More On Music Function

I read up a bit more on theories of music’s function – quotes below.

For any signal a key question is why observers should believe it. For example, many animal sounds come with clear simple reasons to believe them. A loud roar can show the physical strength of its source, and its willingness to expend energy. A soft coo, in contrast, can show that the source is relaxed and comfortable.

With language we humans can say far more things than we can directly show via the way we say it. Even so, speakers and listeners usually have a common interest in agreeing at least on what was meant by what was said. So a listener can often at least credibly believe that the speaker meant to claim a certain thing, even if that listener doesn’t have further reasons to believe that what was said is true.

Music seems to tell emotions, and sometimes it is enough to tell what emotion you claim to have, even if listeners have no further reason to believe that claim. But we seem to have far more types of music than we have kinds of emotions to tell. And the main music puzzle seems to be on the listener end – why are we built so that hearing emotional music evokes similar emotions in ourselves, at least when we are in a receptive frame of mind. Why does music evoke emotions more reliably than does hearing a simple verbal description of the same emotions?

A similar thing happens with stories, at least when we are in a receptive frame of mind. Story-tellers can make us like some people, things, and events, and dislike others, using simple tricks that we all know are evidentially unfair. Why are we as listeners so often eager to enter story and music receptive frames of mind, allowing others to more directly control our emotions, attitudes, and opinions about people, acts, and events?

Yes going through a process like this together that can bond people, as they end up knowing that they have acquired similar emotions and opinions. But why does such a capacity even exist? Why are our minds so vulnerable to raw back door control over what we think and feel?

Yesterday I suggested that this capacity exists exactly because it lets people see that they acquire similar emotions, attitudes, and opinions, a similarity that goes beyond any similar evidence they may each hold supporting such things. As long as we are confident that our associates’ emotions and attitudes are so manipulable, we can be reassured that their attitudes are similar to ours.

But if so, why haven’t some of us evolved a capacity to fake such vulnerability, appearing to enjoy music and stories, but not allowing them to change their attitudes and opinions toward people, acts, and events? A similar issue arises with wanting our associates to internalize key social norms, such as against murder. If our associates could act horrified by murder, but not actually be reluctant to murder, we’d have to be a lot more wary of them.

While some of us do seem especially good at faking feelings, most of us are lousy liars. That combined with our strong censure of apparent fakers produces an equilibrium where most of us stay pretty close to acting vulnerable to key norms, stories, and music.

Those promised quotes:

Steven Pinker … argues that music is merely “auditory cheesecake” – it was evolutionarily adaptive to have a preference for fat and sugar but cheesecake did not play a role in that selection process. Adaptation, on the other hand, is highlighted in hypotheses such as the one … which posits that human music evolved from animal territorial signals, eventually becoming a method of signaling a group’s social cohesion to other groups for the purposes of making beneficial multi-group alliances.

Another proposed adaptive function is creating intra-group bonding. In this aspect it has been seen as complementary to language by creating strong positive emotions while not having a specific message people may disagree on. … A different explanation is that signaling fitness and creativity by the producer or performer in order to attract mates. …

Steven Brown … argues that “music and language are seen as reciprocal specializations of a dual-natured referential emotive communicative precursor, whereby music emphasizes sound as emotive meaning and language emphasizes sound as referential meaning.”

Joseph Jordania … suggested that rhythmic laud singing and drumming, together with the threatening rhythmic body movements and body painting, was the core element of the ancient “Audio-Visual Intimidating Display” … a key factor in putting the hominid group into a specific altered state of consciousness which he calls “battle trance” … for many social animals, silence can be a sign of danger, and that’s why gentle humming and musical sounds relax humans. (more)

Critics of this [signaling fitness theory] note that in most species where singing is used for the purposes of sexual selection (through the female choice), only males sing (as it is male, who is mostly trying to impress females with different audio and visual displays), and besides, males as a rule sing alone. Among humans both males and females are ardent singers, and making music is mostly a communal activity. (more)

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  • Dave9

     It seems that everything must be reduced to Darwinism and “explained” by imagining how people or precursor people or isolated modern day primitives behave. The problem is that most information about the past has decayed and it is not certain that primitive cultural characteristics are not partially or largely the product of marginalization and isolation. Anyway the evidence could be interpreted as favoring both group and individual selection, in a very crude way.

