02/2011 15:29:51 by greensleeves »
 

Offline Jp the one and only

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I realize that you asked this a while ago, but I can't help but to notice that somebody has yet to answer you. The answer is, we don't entirely know- it's an interesting field of research, that is beginning to yield sometimes surprising results.

Some of the things we do know:

music elicits a dopamine release in the brain, resulting in what some might call a "natural high"

in rats, the auditory cortex does not develop correctly in the constant presence of white noise- i.e. the absence of tonal sounds.

Many animals- from mice to whales- actually sing. Clearly, this is not an accident of evolution, but is actually a highly conserved behavior- which indicates some kind of use.

Some theories on the subject include that music is a more efficient form of communication- besides being pleasurable, it can be used to transmit vocal communication greater distances than speaking, and in some cases even than shouting. It might also be a sign of a healthy mate- somebody who can sing well, or who has good rhythm may actually have higher brain function than an individual without these talents. People who listen to, and are talented in music tend to have better memory, focus, and indeed coordination than those people who are indifferent to music. It can even have a positive effect on pain relief- especially in chronic inflammatory disease processes. It also has been shown to improve depression, speed stroke recovery, and even boost immune function.

On the flip side, sounds and musical patterns with which we are unfamiliar have been shown to induce temporary states of insanity and distress- case and point, the debut of "The Rite of Spring." The audience actually rioted- and yet today, it is featured in Disney's "Fantasia." Some research indicates that though these sounds- which we may extrapolate to preference in individuals- can also adapt our brain chemistry. Once we become used to these patterns, we actually begin to enjoy them. This is one theory behind why you like folk music, and your friend likes metal.

Clearly, something chemical and important is happening with music- and there is so much opportunity to find out what!

 

Offline yamo

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Sorry Yamo - don't understand the relevance!

The trait, appreciating music, was not sufficiently disadvantageous  to terminate the genetic line.  I tend to think of evolution less as survival of the fitest than as the death of the least fit.
 

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