    Professor Hanson “Yes going through a process like this ( musical performance) together that can bond people, as they end up knowing that they have acquired similar emotions and opinions. But why does such a capacity even exist?
    Why are our minds so vulnerable to raw back door control over what we think and feel? Why don’t people evolve to fake enjoyment of music?”

     I think looking at modern and personal examples will be more informative, God forbid. Also, at some point Darwinist analysis must be treated with the same kind of skepticism as, say Freudian, Marxist of any other philosophical tool. But it is not being treated that way.   

    However I think group selection is underrated here. Group selection both binds old groups together and splits old into new groups. Look at inter-generational and inter cultural differences.  Here is a wild example.     “When the war started, rock in Croatia had a revival: it became hip to listen to the music popular with your heroic liberation forces, huhuhu. In Serbia rock was in defensive. With protectionist Croatian rock market refusing to play or sell Serbian rock music, cool bands in Serbia lost market, and finally they’ve fallen victims to turbo-folk, a Serbian version of ‘country’.”  This was used to stir up Serbians to kill Croatians.

    “Why don’t people evolve to fake enjoyment of music?” We do. I, for example am very bored with the National Anthem. Do you fake singing it at public events, like I do? Actually all music becomes boring, hence the need for creating new music, which is initially rejected, then embraced and then forgotten. Producers and performers get laid, or get rich or receive royal acclaim. There are also social   punishments for violating musical norms as there is for being detected violating social norms. Just look at what happens when some singer botches the National Anthem at a football game or boxing match. Also I think the ability of people to imitate and develop musical and other inventive activity, over time has led to more powerful societies.
    Re-posting above post to remove formatting error, Please pardon.

  • daedalus2u

    Dave9, the reason that everything is reduced to evolutionary terms is because in biology nothing makes sense except in light of evolution.  If you have an idea in biology that is incompatible with evolution, very likely that idea is wrong, or you are not understanding how it evolved. 

    Our “minds” are vulnerable to “back-door” control because that “back-door” control came first, before our ancestors had “minds” that could be used to direct activities. 

    I suspect that the reason people prefer music styles of their late youth is for the same reason that people speak their first language with the regional accent they had at the same period of time.  The neuroanatomy that generates and perceives language has become “fixed”.  Humans can then use those accents as a measure of tribal affiliation.  If someone has the same accent as you, then they grew up in the same village or tribe and are probably a relative, so don’t kill them.

    I think this is what triggers xenophobia, a mismatch in the neuroanatomy used to produce and recognize language.

    I suspect that music styles can also be used to tell how old someone is.  If one listens to music, one can pick out when it was created.  The same is true of art.  Art reflects the time it was created.  Some famous frauds have been uncovered by recognizing that the fraud was characteristic of a time much later than the original work. 

    In the movie 2001, most of the scenes are not very time specific, except for the receptionist with the beehive hairdo.  That simply screams 1968.  Telling how old someone is is important to try and prevent parents mating with offspring. 

  • “But we seem to have far more types of music than we have kinds of emotions to tell.”

    This seems very far from obvious to me.  Neither the one nor the other seems to admit of an objective enumeration.

  • Anonymous

    I would argue that we evolved to like stories–and story-like or evocative music–in fact to make us less susceptible to manipulation. This would be for the same reasons that we don’t like someone to simply tell us what we should conclude about an issue, we want them to provide the argument behind it, then we ask more questions about the circumstances surrounding it, wanting “the complete picture” before we make up our own minds about it.

    A story provides that complete picture, and the more complete the story–the more that the characters and events included seem to represent the relevant system and relationships/interactions involved–the more we like it. If the storyteller seems to skips parts that leave questions in our minds, we stop them and tell them not to leave those out, we want to hear it all. We enjoy hearing it all.

    Understanding the full story is so important to achieving well-informed, accurate conclusions that we evolved to want to put ourselves into the story as much as possible. Related to empathy, we want to be in the shoes of the other whose actions, motives, or intentions we need to understand in order to respond accordingly with our own. And so, we don’t just want to be told what something else is like–someone else’s circle of friends, company, or foreign country–we want to experience it for ourselves. If we can’t, storytelling comes closest to that.

    I once read a friend’s poetry and tried to explain why I didn’t think it was very good. The poetry used a lot of adjectives describing emotions (naturally implying that they arose from some experience). “This pain, this agony, want to tear something apart,” that sort of thing. I told the friend, someone reading that doesn’t have any reason to believe you, you might just be dramatic and overreacting. If you wrote about the circumstances, what happened, that says much more.

    For instance, when you read about a tragedy, a woman whose lost an only remaining child in some horrific way, the writer doesn’t have to tell the reader “this is painful”–the reader can see that. And if you set it up eloquently, first depicting the surrounding circumstances to show the reader the protagonist’s resources and relationships, hopes and expectations, then hit the reader with the final terrible event at the punchline, the reader realizes it right away, feeling the resulting emotion him/herself. He/she has put him/herself into the protagonist’s shoes and, through this empathetic process we evolved, subconsciously assesses “yep, that’s convincing, it all adds up to a terrible experience.”

    I imagine that similarly with music, it would actually be easier to manipulate other people–control other people’s emotions through some “back door”–if all we needed to hear was “I’m angry” or “I love you,” (you know, “trust me”) in order to be convinced. But instead, we say “I don’t believe you, show me.” Singing conveys the emotion of the singer in a way that’s probably harder to fake. We might have evolved more direct and therefore perceptive sensory reciprocity for this form of communication, than for the symbols of language.

    Or, conversely, by developing language, we created a way to communicate with much greater specificity and originality, in order to cooperatively develop complex new concepts and products–BUT as a consequence, also developed an avenue by which it was easier for people to fake what they’re communicating (to lie) via those symbols. So music is more natural, more direct human communication, less specific and useful for building new concepts, but perhaps less easily faked to deceive?

  • How much of music is cultural vs. innate? Would a Papuan who has never heard Beethoven before think the Ninth Symphony is stirring?

    Is there a correlation between spoken language and musical styles? Do tonal languages, for instance, differ from non-tonal languages in their associated music?

    • lightasmorethanidea

      many people would say that the best original music is not cultural at all, it is completely perceivable by someone who loves music as completely individual and completely inspired at once   –  in my experience only pastiche or utilitarian music seems, strictly speaking,  cultural  (confusingly, pastiche music imprints on the growing human very easily, and there is no way, no way at all,  for someone who has grown up listening to secondary music (i.e. someone  who did not have musically gifted parents) to, directly, think of the best pastiches we grew up with  as anything less than original – i.e., the first hill you remember from childhood is  The One True Hill of Dreams, even if it is an artificial hill in the most dreary part of the most boring suburb of the most ordinary city in the world…which makes sense, because the workers who built that artificial hill did it with, on average, almost or just as much human concern as the luckier few who were born to be artists… and the best music is a mix of human concern and undecipherable inspiration… 

      according to music theorists i have read, it is easy to associate czech (rather sing-song to the american ear) accents with dvorak, the easy-going Austrian accent and the slightly more emphatic (central?) German accent with Mozart and Beethoven, respectively
      I guess the same goes for music written in areas where the language is tonal, whether from the south of that part of Asia or the north …. 

  • tipareth

    Hi. This is a complex discussion. Allow me to declare a certain amount of authority in that I have a degree in music theory and have also studied anthropology pretty extensively. Cambias asked the question how much music was innate. Very little. Musical practice is highly abstract. Different practices, styles and customs change with social group and those also shift over time. Also there are huge geographical differences. No someone from Papua New Guinea would not like Beethoven at all. A music theorist will study a variety of musical styles from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Most of what is commonly called “classical” music was for aristocratic cultures or for the church. Typically vocal music is more associated with common classes and, because it employs language and vocalization is more plainly emotional and cross cultural. Now as to why an excellent piece of music like Beethoven’s 9th or Dvorak’s 9th can still be so stirring there is no answer. I believe if something is so perfect and thematic the unconscious mind can perceive the passion and dedication of the composer. As to finding a purpose for music I will part from objectivity and present my own views. Man is full of impulses. Impulse management can describe almost all psychology and an individual’s interaction with society. Obviously the more complex society becomes the less we indulge our impulses. Art forms are a way to exercise impulses. This is why people find art so valuable because it will always connect us to our primal animal selves. I agree with Schopenhauer who believed music to be the most abstract and therefore highest art form and consequently its power to connect us to the primal nature is more palpable.

  • tipareth

    I’m just going to pick some fleas, so to speak. The auditory cheesecake argument is completely invalid and demeaning. I think the intra-group bonding idea is quite compelling. The main points this thread seems to be missing is what a signal is. Signals have intrinsic meaning. Music and language both have applied meaning. Also music is uniquely human. The paragraph about species singing for a mate is a bit off the mark. We call what birds and whales do singing but it is not the same thing as the human behavior of singing at all.

  • Dan

    The sound of a stream is not the central purpose of the
    water flowing, but, so what? In so far as any part of our biology is made to resonate in pleasant time to some sound, it is our biology which is the true musical instrument.

    One of the basic functions of the organism is self-affirmation. Hence, the potential to have joy at the interactively critical vibrations of one’s domestic medium.

    So, crafted sounds for sake of joy is crafted music, not
    music proper. Unless, of course, ‘muse’ is the sense of crafting something, only in which case is ‘music’ synonymous with crafted-sounds-for-joy-of-sounds, and not the sound byproducts of other craftings. Ah, but, all sound byproducts are coopt-able by the musical perceptual faculties, just as any sensory medium
    whatever is coopt-able by the referential (linguistic) faculties.

    This does not entail that all mediums should be equally useful to those ends, as if we demand some inane kind of random association between all the different sensory mediums. In fact:

    The biological organism requires not only an external source
    of gravity, but a pressure of a domestic medium as a function of gravity. And, so long as there is a normative spatial separation between the organism and all other important solid objects, it seems undeniable that vibration of the organism’s domestic medium is a primary stimulus to the organism, both in terms
    of itself and in terms of the primary dynamic objects in its environment. Can you say ‘music’ and ‘society’?

    Gravity acts as counter-balance to the self-repetition/identification, and self-expansion activities which constitute every known biological organism. This implies, first, that the biological organism is not a self-contained set of all forces necessary to its own survival and development. Second, it implies that the biological organism is, in some way, a product of its gravity environment. In fact, given its own mass, a biological organism is constituted partly by gravity.

    But, in so far as the biological organism depends on gravity, it also depends on basic external materials for its maintenance and
    development both post-conception and post-gestation. The most continuously necessary material to that end in post-gestation is a common domestic fluid (in land-based organisms, this fluid is the gaseous material that envelopes the Earth). In other words, a natural byproduct of gravity is atmospheric pressure, and, it is upon this pressure which a biological organism depends not only for maintenance of its own structure as an ongoing action against external gravity, but as the primary constant force allowing equitable intake of its own most constantly necessary substance. (It seems to me that this gravity/atmospheric
    pressure/organism system comprises a triad.)

    I suspect that all known biological organisms require a
    minimum of compression of a domestic medium to survive (atmospheric pressure). Hypothetically, this pressure could be said to act as a necessary counterbalancing force to that of the self-repetition/identification, and self-expansion, activities of the autonomous biological system. In other words, it seems that atmospheric pressure, in conjunction with a basic minimum
    external gravity, is necessary to the long-term survival of a species.

    Pressure of domestic medium is, for the most part, a static
    force. But, in order for an organism to identify other organisms without direct contact, and, thus, to develop internal systems to identify itself apart from other organisms, an organism’s domestic medium must include vibrations produced by other organisms.

    Based on this theory that vibration of domestic medium is
    critical to the normal development of an organism, I propose the hypothesis that music and language are basic cognitive functions prior to their respective conventional specializations. Think sense and reference. According to this hypothesis, only later are the sense and reference functions in humans channeled into conventions: the language function normally is channeled into
    speech, and the music function normally is channeled into human artful sounds.

    But, there is a problem. According to this hypothesis, the
    conventions intuitively are known to contain their respective basic functions, so, oftentimes, the conventions are mistakenly equated with their functions. Hence, the popular human notion that the essential roots of music and language are not naturally possessed by non-human animals. But, if vibration of a
    domestic medium is necessary to the survival of any given animal species, including to humans, and if that vibration is a key stimulus to biology, and, thus, to psychology, then non-human animals do possesses a level, however primitive, of both the referential and sense/aesthetic modes of cognition. How well or how often the non-human animals practice a distinction between these two modes is beside the point.